Japan launches road-rail bus

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Billed as ‘the world’s first operational dual-mode vehicle’, the ASA Seaside Railway Corporation in Tokushima Prefecture, Japan, is set to launch a new vehicle into service on 25 December. The vehicle is described as ‘essentially a bus capable of running on roads and railway tracks’ and is expected to enter service towards the end of the month once it has passed safety checks by Japan’s Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism.

The DMV buses will run on a 30 mile route between the town of Kaiyo in Tokushima and the city of Muroto, Kochi Prefecture. Six miles of the route will be along a railway line, with the remainder in bus mode. Three of the new vehicles will be used for the service, each with a capacity of 23 including passengers and crew.

The ASA’s new DMV is a diesel-powered bus fitted with an extra set of rail wheels which can be deployed in about 15 seconds, making it capable of travelling on the railway. The Tokushima prefectural government, which has a 35% stake in ASA, told local media outlets that it hopes the DMV will become a tourist draw and help boost the local economy, which has been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic. The company said that the vehicles would also be useful in the event of natural disasters such as earthquakes, which are common in Japan and which which may leave sections of roads or railway lines unusable.

Lighter than a traditional train, the DMV is expected to consume less fuel and be easier to maintain, and follows a similar experiment by the Hokkaido Railway Co in 2004 which did not see service. It is reported that ASA had hoped for the DMV to enter service in time for the summer’s Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics but had to delay its plans after the transport ministry instructed it in June to reinforce areas of welding on the arm which holds the retractable rail wheels.

ASA Seaside Railway is set to start operating the three rail buses in late December.