The first new tram route in 75 years in Japan – Utsunomiya LRT will launch in August 26

Utsunomiya City and Haga Town in Tochigi Prefecture held a joint press conference with Utsunomiya Light Rail Co.,Ltd. (headquarters: Utsunomiya City), which is in charge of Haga-Utsunomiya LRT operation, and announced officially that the start date of the LRT “LIGHTLINE” service is August 26, 2023 (Sat).

Haga-Utsunomiya LRT "LIGHTLINE" streetcars, which will officially open on August 26, 2023 (Sat) (Image: quoted from Utsunomiya City announcement materials)
Haga-Utsunomiya LRT “LIGHTLINE” streetcars, which will officially open on August 26, 2023 (Sat) (Image: quoted from Utsunomiya City announcement materials)

Track repaired after derailment during test run

On November 19, 2022, an LRT vehicle derailed during a test run when it entered the Utsunomiya Station East Exit tram stop. Afterwards, experts made observations based on surveys and measurement tests, and Utsunomiya City, which is responsible for the construction work, carried out work to repair the width and inclination of the tracks at the site. They also decided to lower the speed limit for continuous driving on close points and sharp curves, which is the same pattern as when the accident occurred.

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In addition to the area of Utsunomiya Station East where countermeasure construction was implemented, running data was measured on the entire line, including other curved sections. Based on the results, the panel of experts submitted a final report stating that there are no safety issues with proper driving within the speed limit.

The three parties, the city, town and the operating company that have confirmed the safety, has started proficiency driving on the all section from June 5, 2023 (Mon). Based on a solo driving according to the actual schedule, they will bring it closer to the image of actual commercial operation through repeated training. In the week of June 5 (Mon), they also applied to the government and prefectural governments, which will conduct inspections and reviews to ensure that there will be no hindrance to the start of transportation, and to the government for approval of operation schedules and maximum fares.

It seems that the opening date was set on the weekend, taking into account the time required for these procedures, and to allow many people to participate in the opening event. On the day of the event, the general public will be able to board the LRT after the ceremony ends at 3:00 pm.

For a certain period after opening, it is expected that it will take time to respond such as collecting fares, so the required time is expected to be in the high 40s, which is a few minutes longer than planning. A special timetable will be announced around July, in which no rapid service will be set and only local trains will run at 8-minute intervals during peak hours and 12-minute at other times.

(See the chart below for details such as the Haga-Utsunomiya LRT “LIGHTLINE” operation schedule, fares and route map.)

[Chart] The Haga-Utsunomiya LRT "LIGHTLINE" operation schedule, fares and route map

LRT built in a town without streetcars…Japan’s first!

Eiichi Sato, Mayor of Utsunomiya City, said that he has been working on the Haga-Utsunomiya LRT project “with the intention and desire to realize a nationwide model city for regional revitalization.” Continuing on, “Aiming for a ‘zero-carbon transport’ that runs on renewable energy generated by a waste incineration facility, which is unparalleled in the world,” he emphasized that this is a major project that is attracting attention both in Japan and overseas.

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As a streetcar in Japan, it is the first new route in 75 years since the Toyama Chiho Railway opened a section between Takaoka Station and Fushiki Port (a section of the current Man-yo Line) in 1948. It is also the first time in Japan that a new LRT has been opened in a city where no streetcar has ever run.

Taking advantage of the fact that it is a “one-of-a-kind chance” that maximizes attention and expectations, a project to commemorate the opening of business has begun in unison with the local community. The city and town are looking for local groups, schools and private companies to celebrate the opening of the LRT. If people participate, they will be able to receive the opening commemorative logo mark, images of LIGHTLINE and posters free of charge so that you can cooperate with PR for events, campaigns or commemorative products.

At the information dissemination base “Transport Future City Utsunomiya Open Square” in the commercial facility “Bell Mall” in Utsunomiya City, a “LIGHTLINE FLAG” was set up where anyone can freely write their thoughts and hopes for the LRT. In the future, it is planned to increase the number of flags in other places and use them for events leading up to the opening.

On July 29, 2023 (Sat), a special event “LIGHTLINE Rail Walk” will be held that can only be done before the opening, where people can walk on the rail where the LRT actually runs. The course is about 2km round trip, including tunnels and overpasses, and they can take a commemorative photo with the LIGHTLINE vehicle. Participation recruitment will be held for those who live, work, or go to school in Utsunomiya City or Haga Town, but if there are more applicants than the total capacity of 140 people, a lottery will be held.