Railway operators are replacing rural Japan's diesel-guzzling trains with new battery-powered rolling stock, taking advantage of the low-maintenance, environmentally friendly modern technology to cut costs and emissions.
East Japan Railway Co. began using battery-powered trains on the Oga Line in Akita Prefecture, northeastern Japan, in March, following a similar change on the nonelectrified Karasuyama Line in Tochigi Prefecture. Kyushu Railway Co. has also been using battery-powered trains on a nonelectrified section of the Chikuho Line in Fukuoka Prefecture in southwestern Japan.
Battery-powered trains reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 60 percent compared to diesel engine trains and require lower operational costs because they have no transmissions or engines which are made up of many moving parts and require constant upkeep.
A high school girl who uses the line in Akita for commuting said the battery cars are "cleaner and quieter" than diesel oil-fueled trains. Riding on them is "more enjoyable," she added.
Locals are hoping that the positive image of battery-powered trains would also attract more tourists to the region.
Of the Japan Railway group lines that stretch around 20,000 kilometers across the country, 40 percent are not electrified, meaning that on those sections, diesel- or battery-powered rolling stock are required.
Battery-powered trains have their limits, however. Given the current capacity of their batteries, they can transport passengers only up to around 25 km on one charge. To run further, they need special charging stations.
Although the introduction of battery-powered trains costs less than electrifying a railway line, the length of each line is a consideration when deciding if the trains are suitable, said Masashi Tonosaki, an East Japan Railway official.