Ryutetsu was formed in 1913 as the Nagareyama Light Railway, opening a 5,7Km-long 762mm-gauge line connecting Nagareyama town to the JGR Joban Line at Mabashi Station. The purpose of the line was essentially to shuttle residents of Nagareyama town to the Joban Line, a two-hour walk away (in a time where for many walking was the only option).
The company restructured itself as the “Nagareyama Railway” in 1922 and two years later, in 1924, regauged it’s line to 1067mm. During the post-war years, due to the constant shortages of gasoline and coal, the railway decided to electrify it’s line, wich re-opened in 1949 powered by 1500v DC catenary (at the same time, the company renamed itself as the “Nagareyama Electric Railway”).
Unlike passenger ridership, wich saw a continuous increase in the years (thanks to the rapid urbanization of the areas served by the railway), freight services constantly declined, being abolished in 1977. However, it would be the same increase in urbanization wich would mark the beginning of the decline for Ryutetsu. The opening of the JNR Musashino Line in 1973, providing a faster and direct link to Tokyo, caused an initial halt in the rise of ridership for the Nagareyama Line. However, it was the opening of the Tsukuba Express in 2005 that dealt the most serious blow to the line’s ridership, wich was considerably reduced, with the company forced to adopt all-day long one-man operation and shorten it’s trains from three to two cars in lenght to make ends meet.
Starting from 1971, the Nagareyama Railway came the umbrella of the Sobu Urban Development company (a golf course developer), and was renamed as the “Sobu Nagareyama Electric Railway”. This arrangment lasted until 2008 when, as Sobu Urban Development went into bankruptcy, the railway company separated itself from it’s bankrupt parent company, restructuring and renaming itself again as the current “Ryutetsu”.
Ryutetsu is still currently operating the 6-station, 5,7Km-long Nagareyama Line. However, due to the afromentioned competition of faster and more direct railway lines towards Tokyo, ridership on the line is quite low, and the company’s finances are quite stretched.
As Ryutetsu is roughly an “out-of-the-way” railway wich primarily serves to commuter and doesn’t pass trough notable tourist spots, the company has no plans to introduce ticketing equipment compatible with the IC cards (PASMO and Suica) in widespread use in Japan, making it with all due probability the last railway in the Tokyo area that doesn’t accept anything other than paper tickets.
Ryutetsu has always existed as an independent railway company, never having been a subsidiary of any other railway. Ryutetsu is also effectively considered to be a full-fledged private railway, rather than a third-sector one, depsite the copious investments in the company coming from local governments (primarily Nagareyama town) in recent times.