Damage to the Streetcars
in the Atomic Bombing and Recovery

Cenotaph dedicated to employees and other staff members who perished in the atomic bombing (Inside the Hiroshima Electric Railway Senda Streetcar Yard, 2019)

■ Damage from the Atomic Bombing
At 8:15 am on August 6, 1945, the first atomic bomb to be used in warfare in human history was dropped on Hiroshima. Preceding this, an air raid warning had been lifted, and the people of Hiroshima went about their normal Monday morning routines before the city turned into a hellish nightmare. That day, 63 streetcars were exposed to the atomic bombing while running their routes.

It is estimated that approximately 140,000 people had died by the end of the year because of one single atomic bomb, including many who were passengers on the streetcars. Hiroshima Electric Railway received catastrophic damages with 108 of their 123 streetcars being damaged. Of those, over 40 were completely damaged or burned out beyond the point of repair. In addition, facilities were also extremely damaged: the Yagura-no-shita Electric Power Substation near the hypocenter was completely damaged and 383 of the 842 utility poles in the city had collapsed.

As such, all of the inner city lines were stopped due to the utter destruction of the streetcars and facilities. In terms of human damage suffered by Hiroshima Electric Railway, of their 1,241 employees, 185 perished and 266 were injured to varying degrees. Of those who perished, 30 were students at Kasei Girls School. Today, near the exit to the Senda Streetcar Yard, there is a cenotaph built to console the souls of employees and staff who died in the bombing.

■ Repairing and Restarting After the Atomic Bombing
Inner city streetcar lines were rendered unusable by the atomic bombing. Employees who managed to survive began repairs immediately, setting out on foot to check on carriages, streetcar lines, utility poles, electric cables, bridges, and more. They worked diligently day by day, using ropes attached to trucks to right utility poles that had fallen over and connecting electric cables that had been severed.

On August 9th, three days after the atomic bombing, inner city streetcar service resumed for the short distance between Koi (current Hiroden Nishi-Hiroshima) and Nishi-Tenma-cho (current Tenma-cho), using electricity from the Hatsukaichi Electric Power Substation located 15 kilometers from the hypocenter. As there were so many people who had lost everything they had in the bombing, the story goes that the driver of the first streetcar of the day told staff that passengers without money could ride for free. The military also helped to repair public transportation in Hiroshima, a military city at the time: the Ship Division provided the city with 300 ship masts to be used as utility poles.

The sight of the streetcars running again, thanks to the tireless efforts of so many, gave the citizens courage as they rose to rebuild their city. However, the road to recovery was not as smooth as they hoped. On September 17th, a little more than a month after the atomic bombing, Typhoon Makurazaki hit Japan, claiming the lives of 2,012 people in Hiroshima Prefecture and leaving immense damage in its wake. Hiroshima Electric Railway was not spared from the damage: both Tenma-bashi Bridge and Yokogawa-bashi Bridge were washed away. The damage was so great that the people wondered if the city would ever be rebuilt to its former glory again.

While there were employees who developed radiation sickness from the bombing and were unable to work, the employees of Hiroshima Electric Railway continued their repairs under the philosophy that transportation methods must be the first thing to be rebuilt for the sake of maintaining public security and promoting the reconstruction of the city. This was the philosophy of Nobuyuki Ito, who would later become president of Hiroshima Electric Railway. Repairs on the inner city lines progressed, and on September 7th, the line that began in Koi ran all the way to Hatchobori, bringing the sounds of the streetcar back to the devastated downtown area. However, at the time, there were only 10 streetcars that were fit to run. It took until October 11th for service to Hiroshima Station to resume, and even then, the road to recovery remained a difficult one with only 20 streetcars are their disposal.

Streetcar completely burned out by the atomic bombing (Near the Kamiya-cho Intersection, 1945)

Hiroshima on the road to recovery post-war and the 700 series streetcar, a steel version of the wooden 500 series (Near Hatchobori)
A used 750 series streetcar transported on a trailer from the Osaka City Transportation Bureau (Miyajima-guchi Station, 1965)

■ Post-War Recovery and the Streetcar
On August 15, 1945, the Pacific War ended. After the war, the streetcars encountered even more damage during Typhoon Makurazaki that struck approximately one month after the atomic bombing. However, despite an extreme lack of supplies and rampant inflation, Hiroshima Electric Railway devoted all of their energy to restoring streetcar service. In October 1945, the primary streetcar line resumed service from downtown Hiroshima City to Hiroshima Station. In December 1948, a temporary bridge to replace Yokogawa-bashi Bridge that washed away in Typhoon Makurazaki was completed and the Yokogawa Line resumed service. As for the Hakushima Line, the rails were moved with the construction of a city planning road and service resumed in June 1952, bringing the streetcar network back in a form that remains largely unchanged today. Finally, in fiscal year 1949, repairs on nearly all of the streetcars were completed.

Repairs on streetcars and facilities continued in order to meet the increased transport demands that came with post-war economic recovery, and the company worked to increase transport capabilities and provide direct service for inner city lines and the Miyajima Line. Around 1960, the automobile boom hit Hiroshima City. Automobiles would drive on the streetcar rails, preventing them from running, and for a time, the streetcar was in danger of disappearing forever as passenger numbers declined. However, thanks to purchasing used streetcars from places where streetcar services had been discontinued, such as Osaka and Kobe, initiatives to increase efficiency and streamline transportation through methods such as service by drivers only (no additional staff on board), as well as support from the local government, the iconic streetcar was spared from discontinuation.

■ The Future of the Streetcar

On March 13, 1999, an Antonov An-225 Mriya, a huge Russian cargo aircraft, touched down at Hiroshima Airport. Its cargo was a 5000 series ultra-low floor streetcar made by German company Seimens. This was the stunning debut of Hiroshima’s newest streetcar called the Green Mover. It began running in June of the same year, and as Hiroshima Electric Railway’s first ultra-low floor streetcar, it became the forerunner of what became known as the Streetcar Renaissance. Beginning in 2005, the company introduced the 5100 series streetcar Green Mover Max, the first ultra-low floor streetcar made in Japan. It was developed with the help of three Japanese manufacturers: Kinki Sharyo Co., Ltd., Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, and Toyo Denki Seizo, K.K. In 2013, the 1000 series streetcar Green Mover Lex was also added to the lineup for inner city line use. In 2019, 5200 series streetcar Green Mover Apex joined the ranks as the newest state-of-the-art streetcar, characterized by its monotone urban design.

In addition, in line with the Hiroshima Station South Gate Redevelopment Project, an initiative by Hiroshima City government, in spring 2025, streetcars will be arriving on the second floor of the new Hiroshima Station building via overpass by way of the new Hiroshima Eki-mae Ōhashi Route, which connects Hiroshima Station and the Hiroshima downtown area with speed and efficiency, ringing in a new era for streetcars in Hiroshima.

Of all the hibaku streetcars that overcame the destruction of the atomic bombing, Hibaku Streetcars nos. 651 and 652 continue to bring passengers where they need to be today. Together with Hibaku Streetcar no. 653, which runs for special events like the Hibaku Streetcar Project, and Hibaku Streetcar no. 156, which ran again for the first time in 33 years on Hiroshima Electric Railway Day in November 2020, the hibaku streetcars continue to watch over the changing cityscape of Hiroshima and the new streetcars that carry the legacy of this beloved public transport method into the future.

The first car of Green Mover no. 5001 flown in from Germany (Hiroshima Airport, 1999)
5200 Series Green Mover Apex running in front of Hiroshima Station (Hiroshima Station, 2019)