On January 21st, 2016 we learned about

Railroad delays shuttering station for one last student commuter

If a train goes to a station where there’s nobody to ride it, does it make a stop? Considering the expense of operating a train as a commuter vehicle only makes sense if you can sell tickets for the majority of seats, it would probably make sense to skip that station, and maybe even close it altogether. A number of small stations throughout rural Japan are slated to be closed due to lack of ridership in the coming year, but in the Hokkaido area, cost efficiency is taking a back seat for the benefit of a single rider. The Kyu-Shirataki Station is apparently being kept open for the convenience of its last regular passenger— a high school student who uses the train to get to school.

Reduced ridership

The Kyu-Shirataki Station is on the JR Hokkaido Main line, located 807 miles north of Tokyo. Thanks to dwindling rural populations and the end of freight services on the line, the small station has been seeing less and less use. This pattern has being playing out all over Japan, shifting demand from remote stations to more densely populated urban centers.

As service winds down at the 70-year-old station, the schedule has been tailored a bit to the needs of the student who uses the station. The two scheduled stops per day are meant to accommodate her school schedule, even if there are other stations available two to six miles away. Her expected graduation date conveniently coincides with the end of the railroad’s fiscal year, at which point the station will be permanently closed.

One student, but many pilgrims

While this student’s commute has attracted some attention to the shrinking rail service, she’s not the only citizen enjoying the country’s smaller train stations. Enthusiasts have dubbed these out of the way stations hikyo eki, or “secluded stations.” While seeing less and less use for daily commutes, the stations are being visited as destinations unto themselves. Suggested stops give visitors a tour of Japan’s cultural history, and begs some reflection on the current transition the country is experiencing.

Source: Japan Keeps This Train Station Running for Just One Regular Passenger by Linda Poon, City Lab

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