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The view from a test run of Japan's dual-mode vehicles traveling rails and roads

A dual-mode vehicle (DMV) switches to railroad mode with steel wheels emerging from beneath its body at Awa-Kainan Station in the town of Kaiyo, Tokushima Prefecture, on Dec. 14, 2021. (Mainichi/Sakura Iwamoto)

KAIYO, Tokushima -- The world's first full-scale commercial operation of dual-mode vehicles (DMV), which run on tracks and roads, will begin services in western Japan on Dec. 25. Ahead of the opening, a Mainichi Shimbun reporter took a test ride on Dec. 14.

    ASA Seaside Railway Corp. in the Tokushima Prefecture town of Kaiyo will introduce three DMVs, -- one red, one blue and one green -- converted from minibuses. Each is outfitted with illustrations associated with Tokushima and Kochi prefectures, such as Sudachi citrus fruit and the samurai Sakamoto Ryoma. Inside the 18-seater vehicles are two-seater seats and single seats lined up across the aisle, as well as three standing spots.

    At the Dec. 14 test ride for the press, participants rode about 15 kilometers from the Awakainan Bunkamura cultural facility to Roadside Station Shishikui Onsen via the town of Toyo in Kochi Prefecture. The pleasant trip took about 30 minutes and offered views of the Pacific Ocean.

    This photo shows a DMV converted from a minibus at Roadside Station Shishikui Onsen in the town of Kaiyo, Tokushima Prefecture, on Dec. 14, 2021. A portion of the steel wheels used for running on the tracks can be seen under the vehicle's front. (Mainichi/Sakura Iwamoto)

    The DMV traveled the roads until it reached Kaiyo's Awa-Kainan Station, where it stopped at its "mode interchange" facility inside. After an announcement that it was "now changing to train mode," steel wheels emerged from the vehicle's underside and the mode change began. The process took about 15 seconds, and was set to a recording of local high school students playing taiko drums.

    During the mode change, this reporter did not feel any major shaking, but when the steel wheels appeared, the front of the vehicle slowly lifted up and tilted back.

    The next 10 km to Kannoura Station in Toyo was all on rails, and went through about 20 tunnels and passed old trains that used to run on the Asato Line before the DMVs' introduction. When the vehicle arrived at Kannoura Station, it returned to bus mode and drove to Roadside Station Shishikui Onsen in Kaiyo.

    Looking at the magnificent Pacific Ocean and the mountains' rich nature from the window was a chance for this reporter to rediscover the region's charms. Signs introducing DMV photo spots were up all along the route, allowing people to enjoy the vehicles without actually riding them.

    The inside of a DMV vehicle is seen at Roadside Station Shishikui Onsen in the town of Kaiyo, Tokushima Prefecture, on Dec. 14, 2021. It has 18 seats. (Mainichi/Sakura Iwamoto)

    Additionally, while transfers between buses and trains were previously necessary, the DMV does not require changeover. As a result, it seems the service has great potential as a transportation means for older people and individuals with poor transportation access.

    (Japanese original by Sakura Iwamoto, Tokushima Bureau)

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