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2008.03.20

まもなくお別れ、三木鉄道

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 師匠のレイルウェイ・ライター種村直樹氏と、三木鉄道に乗ってきた。今回種村センセに同行している本当の目的は別にあるのだが、3月末で廃止になる三木鉄道には、レイルウェイ・ライターとしてもどうしても乗っておきたかったのだろう。

三木鉄道
兵庫県加古川市の厄神駅と三木市の三木駅を結ぶ第3セクター鉄道。1916年に播州鉄道として開業、戦争中の1943年に国有化され、国鉄三木線となった。その後国鉄再建法によって第一次特定地方交通線(1981年度までに廃止方針)に指定され、1985年、第3セクター(官民共同による法人)三木鉄道に転換された。神戸や大阪とは逆方向へ向かうという不便さ、全長6.6kmという短さなどがネックとなり、その後も輸送は低迷。路線廃止による支出削減・財政再建を公約に掲げた薮本吉秀新市長が社長に就任し、命運が決まった。2008年4月1日廃止予定。

 実は、三木鉄道は個人的に2月にも訪れた。その時は時間があったので全駅乗下車にチャレンジしたが、駅間が短く、徒歩を組み合わせたら3時間ほどで達成できた。のんびりとした田舎の風景が続く沿線風景とあわせ、手軽な汽車旅に最適だったが、確かに経営は厳しそうだ。東京で例えるなら、高尾駅を起点とし、拝島駅の1km西に終着駅・西拝島駅がある路線、みたいな感じだろうか。人の流れと合っていなかった。

 そんな小さな鉄道だが、レールやコンクリート枕木といった施設は、赤字ローカル鉄道とは思えないほど立派だ。この小さな鉄道の発展と再生を本気で願い、整備を進めた人たちがいたのだろう。そのことを思うと、かえって寂しい。

 官と民のいいとこ取りと言われた第三セクター鉄道だが、今ではその経営形態がある意味足かせになっているのではないか。財政再建の名の下、地域鉄道への支出を「無駄」と考える勢力が首長になれば、あっという間にその鉄道は命運がつきてしまう。昔から国鉄・JRにばかり目が行っていたが、今は全国の第三セクター鉄道に乗りに行ってあげるべきかもしれない。

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 さて、今日は廃止2週間前とあって、終点三木駅の駅舎内にグッズ販売のコーナーが設けられていた。その中に、知った顔を発見。鉄道グッズの製造販売を手がけるサンショップの、吉田さんだ。

 僕に勝るとも劣らない黒い肌で、いつもニコニコしている吉田さんは、鉄道への愛情が嵩じて今の会社を興した人だ。整理整頓が苦手な僕は、いわゆる「収集鉄(コレクター)」とは無縁だったが、吉田さんと知り合って、その楽しさを少し知るようになった。

 良い機会なので、吉田さんに種村センセを紹介。センセは、いまひとつ吉田さんがどういう人なのか分かりかねている様子だったが、あとでたっぷり説明しておいた。もう少し時間があれば、もっと話せただろうに、ちょっと残念。吉田さん、ありがとうございました。

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 しとしと降る雨の中、12:37発の厄神行きで引き返す。車中、三木駅前にある有名なコロッケを買いに来たという大阪の女性グループと話がはずみ、コロッケをお裾分けしていただいた。これを買いたいがために、わざわざここまで来たのだとか。今どき、こんな車内の交流も珍しい。三木鉄道がくれた、最後の旅のプレゼントと思いたい。

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