“Ninja Trains” Iga Railway will accept IC cards – A local railway runs at Ninja’s hometown

Iga City, Mie Prefecture and Iga Railway have decided to introduce the transportation IC card “ICOCA” system developed by JR West, and the service is scheduled to start on the all of Iga Line between Iga-Ueno Station and Iga-Kambe Station in March 2024.

Iga Railway 200 series EMU operated as an ad-wrapped train “Fukunin Train Iga no Shiki” (とよとみ/PhotoAC)

Made a fresh start with “region-based”

In 1916, the history of the Iga Line began when the Iga Tramway Company at that time opened between the current Iga-Ueno Station and Uenoshi Station. After the war, it was familier as known as the “Kintetsu Iga Line” operated by Kintetsu Railway. However, the number of users of the Iga Line continued to decline due to the declining population along the lines and the progress of the automobile society. Kintetsu, wanting to improve its management, established the third sector, Iga Railway, together with Iga City. Management of the Iga Line was transferred to them in October 2007.

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The specific framework is a “upper and lower separation system” in which Kintetsu maintains and manages railway facilities as a third-class railway operator, and Iga Railway operates using those facilities as a second-class one. Despite their efforts to increase income and reduce costs to reduce the deficit, they were unable to achieve a drastic improvement in profitability. Kintetsu, which had compensated for some of the deficit, thought it would be difficult for the private sector to bear the burden, so the parties concerned temporarily considered discontinuieing the route and switching to a bus.

Iga City has placed great importance on the voices of citizens calling for its continuation, and has considered the Iga Line, which runs entirely through the city, to be indispensable for future town development. And they decided to participate and support as a management body. The city put together a plan to restructure the railway business, received a free transfer of railway facilities from Kintetsu, and became a new third-class railway operator. Iga Railway continued to operate, and restarted in April 2017 as a “publicity owned private serving system”.

Iga Railway has become a more community-based means of transportation than ever before, and they are working to increase the users through measures in collaboration with the tourist resource “Ninja” and the establishment of a new station “Shijuku.” In a survey conducted targeting public transportation users in the city, there were many requests for “Iga Railway to introduce transportation IC cards.” In response to this, the city is working with JR West to prepare for IC compatibility in order to improve convenience.

(See the chart below for details such as ICOCA services starting on Iga Railway, a route map of surrounding areas and images of ICOCA Commuter Pass.)

[Chart] ICOCA services starting on Iga Railway, a route map of surrounding areas and images of ICOCA Commuter Pass

Can ride all railways in Iga City with IC cards

By March 2024, IC ticket gates will be installed at all stations on the Iga Line. When boarding the Iga Railway with IC cards compatible with nationwide interoperable services such as ICOCA, TOICA and PiTaPa, the fare will be automatically calculated from the remaining charge. In the case of PiTaPa, the post-pay function is not supported, and only the prepaid method can be used.

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In March 2021, the section between Kameyama Station and Kamo Station on the JR Kansai Line has joined the ICOCA area,and IC cards will be available on all railway lines in Iga City next time. The city expects that this will improve the convenience of passengers including them from overseas, when transferring to the Iga Railway, leading to the attraction of tourists.

It also supports commuter passes issuance by ICOCA. Commuter passes of other companies such as JR West and Kintetsu can be combined into one ICOCA card, making transfers at Iga-Ueno and Iga-Kambe Stations smoother. ICOCA cards, including commuter passes, can be purchased and charged only at the Uenoshi Station on the Iga Railway.

In addition, Iga Railway commuter pass information is not displayed on the face of the card, and the valid section and expiration date are confirmed with the separately issued “Iga Railway ICOCA Commuter Pass Receipt”. This is a simple commuter pass system devised by JR West to facilitate the introduction of ICOCA by regional transportation operators. It is also used by Yokkaichi Asunarou Railway in Mie Prefecture, which introduced ICOCA in August 2021, and by bus operators in various regions of western Japan.

In the above questionnaire, one person who has attended a high school in Iga City from outside the city said, “It was troublesome to have to buy a commuter pass for JR and Iga Railway separately for the three years of high school.” It seems that not only tourists but also commuting students who make up the majority of regular users will benefit from the improved convenience.