The Kamiooka Railway was founded in 1984 as one of the first “third-sector-railways” set up by the JNR reconstruction act to inherit most of JNR’s money-losing rural railway lines, in this case, the Kamiooka Line.
The Kamiooka Line was opened in 1966, running in the Takahara River valley from Inotani station on the Takayama Main Line to Okuhida Onsenguchi station in Kamiooka town, some 20Km to the south. The line’s main purpose was to transport zinc from the mines of Kamiooka to the mainline, where it would’ve been forwarded to processing plants all across Japan.
The predecessor of the Kamiooka Line opened in 1922 as a 762mm (and later 610mm) narrow gauge tramway, the “Kamiooka Tramway”, wich was closed in 1967 when the new 1067mm-gauge line was opened by JNR. When the mines in the Kamiooka area started to close, in the 1970s, the line was repurposed for the transportation of sulfuric acid to smelting and refinement plants.
In 1984, ownership of the railway was transferred to the new ad-hoc founded Kamiooka Railway, wich was to take over from JNR in the operation of both freight and passenger trains operating on the line.
In 2004, the Kamiooka Mining Co. decided to switch over from trains to trucks to transport sulfuric acid, therefore axing what accounted for over 70% of the Kamiooka Railway’s revenue, and in June 2005, the railway officially announced plans to close the line. The French company Connex (currently Veolia Transport) applied to operate the line, but negotiations with the prefectural government stalled, and the deal eventually fell trough. The line closed in 2006, with the final train running on the 1st of December.
Currently, the Kamiooka-side of the line is maintained as a museum, with the trackage in good condition and both of the railway’s two diesel railcars preserved, operable and in working order. A rail bike experience is also avaible on a 2,9Km-long stretch of track. Overall, the Kamiooka Line is still in good condition, and there are constant proposals to re-activate the line as a tourist railway. Such proposals began to be made even before the Kamiooka Railway closed in 2006, but as of now, nothing has come out.
As roughly 64% ofthe Kamiooka Line runs either in tunnels or on bridges, the railway was nicknamed “a Subway in the mountains”.