The Ichibata Electric Railway, also nicknamed “Bataden”, is located in Shimane Prefecture and it operates a 42 Km long network made up of two lines (both single-tracked and electrified at 1500v): the main Kita-Matsue Line (33.9 Km long), wich connects Izumo and Matsue via the northern shore of Lake Shinji and the 8.3 Km long Taisha branch line.
Depsite a slight modernisation in the 1950s, wich included a new terminal at Izumo, a CTC system (the first for a third-sector railway) and the increase of the maximum permitted speed to 85Km/h; by the 1970s Ichibata Electric Railway was losing a great amount of passengers to buses and cars, a common situation for many rural railways at the time, but aggravated by the fact that a main road (Route 431) was built parallel to the whole Bataden network (and earlier on, Ichibata Electric Railway had even helped it’s construction!).
By the mid-1970s, the only thing preventing Bataden from closing were the huge subsidies granted by the Prefectural and local Governments (wich firmly opposed the line’s closure). In fact, to this day, Ichibata Electric Railway has recieved more subsidies than any other third-sector rural railway. In 1992 the company even officially declared that it was “dependent on subsidies” to continue operating.
The subsidies came with a hefty cost: rationalisation. Freight services were abolished in March 1973 and rapid services met the same fate in May, the Taisha line was converted to driver-only operation in 1978 and the number of employees was greatly reduced: by 1984 Bataden had only a total 72 employees – just two stations (Unshu-Hirata and Matsue Onsen) out of 26 were staffed.
Depsite the harshness, the “slimming treatment” had effect and by the late 1990s the company was no longer in danger, and subsidies from the Prefectural Government terminated in 1997.
In 1998 Ichibata Electric Railway bought several second-hand air-conditioned trains from the Keio and Nankai railways to replace it’s older fleet, wich was almost unchanged since the line was electrified in 1927!
Nowdays the Ichibata Electric Railway is very popular with tourists and enjoys relative economic stability (also thanks to the fact that it still recieves subsidies from the local government). Thanks to this, in 2016 Bataden bought four brand-new 7000 Series electric railcars manufactured by Kinki Sharyo, the first new trains since the DeHaNi 50 Series of 1927 and an epocal happening for rural third-sector railways: most of them can only afford second-hand stock, and some (like the Choshi Electric Railway) must rely on third-hand trains!
The famous 2010 film “Railways” (RAILWAYS 49歳で電車の運転士になった男の物語, Railways – 49-sai de Densha no Untenshi ni Natta Otoko no Monogatari) is set on the Ichibata Electric Railway and primarily fetaures the famous DeHaNi 50 Series electric railcars, wich were taken out of retirement just for the film (the Ichibata Electric Railway actually did evrything they could to help production and filming).
Thanks to the success of the film, ridership on the Ichibata Electric Railway increased by 10% and the DeHaNi 50 used in the film is preserved and operational: Bataden organizes “driving expreriences” for the public during company festivals.
Electric Multiple Units