Renowned for being one of the most picturesque train lines in Japan, the Tadami Line connects Aizu-Wakamatsu in Fukushima to Uonuma in Niigata. The 135 kilometer local line runs alongside the Tadami River and cuts through mountains. When the entire route was fully opened in 1971, the line provided a direct connection between the mountainous interiors of the two prefectures and was an important transport route in the area.
In the winter, the Tadami Line is the only way from Niigata to Fukushima in the west as the local mountain roads are closed due to high snowfall in the winter. However, it would be prudent to remember that inclement winter weather may cause disruptions to the already infrequent departures on the Tadami Line.
Chugging along the Tadami River in Fukushima Prefecture, the train route offers spectacular countryside views of the villages and towns, like Yanaizu, along the way. Verdant greens in the warmer months give way to fiery colors in autumn, and finally the landscape is covered by snow in winter. Vantage points in the towns along the line provide photogenic opportunities of the diesel trains crossing steel bridges, and these spots are very popular with train and photography enthusiasts all year round.
The Tadami Line passes through a set of tunnels and bridges through the mountains around the border of Fukushima and Niigata prefectures. The distance between the two stations at the each end of the tunnel is about 21 kilometers and takes about 30 minutes one way. Of the tunnels that cut through the mountains, the Rokujuri Tunnel, which sits under the prefectural border, is the longest one at almost 6.5 kilometers.
Taking the Tadami Line is an exercise in slow travel. The one way journey between Aizu-Wakamatsu and Koide, the two terminal stations on the Fukushima and Niigata sides respectively, takes almost five hours with good connections. As mentioned earlier, the train route provided direct connections between the two places when it opened. However, substantial damage to the tracks was caused by the deluge of rain in July 2011, which caused landslides and raging rivers which destroyed a number of bridges. The section between Aizu-Kawaguchi and Tadami stations is currently served by buses, and the restoration of the full route is targeted for completion in 2021.
Train enthusiasts should put the Tadami Line on their lists of train journeys to take, and make it an overnight journey for an even better experience. The towns and villages along the route are as local as it gets and tucked away in the valley away from wide-spread commercialization, while the surrounding unspoiled nature has provided passengers the same view over the last half a century, adding to the charm of the line.