It’s time for test runs! Haga Utsunomiya LRT – ‘LIGHTLINE’ will launch from August 2023

The Haga Utsunomiya LRT, a new light rail transit that is being constructed with the aim of opening in August 2023, will soon begin trial operation for the first time in some sections where construction has been completed.

“Utsunomiya Station East” stop under construction for Haga Utsunomiya LRT (in September 2022) (Katsumi/TOKYO STUDIO)

Construction of section near Utsunomiya Station completed

Nicknamed the “Light Line”, the LRT will be introduced on the 14.6km section connecting the “Utsunomiya Station East” in Utsunomiya City, Tochigi Prefecture and the “Haga Takamizawa Industrial Park” in Haga Town, the same. Utsunomiya City and Haga Town will develop and own the facilities, and the operation will be handled by the third sector company Utsunomiya Light Rail (Headquarters: Utsunomiya City).

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Road improvements and track construction were scheduled to be completed on all sections by the end of 2022. However, in the vicinity of the large-scale “Nogoyamachi Intersection” (Utsunomiya City) with a high volume of automobile traffic, road regulations have been curtailed from the initial plan so as not to cause traffic congestion as much as possible. The outlook for completion of construction in this area has been revised to March 2023. At the same time, the schedule for the Haga Town section, where it takes time to manufacture concrete products and the construction of tracks and stops has been delayed, has also been postponed to March 2023.

Based on these construction schedule changes, it has been announced that the opening of the entire line will be postponed by five months from the target March 2023, and is expected to be August 2023.

“Trial operation” to check whether the vehicle can run without problems and “mastery operation” to conduct repetitive training so that passengers can ride without problems are carried out in stages according to the completion of construction for each section.

As the first step, trial operation will start on November 17 (Thu) on the main line between Utsunomiya Station East and Hiraishi, where construction has been completed by the end of October 2022. The city will set up barricades and take other safety measures into consideration during the test run, and will also work to inform traffic rules for cars and pedestrians when traveling on the LRT. In addition, it is expected that the test run for all sections will be implemented from January 2023 (See the figure below about the route map of LIGHTLINE).

Haga Utsunomiya LRT ‘LIGHTLINE’ starts trial operation

Unique design for each LRT stop

In addition, for two days on November 26 (Sat) and 27 (Sun), a special exhibition of LIGHTLINE rolling stocks will be held at the Utsunomiya Station East stop. It will be held in conjunction with the town opening event at the east exit of the station, which is being redeveloped by integrating with the station. Anyone can enjoy a free tour of the tram without prior application. However, depending on the congestion situation, numbered tickets may be distributed and admission may be restricted.

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At LRT stops, walls with photographs and illustrations that express the characteristics of the area will be installed, and the design of all 19 stops has been released for the opening. The design sheets, which play a role in individualizing the stops, were created through workshops with local residents held in six areas along the line, with the cooperation of a group of design specialists. Currently, the city and town are soliciting donations from local corporations and organizations for 250,000 yen per slot, and the names of the donors selected as sponsors will be posted on the design sheet of the stop.

In the area to the east of JR Utsunomiya Station, where the LRT operates, the transportation network, including buses, will change significantly in line with the opening service. Bus routes that overlap with the LRT route will be reorganized into routes that connect with the LRT with the “Transit Center (TC)” as the starting and ending point. In addition, local transportation using taxis and other vehicles will be changed to a route that stops at the nearest TC or LRT stop, and the entire public transportation network will be enhanced.