Rural railways are disappearing even as commuter lines continue to expand
Tucked away in the verdant mountains of Shimane ,in western Japan ,Gobira railway station has nearly disappeared. Its signs have faded, the letters hardly legible. The tracks are blanketed in thick moss and overgrown with weeds. Its last departure was in the spring of 2018, when the 108km long Sanko Line, which snaked through six municipalities in Shimane and Hiroshima prefectures, closed after 88 years. “It’s sad that the Sanko Line is gone,” a local reminisces. “When we were young, we would stretch our hands out of the train windows and touch the leaves of the mountain.”
藏在日本西部 Shimane 县绿色群山中的 火车站 Gobira 几乎消失了。它的标志已经褪色，字母几乎难以辨认。铁轨上被厚厚的苔藓覆盖，并且长满了野草。它的最后一次发车是在 2018年的春天，当时，这条长达108公里、蜿蜒穿过6个市的 Sanko线在运行88年后，关闭了。一位土著回忆道：“Sanko 线的关闭让人很难过，在我们很小的时候，我们会把手伸出车窗外触摸山上的树叶。”
The line carried an average of 83 passengers a kilometre in 2016, down from 458 in 1987. It was losing ¥900m ($8.5m) a year when it shut. “It was a difficult decision,” says Masuda Kazutoshi, a former mayor of one of the towns served, who oversaw the process. “But in reality, we all knew that this was going to happen.” A bus service has replaced the trains.
这条线路平均每公里的载客量从1987年的 458人，降到了 2016年的83人。在关停时，每年损失850万美元。一位曾在这个城市服务过的前市长，经理了整个过程，他说到：“这是一个艰难的决定，但是实际上，我们都知道这一天迟早会到来。”汽车服务已经取代了火车。
Japan is a railway powerhouse. The famed shinkansen, or bullet trains, connect far-flung corners of the country. Two new stations were added this year to Tokyo’s already expansive commuter-rail network to ease congestion at rush hour and provide better access to venues for the Olympics. One of the new stations boasts cleaning robots and an automated convenience store.
Yet many railways in rural areas face a similar fate to the Sanko Line. A total of 44 lines, spanning over 1,000km, have closed since 2000. Three-quarters of local railway companies are unprofitable. The shrinking and ageing of the population, which are especially acute in rural areas, have drained away passengers and revenue. Cars have also become more popular in rural areas, even among the elderly: the number of licence-holders over the age of 75 is climbing, according to government statistics. Covid-19, which has slashed the number of workers and tourists on rural routes, will push railways further into debt.
然而，许多农村地区的铁路面临着与 Sanko 线相似的命运。自从2000年以来，共有44条线路，超过1000公里铁路被关闭。四分之三的地方铁路公司无法盈利。人口的衰减和老龄化已经耗尽了乘客和收入，这种现象在农村地区更甚。汽车在农村地区更受欢迎，即使在老年人群体中也是如此：根据政府的统计数据分析，75岁以上的持证人数正在攀升。新冠使得农村线路上的工人和游客大幅减少，这将使铁路负债更加严重。
The government provides relatively little support for struggling lines. Japan’s railways were privatised in the late 1980s, and the subsidies train companies receive are at best a quarter of what is needed to keep them all afloat, estimates Utsunomiya Kiyohito of Kansai University. Roads, by contrast, receive massive funding. Near the defunct Gobira station, dozens of construction workers can be seen toiling on road-improvement schemes.
政府对苦苦挣扎的线路扶植相对较小。日本的铁路系统在19世纪 80年代末实行了私有化。关西大学的 Utsunomiya Kiyohito 估计，铁路公司获得的补助最多相当于维持运营所需的四分之一。相反，铁路建设却获得了大量资金。在已经取消了的 Gobira 车站附近，可已看到，数十名建筑工人在为铁路改善辛勤工作。
“Lawmakers living in Tokyo don’t see what’s happening in rural communities,” laments Kojima Mitsunobu, chairman of Ryobi Holdings, a transport company. Resentment of rural-urban disparities runs deep in the municipalities of Shimane and Hiroshima, too. “Japan thinks Tokyo is the only place people live in,” says Morita Ippei of Gounokawa Railway, an organisation seeking to revitalise the towns along the Sanko Line. “The Sanko Line disappeared. We were abandoned, discarded.“
运输公司 Ryobi Holdings 的老总 Kojima Mitsunobu 悲叹道：“住在东京的立法者，看不到农村正在发生什么。” 岛根和广岛两个市的居民，对城乡差距的怨恨也很深。Gounokawa铁路公司（致力于振兴 Sanko 沿线的城镇）的 Morita Ippei 说道：“日本认为东京市人们唯一居住的地方，Sanko线消失了，我们被抛弃了，我们被丢弃了。”
“If we continue down this path, every form of public transport in rural regions will disappear in the future,” warns Mr Utsunomiya. The buses that replaced Gobira’s trains are empty: “carrying air”, as Mr Masuda puts it. He worries it is not so much public transport that is disappearing, but rather the communities it serves.
Utsunomiya先生警告说：“如果我们继续这样做，未来农村地区的任何形式的交通都会消失。”正如 Masuda 先生所说，取代Gobira 线路火车的汽车，是空的：运载的是空气。他担心的并不是公共交通正在消失，而是它所服务的社区正在消失。