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Celebrities, train fans mark start of Nishi-Kyushu Shinkansen Line

Celebrations at Nagasaki Station in Nagasaki Prefecture marked the opening of the Nishi Kyushu Shinkansen Line on September 23. (The Asahi Shimbun)

Despite various unresolved issues, celebratory events were held on September 23 to mark the opening of the Nishi-Kyushu Shinkansen line, the shortest bullet train line in Japan.

The 66-kilometer line, operated by Kyushu Railway Co. (JR Kyushu), connects Takeo-Onsen Station in Takeo, Saga Prefecture, and Nagasaki Station in Nagasaki Prefecture.

The service shortens the train travel time between Hakata Station in Fukuoka Prefecture and Nagasaki Station by 30 minutes to 80 minutes.

At 6:17 am on September 23, the first Nishi-Kyushu Shinkansen named Kamome No. 2, an N700S series bullet train, departed Nagasaki Station with all reserved seats occupied.

Three hours earlier, at around 3:30 a.m., train fans had formed in a 200-meter long line at the west exit of the station to board the train.

Teruhiko Kashino, 55, who was at the front of the line, had traveled 15 hours by bus from his home in Yokohama to Hakata. He started queuing at 3am

At 5 a.m., an opening ceremony for the new line was held at the station. Neru Nagahama, an actress and former member of a girl idol group Keyakizaka 46, now called Sakurazaka 46, attended the celebration.

Just after 6 a.m., enthusiastic passengers, most of them with smartphones and cameras, boarded Kamome No. 2, and the red-and-white train smoothly exited the platform.

At around 5:30 a.m., a farewell ceremony was also held at the newly built Ureshino-Onsen Station in Saga Prefecture, which was also attended by Reina Matsui, an actress known as a Shinkansen fan.

The first Nishi-Kyushu Shinkansen to run in the opposite direction was No. 1 Kamome, departing Takeo-Onsen Station at 7:03 a.m

A total of 44 shinkansen will connect Takeo-Onsen and Nagasaki stations daily. When trains run at top speed, the journey takes just 23 minutes.

The train stops at Shin-Omura Station and Isahaya Station in Nagasaki Prefecture, in addition to Ureshino-Onsen Station.

Local authorities and businesses in the Kyushu area are banking on the new Shinkansen line to attract more tourists and lead to economic recovery.

“Tourism in the Kyushu area has had a tough time as various events have been canceled during the pandemic,” said an official at travel agency JTB Corp. “The opening of the Shinkansen, even on a short route, will boost travel demand.”

Planning for the new Shinkansen line did not go smoothly.

Construction costs have reached 619.7 billion yen ($4.36 billion), more than 20 percent higher than the original estimate of 500 billion yen in 2012 when the project was officially approved.

Plans were also made to use gauge-changing wagons, which would allow the high-speed trains to run on narrower conventional tracks, including a 50 km section in Saga Prefecture.

But that plan was scrapped, angering the governor and businesses in Saga Prefecture.

Observers also said it is unclear when the Nishi Kyushu Shinkansen line will connect to the existing Kagoshima route of the Kyushu Shinkansen line.

(This article was compiled from reports by Hironori Kato, Tetsuya Ishikura, Satoshi Juyanagi, Motoki Nagasawa, Mami Okada, and Emika Terashima.)

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