A 23 km tunnel planned on Yamagata Shinkansen – Difficult section with heavy snowing

Yamagata Prefecture and JR East have signed a memorandum of understanding for the early realization of a plan to construct the 23km “Yonezawa Tunnel (provisional name)” between Fukushima Station and Yonezawa Station on the Yamagata Shinkansen.

JR East E3 Series operated by Yamagata Shinkansen "Tsubasa" (ちょこピー/Photo AC)
JR East E3 Series operated by Yamagata Shinkansen “Tsubasa” (ちょこピー/Photo AC)

Capable of running at 200 km/h

The memorandum signed on October 24, 2022 (Monday) is to establish the basic matters for commercializing the tunnel plan. Both parties have agreed to work closely together and promote initiatives while striving to exchange information.

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The section between Niwasaka Station and Yonezawa Station on the Ou Line, where the Yonezawa Tunnel is planned, is a mountainous area that includes Itaya Pass on the border between Fukushima and Yamagata prefectures. In addition, there are many suspensions and delays due to heavy rain, heavy snow or collisions with animals, and it is said to be “the most difficult section on the Yamagata Shinkansen.” When the tunnel is completed and the Yamagata Shinkansen can run at 200km/h, it will be possible to speed up by a little over 10 minutes. In addition, it is said that the impact on operation due to heavy snow etc. will be reduced, and the effect of significantly improving safety and stability will be obtained.

The plan for the Yonezawa Tunnel was first formulated in November 2017. JR East considered the construction of tunnels as a drastic disaster prevention measure for the same section, and presented the survey results, such as the approximate route and project costs, to Yamagata Prefecture. Based on this, both have continued discussions at the working-level since March 2018.

In addition, in March 2021, JR East proposed that it would like to conduct a more detailed survey jointly with the prefecture in order to consider the development of a gentle curve tunnel that allows high-speed driving at 200 km/h. The prefectural government has accepted a portion of the survey costs for early commercialization, and has appropriated approximately 20 million yen for survey costs in the initial budget for fiscal 2022. Currently, the two parties are promoting a joint survey for the commercialization of the plan, and they are continuing to discuss measures for collaboration (See the figure below about the map of the project section of the Yamagata Shinkansen Yonezawa Tunnel).

Yonezawa Tunnel development plan on the Yamagata Shinkansen

Strengthening cooperation between Yamagata Prefecture and JR East

According to the original plan, the construction period of the tunnel is expected to be about 15 years from the start of construction, and the project cost is estimated at about 150 billion yen. These will be investigated in future research. In addition, they say that it will carry out efforts such as appealing to the government for financial support.

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On the other hand, on October 24 (Mon), the Yamagata prefecture and JR East Tohoku Head Office also signed a comprehensive partnership agreement with the aim of revitalizing railway lines in the prefecture and aiming for mutual sustainable development. The term of the agreement is 10 years, and they will work together to utilize tourism resources and expand business demand while sharing information and exchanging opinions with each other. In addition, they will work closely together to promote the use of transportation IC cards, improve the convenience of secondary transportation that connects at stations, and develop towns centered around stations.

The alliance of organizations concerned with the realization of the Ou-Uetsu Shinkansen, represented by Mieko Yoshimura, Governor of Yamagata Prefecture, welcomes the conclusion of this memorandum and agreement. In their joint message, they states, “We will further collaborate and cooperate with JR East, and spread the effects of the Yamagata Shinkansen tunnel project to the revitalization of the entire prefecture.” In the future, it seems that they have confirmed their determination to work together with the citizens of the prefecture.