Joban Line’s Namie-Odaka stretch reopens, bus service in Tomioka begins

East Japan Railway Co. (JR East) resumed operations on a Joban Line stretch of about 8.9 kilometers between Namie and Odaka stations on April 1, linking the Futaba and Soma regions in northeastern Fukushima Prefecture by rail for the first time in six years since the 2011 nuclear accident at Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s Fukushima Daiichi plant. In Tomioka town, where an evacuation order issued after the accident was partially lifted the same day following Namie town overnight, route bus service to Iwaki city started along with bus operations on a circular route within the town. The improved convenience of north-south transport in the Futaba region is expected to go a long way in laying the groundwork for receiving residents returning from evacuation for permanent residence. ■Hopes grow for better climate for returning evacuees The resumption of train runs between Namie and Odaka stations (the latter located in Minamisoma city) was timed with the end of evacuation on March 31 in two of Namie town’s three zones -- a residency-restricted zone and a preparatory zone for removing the evacuation order. The third zone is deemed "difficult to return to" due to still high levels of radiation. Operated daily on the reopened Joban Line portion are a total of 22 north- and south-bound train runs. In Namie, efforts are under way to restore living infrastructure. But major commercial facilities and medical functions permitting hospitalization for treatment, both of which used to be in place before the disaster, have yet to reopen. With trains running again between the two stations, it has become easier for returning residents to visit hospitals and commercial facilities in such cities as Minamisoma, Soma and Sendai. The reopened train service has also secured a means of commuting to high schools in neighboring municipalities. Namie town officials expect that this will lead to the return of more evacuee families with children. (Translated by Kyodo News)