Shinkansen 700T


The is a network of high-speed railway lines in Japan operated by four Japan Railways Group companies. Since the initial Tōkaidō Shinkansen opened in 1964 running at 210 km/h (130 mph), the network (2,459 km or 1,528 miles) has expanded to link most major cities on the islands of Honshū and Kyūshū with running speeds of up to 300 km/h (188 mph), in an earthquake- and typhoon-prone environment. Test run speeds have been 443 km/h (275 mph) for conventional rail in 1996, and up to a world record of 581 km/h (361 mph) for maglev trainsets in 2003.

Shinkansen literally means "New Trunk Line", referring to the tracks, but the name is widely used inside and outside Japan to refer to the trains as well as the system as a whole. The name , initially used for Hikari trains, was retired in 1972 but is still used in English-language announcements and signage.

In contrast to older lines, Shinkansen are standard gauge, and use tunnels and viaducts to go through and over obstacles, rather than around them. It is separated from conventional rail and constructed in completely renewed railway system, using ATC (Automatic train control system without signal), minimum 4,000 meters (2,500 meters in the oldest Tōkaidō Shinkansen) radius curve and elevated tracks without roadway crossings.

Tōkaidō Shinkansen is the world's busiest high-speed rail line and carries 375,000 passengers a day, and has transported more passengers (4.5 billion) than all other high speed lines in the world combined. Though largely a long-distance transport system, the Shinkansen also serves commuters who travel to work in metropolitan areas from cities beyond the metropolitan areas.


Japan was the first country to build dedicated railway lines for high speed travel. Because of the mountainous terrain, the existing network consisted of narrow gauge lines, which generally took indirect routes and could not be adapted to higher speeds. Consequently, Japan had a greater need for new high speed lines than countries where the existing standard gauge or broad gauge rail system had more upgrade potential.

Early proposals

The popular English name bullet train is a literal translation of the Japanese term dangan ressha (弾丸列車), a nickname given to the project while it was initially being discussed in the 1930s. The name stuck due to the Shinkansen locomotive's resemblance to a bullet and its high speed.

The "Shinkansen" name was first formally used in 1940 for a proposed standard gauge passenger/freight line between Tokyo and Shimonoseki, using steam and electric locomotives with a top speed of 200 km/h (124 mph). Over the next three years, the Ministry of Railways drew up more ambitious plans to extend the line to Beijing (through a tunnel to Korea) and even Singapore, and build connections to the Trans-Siberian Railway and other trunk lines in Asia. These plans were abandoned in 1943, as Japan's position in World War II worsened. However, some construction did commence on the line; several tunnels on the present-day Shinkansen date to the war-era project.

In 1957, Odakyu Electric Railway introduced its Romancecar 3000 SE service, setting a world speed record of 145 km/h (90 mph) for a narrow gauge train. This train gave designers the confidence they could safely build an even faster standard gauge train, as the first Shinkansen, the 0 Series, and built on the success of the Romancecar.


Following the end of World War II, high speed rail was forgotten for several years. Passengers of conventional Tōkaidō Main Line increased and by the mid-1950s, the line was operating at full capacity, and the Ministry of Railways decided to revisit the Shinkansen project. Government approval came in 1958, and construction of the first segment of the Tōkaidō Shinkansen between Tokyo and Osaka started in 1959. Some of the construction was financed by a US$80 million loan from the World Bank. A testing facility for rolling stock, now part of the line, opened in Odawara in 1962.

The Tōkaidō Shinkansen opened on October 11964, in time for the Tokyo Olympics. Conventional Limited express ran from Tokyo to Osaka in 6h40, but Shinkansen ran in only 4h00, and in 1965 shortened to 3h10. It was an immediate success, reaching the 100 million passenger mark in less than three years on July 131967 and one billion passengers in 1976. Sixteen-car trains were introduced for Expo '70 in Osaka.

The first Shinkansen trains, the 0 series, ran at speeds of up to 210 km/h (130 mph) , later increased to 220 km/h (135 mph). Some of these trains, with their classic bullet-nosed appearance, are still in use but are due to be retired in November 2008. A driving car from one of the 0 series trains is now in the British National Railway Museum in York.

Network expansion

This early success prompted an extension of the first line westward to Hiroshima and Fukuoka (the Sanyō Shinkansen), and was completed in 1975.

Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka was an ardent supporter, and his government proposed an extensive network paralleling most existing trunk lines. Two new lines, the Tōhoku Shinkansen and Jōetsu Shinkansen, were built following this plan. Many other planned lines were delayed or scrapped entirely as the national railway went further into debt, largely due to the high costs of building the Shinkansen network. By the early 1980s, Japan National Railways was practically insolvent, leading to privatization in 1987.

Despite this, development of the Shinkansen continued. Several new models of train followed the first, generally each with its own distinctive appearance. Shinkansen trains now run regularly at speeds of up to 300 km/h (186 mph), putting them among the fastest trains running in the world, along with the French TGV, Italian TAV, Spanish AVE, and German ICE trains.

Since 1970, development has also been underway for the Chūō Shinkansen, a maglev train planned to run from Tokyo to Osaka. On December 22003, the 3-car maglev trainset JR-Maglev MLX01 reached a world speed record of 581 km/h (361 mph).

In 2003, JR Central reported that the Shinkansen's average arrival time was within six seconds of the scheduled time. This includes all natural and human accidents and errors and is calculated from all of about 160,000 Shinkansen trips made. The previous record was from 1997 and was 18 seconds. Japan celebrated 40 years of high speed rail in 2004, with the Tōkaidō Shinkansen line alone having carried 4.16 billion passengers. According to, the website for companies that operate Shinkansen, the network has carried over 6 billion passengers.

Safety record

During the Shinkansen's 44-year, nearly 7 billion passenger history, there have been no passenger fatalities due to derailments or collisions (including earthquakes and typhoons). Injuries and a single fatality have been caused by doors closing on passengers or their belongings; attendants are employed at platforms to prevent this. There have, however, been suicides by passengers jumping both from and in front of moving trains. In comparison, there have been TGV accidents and InterCityExpress accidents resulting in fatalities, despite running in areas without major risk from either typhoons or earthquakes.

The only derailment of a Shinkansen train in passenger service occurred during the Chūetsu Earthquake on October 23, 2004. Eight of ten cars of the Toki No. 325 train on the Jōetsu Shinkansen derailed near Nagaoka Station in Nagaoka, Niigata. There were no casualties among the 154 passengers. In the event of an earthquake, an earthquake detection system can bring the train to a stop very quickly. Experimental Fastech 360 trains have ear-like air resistance braking flaps to assist emergency stops at high speeds.


Noise pollution concerns mean that increasing speed is becoming more difficult. Current research is primarily aimed at reducing operational noise, particularly the "tunnel boom" phenomenon caused when trains exit tunnels at high speed.

JR East has announced that new trains capable of up to 320 km/h (199 mph) are to be introduced coinciding with the opening of the Tōhoku Shinkansen extension from Hachinohe to Shin-Aomori in early 2011. Extensive trials using the Fastech 360 test trains has shown that operation at 360 km/h is not currently feasible due to problems of noise pollution, overhead wire wear, and braking distances. This may indicate the limits to railed Shinkansen technology, and eventually maglev or another technology will need to replace it. Operation at speeds of up to 320 km/h between Utsunomiya and Shin-Aomori is expected to allow journey times of around 3 hours for trains from Tokyo to Shin-Aomori (a distance of approximately 675 km or 419 miles).

The Kyūshū Shinkansen from Kagoshima to Yatsushiro opened in March 2004. Three more extensions are planned for opening by 2010: Hakata-Yatsushiro, Hachinohe-Aomori, and by 2014: Nagano-Kanazawa, and 2015: Aomori-Hakodate (through the Seikan Tunnel). There are also long-term plans to extend the network, Hokkaidō Shinkansen from Hakodate to Sapporo, Kyūshū Shinkansen to Nagasaki, as well as to complete a link from Kanazawa back to Osaka, although none of these are likely to be completed by 2020. Also, the CEO of JR Central announced plans to have the maglev Chūō Shinkansen operating Tokyo-Nagoya in 1 hr (366 km/227 miles) by 2025.

The Narita Shinkansen project to connect Tokyo to Narita International Airport, initiated in the 1970s but halted in 1983 after landowner protests, has been officially cancelled and removed from the Basic Plan governing Shinkansen construction. Parts of its planned right-of-way will be utilized by the Narita Rapid Railway link when it opens in 2010. Although the NRR will use standard-gauge track, it will not be built to Shinkansen specifications and it would not be feasible to convert it into a full Shinkansen line.

List of Shinkansen lines

The main Shinkansen lines are:

Two further lines, known as Mini-Shinkansen (ミニ新幹線), have also been constructed by upgrading existing sections of line:

There are two standard gauge not technically classified as Shinkansen lines but with Shinkansen services:

Future lines

Many Shinkansen lines were proposed during the boom of the early 1970s but have yet to be constructed. These are called Seibi Shinkansen (整備新幹線) or "planned Shinkansen." One of these lines, the Narita Shinkansen to Narita Airport, has been officially cancelled, but a few remain under development.

The other lines in the 1973 plan are:

  • Hokkaidō Minami-mawari (South Loop) Shinkansen (北海道南回り新幹線): Oshamanbe - Muroran - Sapporo
  • Uetsu Shinkansen (羽越新幹線): Toyama - Niigata - Akita
  • Ōu Shinkansen (奥羽新幹線): Fukushima - Yamagata - Akita
  • Hokuriku – Chūkyō Shinkansen (北陸・中京新幹線): Nagoya - Tsuruga
  • San'in Shinkansen (山陰新幹線): Osaka - Tottori - Matsue - Shimonoseki
  • Chūgoku Ōdan Shinkansen (中国横断新幹線): Okayama - Matsue
  • Shikoku Shinkansen (四国新幹線): Osaka - Tokushima - Takamatsu - Matsuyama - Ōita
  • Shikoku Ōdan Shinkansen (四国横断新幹線): Okayama - Kōchi - Matsuyama
  • Higashi-Kyūshū Shinkansen (東九州新幹線): Fukuoka - Ōita - Miyazaki - Kagoshima
  • Kyūshū Ōdan Shinkansen (九州横断新幹線): Ōita - Kumamoto

Shinkansen technology outside Japan

Railways using Shinkansen technology are not limited to those in Japan.

List of Shinkansen train models

Trains can be up to sixteen cars long. With each car measuring 25 m (82 ft) in length, the longest trains are 400 m (1/4 mile) from front to back. Stations are similarly long to accommodate these trains. Japan's maglev trains are considered Shinkansen.

  • Passenger Trains
  • Experimental Railed Trains
    • 1000 Type
    • 951 Type
    • 961 Type
    • 962 Type
    • 500-900 Series (WIN 350)
    • 952/953 Type (STAR 21)
    • 955 Type (300X)
    • E954 Type (FASTECH 360 S)
    • E955 Type (FASTECH 360 Z)(Mini-Shinkansen)
  • Maglev Trains:
    • LSM200 - 1972
    • ML100 - 1972
    • ML100A - 1975
    • ML-500 - 1977
    • ML-500R - 1979
    • MLU001 - 1981
    • MLU002 - 1987
    • MLU002N - 1993
    • MLX01 - 1996
    • MLX01-901 - 2002
  • Maintenance Trains
    • 911 Type Diesel Locomotive
    • 912 Type Diesel Locomotive
    • DD18 Type Diesel Locomotive
    • DD19 Type Diesel Locomotive
    • 944 Type (Rescue Train)
    • 921 Type 0 Numbers (Track Checking Car)
    • 922 Type (Doctor Yellow Set T1, T2, T3)
    • 923 Type (Doctor Yellow Set T4, T5)
    • 925 Type (Doctor Yellow Set S1, S2)
    • E926 Type (East i)(Mini-Shinkansen)

List of types of Shinkansen services

Originally intended to carry passenger and freight trains by day and night, the Shinkansen lines carry only passenger trains. The system shuts down between midnight and 06:00 every day for maintenance. The few overnight trains that still run in Japan run on the old narrow gauge network that the Shinkansen parallels.

Speed records

km/h (mph) Train Location Date Comments
200 (124.3) 1000 Type Shinkansen Odawara test track, now part of Tōkaidō Shinkansen 31 October 1962
256 (159.1) 1000 Type Shinkansen Odawara test track 30 March 1963 Former world speed record for EMU trains.
286 (177.7) 951 Type Shinkansen Sanyō Shinkansen 24 February 1972 Former world speed record for EMU trains.
319.0 (198.2) 961 Type Shinkansen Oyama test track, now part of Tōhoku Shinkansen 7 December 1979 Former world speed record for EMU trains.
325.7 (202.4) 300 series test train Tōkaidō Shinkansen 28 February 1991
352.0 (218.7) Class 952/953 test train Jōetsu Shinkansen 30 October 1992
425.0 (264.1) Class 952/953 test train Jōetsu Shinkansen 21 December 1993
426.6 (265.1) Class 955 (300X) test train Tōkaidō Shinkansen 11 July 1996
443.0 (275.3) Class 955 (300X) test train Tōkaidō Shinkansen 26 July 1996


Further reading

  • Hood, Christopher P. (2006). Shinkansen – From Bullet Train to Symbol of Modern Japan. London: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-32052-6 (hb) or ISBN 0415444098. (pb)

See also

External links

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