Utsunomiya tram at the railway station. (Y. Hanafusa)
26 August saw the opening of the first new tramway system in Japan for 75 years when the Utsunomiya Light Rail Co Ltd started carrying passengers on its 14.6km line between Utsunomiya Station East and Haga Takanezawa Industrial Park (which houses a Honda research facility). 
The 1067mm-gauge line is branded as Lightline and serves 19 stops with a mixture of street operation and private right-of-way. Plans for the line were approved by Japan’s Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport in September 2016, with the JPY 68.4bn project funded largely by the city of Utsunomiya, the town of Haga and Tochigi Light Rail. At that time completion was forecast for December 2019, but there have been many delays as a result of world-wide events and a steep learning curve for the contractors in respect of the interface between the new tramway and existing traffic flows. The line includes the 643m Kinugawa river bridge. 
An order was placed for 17 three-section 29.5m double-ended low-floor trams from Niigata Transys (with Bombardier bogies). The first of the 2.65m wide trams was delivered on 27 May 2021. A depot is situated at Hiraishi. 
Utsunomiya city (population 518 000) and Haga town (population 15 600) are in Tochigi prefecture on Honshu Island and the tramway contributes to their desire to realise a nationwide model city for regional revitalisation, aiming for zero carbon transport thanks to renewable energy generated by waste incineration. 
Their new tramway operates 06.00-23.00, every 6 minutes at peak times and every 10 minutes off peak with an end-to-end journey time of 38 minutes for express cars and 44 minutes for cars serving all stops. Distance-based fares range from JPY 150 to JPY 400. There are plans for extensions at both ends of the line in the early 2030s. 
Utsunomiya tram at the railway station. (Y. Hanafusa
Utsunomiya tram at the railway station. (Y. Hanafusa) 
Tagged as: Japan, Lightline
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