Shinkansen Bullet Train

Brief Overview of Shinkansen Bullet Train

shinkansen with Mt.Fuji

The Most Advanced High Speed Railway System
The Shinkansen, also known as “Bullet Train” is a network of high-speed railway lines in Japan. The shinkansen network has expanded to currently consist of 2,898.7 km of lines with maximum speeds of 320 km/h. The network presently links most major cities of Japan. The Tokaido Shinkansen line (connecting Tokyo and Osaka) is the world's busiest high-speed rail line. Carrying 151 million passengers per year, it has transported more passengers (over 5 billion, entire network over 10 billion) than any other high-speed line in the world. Between Tokyo and Osaka, the two largest metropolises in Japan, up to thirteen trains per hour with sixteen cars each (1,323-seat capacity) run in each direction with a minimum headway of three minutes between trains. Test runs of shinkansen have reached 443 km/h for conventional rail in 1996, and up to a world record of 603 km/h for maglev trains in 2015.
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Shinkansen is operated exclusively by Japan Rail Company
E5 series shinkansenFollowing the Tokaido Shinkansen that the former Japan National Railways (JNR) started operation on October 1, 1964, each of the JR group companies has operated its own high-speed railway system, and the term Shinkansen is used for indicating the railways for high-speed operations, the train-cars, and related railway-based transportation systems as a whole. The structure and role of Shinkansen are in essence different from those of regular train lines. Its operation is exclusively conducted by the passenger-handling railway company (JR).

Shinkansen means “New Trunk Lines” in Japanese
Shinkansen originally means 'new trunk lines' in contrast to former trunk lines. For example, the name Tokaido Shinkansen was given because this line was built to increase the number of tracks of the Tokaido Main Line, a regular railway line. In nations other than Japan, bullet trains or super expresses are used for indicating Shinkansen, with Shinkansen itself also used in some nations. Today, the term of Shinkansen is used for each Shinkansen railway line, and for the name of each train on the Shinkansen or Super-express, for example, NOZOMI Super-express, is used, even for the local trains of a Shinkansen line.

shinkansen in Factory

No Fatal Accident for more than 50 years
During over the 50 years since the Tokaido Shinkansen line, the first Shinkansen line, started operation on October 1, 1964, no fatal passenger accident (due to the Shinkansen) has occurred on the Shinkansen. Many suicides by jumping on railway tracks occurred, and a person was caught by a train-car door, dragged and killed (refer to the passenger-falling-down accident at Mishima Station in 1995). However, these were not caused by fundamental defects of the Shinkansen system itself, and are considered exceptions. Therefore, it is recognized that the safety of Shinkansen is generally quite high. The system to secure the safety of Shinkansen has been operated securely and has been maintained regularly. It could be said that this fact plainly shows a high level of railway-related technologies in Japan. This fact is sometimes called the safety myth of the Shinkansen.

E6 Series Shinkansen in Akita
E6 Series Shinkansen Bullet Train in Akita
N700 Series Shinkansen with Mt.Fuji
N700 Series Shinkansen Bullet Train with Mt.Fuji
E5 Series Shinkansen Bullet Train in Miyagi
E5 Series Shinkansen Bullet Train in Miyagi
Must See Videos
Video Contents
1. Documentary of Japanese Bullet Train "Shinkansen" (27:07)
2. Shinkansen High Speed Passage 1 (0:24)
3. Shinkansen High Speed Passage 2 (0:25)
4. Shinkansen High Speed Passage 3 (0:31)
5. News of Liner Motor Car Shinkansen (2:54)

Global Influences of Shinkansen

E6 series

Success of Shinkansen affected Hig Speed Railways in the World
The world-first achievement of the successful 210-km/h Shinkansen operation affected nations of the Europe and America. In France, having boasted an advanced railway nation, high-speed TGS diesel train-cars of the national railways of France were operated at a speed of 200 km/h for the first time on May 28, 1967, and even after that, more than one train was operated at 200 km/h. After starting operation of a new trunk railway line, France developed full-scale super-high-speed TGV trains in 1981 and achieved the world fastest speed in business operation of 260 km/h with the train, surpassing the record of the Shinkansen line. In Germany (ICE) and Italy (Pendolino) as well, development of high-speed train systems were planned and operated. Pendolino in Italy, the Europe-first high-speed line, whose construction had started in 1970, started a partial operation in 1978, started a 250-km/h operation in 1983, but fell behind Germany and France in later development efforts, with the operation of the entire planned line starting as late as 1992. Spain, which also had investigated introduction of new high-speed railway lines, employed the TGV high-speed trains, and the number of nations introducing TGV from France has increased. Getting technical assistance from Germany, Russia connected in 1997 the distance of 654 km between Moscow and Saint Petersburg at a maximum operation speed of 250 km/h with Sokol trains, shortening the traveling time from four hours and 20 minutes to two hours and 30 minutes. In these nations where standard gauge railways had already been laid, the railways around stations were used as they had been, and in the sections far from the stations, new railways for high-speed operations were laid or existing railways were modified and used for high-speed operations. Therefore, it can be said that, from the viewpoint of the system, they are different from the Shinkansen lines in which all railways had been newly laid.


Shinkansen exceeded 600km/h in year 2015
As of 2015, the fastest speed in business operation, except that in experimental testing, is 320 km/h achieved by Shinkansen in Japan, TGV in France, and ICE3 in Germany. In the Republic of Korea, Korea Train Express (KTX) started operation at 300 km/h in 2004, employing the TGV system of France, and in Taiwan, Taiwan High Speed Rail started operation at 300 km/h in 2007, employing the Shinkansen system in Japan (partially introducing technologies from France or Germany). In Japan, the next generation high speed shinkansen is under construction for year 2027 with a speed of 500km/h in business operation by using the maglev liner motor car system. As of 2015, the fastest passenger-carrying railway line, including levitated railways, is Shanghai Transrapid constructed in 2003 for accessing Shanghai Pudong International Airport, employing German technologies, and the maximum speed is 430 km/h. The fastest train speed in the world, including those in running tests, is 603 km/h recorded by JR maglev trains on the Yamanashi maglev test line.

L0 Series Shinkansen which achieved the fastest train speed of 603 km/h
L0 Series Shinkansen which achieved the Fastest Train Speed of 603 km/h
500 Series Shinkansen Bullet Train in Tokyo Metropolis
500 Series Shinkansen Bullet Train in Tokyo Metropolis
N700 Series Shinkansen Bullet Train in Tokaido Line
N700 Series Shinkansen Bullet Train in Tokaido Line

Introduction of Shinkansen Bullet Train

JR Central - Linea proto-line (max 603km/h)

Linea Proto-line

JR East - FASTECH stream-line (max 443km/h)

FASTECH stream-line

JR East - FASTECH arrow-line (max 425km/h)


JR East - E7 series (max 350km/h)


JR East - E6 series (max 360km/h)


JR East - E5 series (max 360km/h)


JR Kyusyu - 800 series (max 360km/h)


JR Central & West - N700 series (max 350km/h)


JR Central & West - 700 series (max 340km/h)


JR Central & West - 500 series (max 365km/h)


JR East - E4 series (max 290km/h)


JR East - E3 series (max 315km/h)


JR East - E2 series (max 320km/h)


JR Central & West - 300 series retired (max 325km/h)


JR East - E1 series retired (max 290km/h)


JR East - 200 series retired (max 295km/h)


JR Central & West - 100 series retired (max 289km/h)


JR East - 0 series retired (max 256km/h)


JR Central & West - 0 series retired (max 256km/h)


JR Central & West - Dr.Yellow (max 340km/h)


Gallery of Cabin of Shinkansen

N700 series cabin "Nozomi"

N700 inside3

N700 series cabin "Mizuho"

N700 inside2

N700 series cabin "Sakura"

N700 inside1

E5 series cabin "Hayabusa"

E5 inside

E6 series cabin "Komachi"

E6 inside

800 series cabin "Tsubasa"

800 inside

800 series cabin "Tsubasa"

800 inside

E7 series cabin "Asama"

E7 inside2

E7 series cabin "Gran Class"

E7 inside1

Major Technologies for Shinkansen

E2 series

Railways and Gauge-related Facilities
Trains run at speeds exceeding 200 km/h over almost all sections of a Shinkansen railway. Therefore, various technologies different from those for regular railways are used. In addition to speed, high standards have been maintained for safety as well as passenger-friendliness, and its successful operation has offered an opportunity for other nations to review the value of high-speed railways. No crossing with roads is provided to prevent the trains from colliding with vehicles. For the ares where railways are laid, measures to prevent ordinary people entering are taken. For the rails, long rails are used for reducing the number of connection points. In the section between the Iwate-Numakunai Station and the Hachinohe Station on the Tohoku Shinkansen line, approx. 60.4 km-long 'super-long rails' are used.

Signal Systems
Signal system of ShinkansenDue to their high speeds, it is impossible to operate the trains while checking signals located on the ground from the trains visually. Therefore automatic train control devices (ATC) are used for operations, and instructions for operation are displayed in the operating room of the trains, based on signals available there. The Centralized Train Control unit (CTC) in the operation center controls the states of all trains in operation centrally. Currently, after the introduction of the Programmed Traffic Control system (PTC), all Shinkansen operations, including ordinary point control and signal control, automatic announcements in the stations, the management and maintenance of train-cars, and the generation of the train operation schedule for restoring operation after a traffic failure, are controlled by computers systematically.

shinkansen Fastech lineTrain-Car Technologies
For powering trains, instead of the 'concentrated traction system' used for locomotives (including the many push-pull type concentrated traction systems employed in Europe, in which non-powered passenger train-cars are pulled), the distributed traction system (electric train-car system) in which motive force is distributed to each train-car, is used to increase the acceleration/deceleration ability, to make the train-cars lighter and to reduce the load on the railways. However, because the electric/electronic devices to be installed on the train-cars increased, this system had a disadvantage in sales, compared to the concentrated traction system because of the high initial cost and the maintenance cost. However, nowadays, induction motors employing VVVF inverter control have been introduced in addition to the practical use of regenerative brakes, and this system has become advantageous in the aspect of applying brakes in high-speed operation, compared with the concentrated traction system, because in the latter system, mechanical or eddy-current brakes, not used for moving the train, must be provided on each of the attached, non-powered passenger cars (the distributed traction system has become used in some train-cars of the new-generation TGV and ICE). With Japan being mountainous, the ground tends to be less solid than that of other countries. In the concentrated traction system, stronger railways must be used and the ground under them must also be more solid, compared to the distributed traction system, to support the heavy weights of locomotive cars. Therefore, use of the distributed traction system is more advantageous in laying and maintaining rails than that of the concentrated traction system.

Train-Protecting Devices
500 series trainIn high-speed operations, it is highly possible that, for train protection (or to stop other trains for protection), use of fuses and short-circuiting-rails devices, both of which are used in regular railway lien operations, is inadequate. Therefore, a train protection method different from those used in regular railway lines is utilized to stop other trains quickly at emergencies. On the train side, an Emergency Ground Switch (EGS) is installed, and when the train operator pushes this switch during an emergency, other trains on the line can be stopped. On the railway side, a train protection switch is provided at 250 m intervals on the main railways and at 50 m intervals on platforms, and pushing this switch enables the ATC circuit to stop operating. Concerning the wireless train protection device, its receiver alone is equipped on trains, and the transmitter is carried by an officer in charge of railway maintenance so that, when damage is inflicted on railways, for example, during railway maintenance work, the officer can stop the trains not equipped with ATC, for example, for the reason that the security method has been changed.

E4 seriesTrain-Cars for the Shinkansen Lines
Since carbon steel was used for the material for the bodies of the train-cars utilized on the Tokaido Shinkansen line and Sanyo Shinkansen line in the era of JNR, such as the 0 series Shinkansen train-cars and 100 series Shinkansen train-cars, the bodies were comparatively heavy. However, from the 200 series Shinkansen train-cars for the Tohoku and Joetsu Shinkansen line, aluminum alloy was used to make the bodies lighter, so than the body weight did not increase significantly even with snow-combating equipment added. Aluminum has become used in general for the Shinkansen train-cars developed after the privatization of JNR. In addition, due to the progress of aluminum processing technology, the cost of manufacturing the bodies has been reduced while the body weight is made lighter as well. Resultantly, recently developed train-cars are considerably lighter than those developed in the era of JNR. It is said that a Shinkansen train-car costs roughly \200 million to \300 million now.

E5 series trainShinkansen train-cars are currently manufactured by the five companies of Nippon Sharyo, Ltd., Kawasaki Heavy Industries, Hitachi, Ltd., Kinki Sharyo Co., Ltd (only for JR West) and Tokyu Car Corporation (only for JR East). On the other hand, as the JR companies have increased the train speeds aggressively after their inauguration, various problems have arisen, such as noise generated from contact between the power collectors and the aerial power supply lines, noise due to wind generated by the fast-moving train-car bodies, and considerable attrition of the portions in contact. Therefore, the number of pantographs are reduced from one every two train-cars in the 0 series Shinkansen train-cars to one every eight train-cars in 300 series Shinkansen train-cars. In addition, T-shaped special pantographs called wing types have been installed for the 500 series Shinkansen train-cars, further increasing the power-collecting efficiency. Getting a hint from the fact that the sound generated by the wings of flying birds of the owl order is smaller than that of birds of other orders, a streamline protrusion has been attached to the pantographs.

Furthermore, when a train enters a tunnel at a high speed, noise is generated due to a rapid air pressure change (air-pressure wave) inside the tunnel, and it is necessary to hold down the amount of the noise. Therefore, the head shape of the front-positioned train-car has been developed considering the aerodynamics in running conditions and the head area-changing rate in entering a tunnel. Consequently, the length of the head portion has become longer, compared with that of the initial 0 series Shinkansen train-cars, and in addition, the shape has become quite different from those of ordinary train-cars (becoming sharp and streamline, like a duckbill). Even for Shinkansen, regular maintenance of the train-cars is necessary, and railway yards are provided at various locations along the lines.

E7 Series Shinkansen Bullet Train in Hokuriku Line
E7 Series Shinkansen Bullet Train in Hokuriku Line
N700 Series Shinkansen Bullet Train in Tokaido Line
N700 Series Shinkansen Bullet Train in Tokaido Line
800 Series Shinkanse Bullet Train in Kyushu
800 Series Shinkanse Bullet Train in Kyushu

History of Shinkansen


High-speed Railway Systems in the Prewar Era
In the initial stage of the railway system development in the Meiji period, narrow gauge track was employed from the viewpoint of cost. Therefore, due to constraints originating in low standards, high-speed operations of trains as in Europe and the United States were inconceivable. The maximum speed remained at 100 km/h or less from the 1910s to 1950s. Changing the gauge to the standard one was proposed many times in the era from the Meiji period to the Taisho period. In the end, the standard gauge failed to be introduced due to political struggles or cost problems. In the 1910s, a plan to construct 'the Japan electric railway,' a new high-speed railway based on electric train-cars between Tokyo and Osaka, was proposed from the private sector, but failed to be implemented because the national government did not approve of it.

Asia Express

The development of realistic high-speed trains in Japan was started by South Manchuria Railways (so-called Mantetsu), which laid railways across Manchuria (the present northeast part of China) that was under control of Japan at that time. This company was operated with capital and technology from Japan and by the executives and engineers who were mostly Japanese, and therefore, it is not too much to say that the railways were Japan-owned. At the time, Mantetsu used steam locomotives to drive train-cars in the era before electric ones. However, the railways were laid with high standards employing the international standard 1,435-mm gauge (called the broad gauge in Japan), and in sharp contrast to conservative Japanese Government Railways (JGR), Mantetsu tried to take advanced measures early on in its company history. In 1934, Mantetsu developed streamline-shaped steam locomotives (for express passenger cars for South Manchuria Railways) based on its own design, meeting the trends in Europe and the United States, and for 701 km between Dalian City and Shinkyo (Xingjing) (present Changchun City), started operating the limited-express 'Asia' train, which combined a locomotive with an organization of newly-developed streamline-shaped passenger train-cars (with all of the cars air-conditioned). The maximum speed of this train reached 120 km/h or more, far exceeding the trains of JGR whose maximum speed was 95 km/h. It ran between the two cities in eight hours and 30 minutes, achieving an average speed (including the stopping periods) of 82 km/h.

Flying Scotman

However, the railways in Europe and the United States at that time advanced further. For example, the steam locomotive-driven 'Flying Scotsman,' a limited-express between London and Edinburgh, was operated by London and North Eastern Railway of England at a maximum speed of more than 160 km/s on a business basis, and Deutsche Bahn AG operated 'Fliegender Hamburger,' a diesel train, at speeds more than 150 km/s on a business basis. Furthermore, railway companies in the United States owned steam locomotives that could drive regularly operated trains at speeds far exceeding 180 km/h. The 120-km/h operation itself was typical of the level of major railways in Europe and the United States, and the 'Asia' train only reached this typical level (however, the complete provision of air-conditioning facilities, including air-cooling equipment alone was the most advanced in the world).

The technologies developed in Mantetsu were never used effectively for the railways in main land of Japan. However, Yasujiro SHIMA, who was Mantetsu personnel, was an engineer specialized in railway technology, came to promote the 'Bullet train plan,' to be described later, together with his oldest son, Hideo SHIMA. As described above, no private large-scale inter-city railways were realized, as the Japan electric railway described above. However, some mid-distance inter-city railways, such as Shinkeihan Railway, Hanshin Electric Express Railway, Osaka Electric Tramway, and Hanwa Electric Railway, were achieved by introducing inter-urban technologies in the United States. Many of these routes were laid in places where they came to compete with existing railways, and one of their objectives of laying new railways was 'to introduce higher standard railways to offer higher speed operations' (compared to existing railways provided in parallel). In the sense of 'Laying higher standard railways,' some aspects of these activities resemble those for Shinkansen. In particular, Kansai Kyuko Railway Co., Ltd, the successor of Sangu Kyuko Electric Railway, successfully connected Osaka City and Nagoya City, two cities not too near nor too far apart (189.5 km in the railway length), through railways, although a train change was required at Ise-Nakagawa Station. On the other hand, Hanwa Electric Railway operated the 'Chotokkyu' train (super-limited-express) at an average speed (including stopping periods) of 81.6 km/h, comparable with the performance of the 'Asia' train. Naturally, high-level specifications were applied to many of the train-cars of these private railway companies (for example, 100 series electric train-cars of Hankyu, 2200 series electric train-cars of Sangu Kyuko Electric Railway, and electric train-cars of Hanwa Electric Railway), slightly affecting the development of the distributed traction system in JNR to be described later.

Arise of Bullet Train Plan
Umeda StationEntering the 1930s, demands for transportation from Japan to China increased rapidly due to the Manchurian Incident and Sino-Japanese war, increasing the amount of traffic on the Tokaido Main line and Sanyo Main line as well. Around this time, the 'Trunk railway investigation committee' was established by Japanese Government Railways (JGR), and how to increase transportation capacities of major trunk railways were investigated there. It was the 'Bullet train plan' that this committee proposed in 1939 as a drastic measure for increasing transportation capacity. According to this plan, a new route, separate from the Tokaido main line and Sanyo main line, was to be constructed with broad gauge (of 1.435 mm or the standard gauge) from Tokyo to Shimonoseki, and trains were to be operated at a maximum speed of 200 km/h, exceeding that of the 'Asia' train by Mantetsu, connecting Tokyo to Osaka in four hours and to Shimonoseki in nine hours. According to this plan, a new route, separate from the Tokaido main line and Sanyo main line, was to be constructed with broad gauge (of 1.435 mm or the standard gauge) from Tokyo to Shimonoseki, and trains were to be operated at a maximum speed of 200 km/h, exceeding that of the 'Asia' train by Mantetsu, connecting Tokyo to Osaka in four hours and to Shimonoseki in nine hours. Already at this time, the persons concerned used the terms of 'Shinkansen' and 'Koki Shinsen' (new broad gauge railway line), because new trunk railways were to be laid. It is said that the term of 'Shinkansen' originated here.

On the railways at that time, a locomotive pulled passenger train-cars typically, and it was planned for the 'Bullet trains' as well that a method of combining an electric locomotive and a steam locomotive should be used. The construction work was continued even after the Pacific War broke out, and the work of constructing the Nihonzaka tunnel (later used for Shinkansen) progressed. However, the work was stopped due to the deteriorating state of the war. However, a considerable portion of the route was used effectively for constructing the Tokaido Shinkansen line later. In particular, during the war, a considerable portion of the necessary land space was procured almost forcibly, making the construction of the Shinkansen line smoother. The engineers who were concerned with this bullet train plan lived in Kannami Town, Takada County, Shizuoka Prefecture, and 'Shinkansen' existed as a geographical name there before the Shinkansen operation started.

80 series JNRTrends towards Distributed Traction Systems
For several years after the end of the Pacific War, the state of Japan, including that of the railways, was in utter turmoil, but after the start of the Korean War in 1950, the state recovery was in full scale, increasing demands for inter-city transportation rapidly. We cannot miss the fact that JNR in the era of 1945 - 1954 employed many talented engineers, who had belonged to the research sector of the Japanese forces or to munitions companies but lost their jobs or could not find jobs using their skills after the war. Researches about the vibration of train-cars in high-speed running conditions and about air force characteristics were advanced significantly by the existence of engineers who had belonged to the former Japanese forces. Shinji SOGO, who became president of JNR in 1955, called back Hideo SHIMA, who had once been a talented engineer in GNR, but had been in the private sector at the time, to JNR, appointing him to chief engineer. Persons centered on him came to promote Shinkansen plans after that.

In mountainous Japan, whose ground is not solid enough, use of the 'distributed traction system,' in which motive power is distributed to each of the train-cars, as in electric train-cars and diesel train-cars, rather than the 'concentrated traction system,' in which a locomotive pulls passenger train-cars, is more suited. The reasons are that the trains based on this system are provided with superior acceleration/deceleration abilities even in the railway conditions of many curves and slopes, and that the trains can run at high speeds even on the railways laid on less-solid ground, because they exert a smaller load on the railways. At that time, steam locomotives were mostly used, and were mainly used internationally as well. Therefore, there were also many in JNR who stuck to the concentrated traction system, but Hideo SHIMA was an exception who understood and contributed to investigating the characteristics of the distributed traction system from the pre-war era. 80 series JNR train-cars, which were developed in 1950 under Shima's leadership for local trains on the Tokaido railway line, were initially considered being suited for short-distance use, but it was verified that they also exhibited superior performances in long-distance operations as well, providing, after that, the motive force to promote use of electric train-cars and diesel train-cars in the regular railway lines of JNR.

101 series

Appearance of High-performance Electric Train Cars
In Japan in 1953 and later, the activities to advance the performance of electric train-cars started corresponding to the introduction of new technologies from Europe and the United States and also corresponding to technology development by domestic manufacturers concerned. In this process, important innovative technologies, clearly different from those in previous train-cars, as described in the following, came to be practically used only during several years from 1953: The new train-car base supporting high-speeds in addition to 'the Cardan driving method,' which enabled the suppression of vibration and contributed to making passengers feel more comfortable and to enabling high-speed operations, 'all-metal light body train-cars,' which enabled stress to be distributed to side plates and ceilings as well as floor chassis, 'the method of electrifying every train-car,' in which every train-car was equipped with an electric motor to increase acceleration performances, 'the electromagnetic straight brake mechanism,' which provided quick response abilities and allowed it to be handled easily, and 'the 1C8M method (MM unit method),' in which a control unit was shared by two electric power train-cars, contributing to reducing cost and to making the car bodies lighter. As a result, 'high-performance electric train-cars' that were superior in high-speed performance as well as in acceleration/deceleration performance were introduced one after another centered on major private railway companies in 1954 and later, accomplishing a big technical achievement.

181 series

Following this trend, JNR also made efforts to develop high-performance electric train-cars, and in 1957, developed the 101 series JNR electric train-cars, new type electric train-cars for commuters (later 101 series train-cars). In the same year, Odakyu Electric Railway Co., Ltd. developed the 3000 type Odakyu electric train-cars (first generation), streamline-shaped limited express featuring a low center of gravity and articulated structure, with a designed affected by 'Electroliners,' a high-performance electric train-car developed in the United States in 1941, were ambitious ones aiming at a maximum speed of 145 km/h. Noticing this, JNR borrowed the SE cars from Odakyu to do research about performance in high-speed operations, and tested them on the Tokaido main line in September of 1957. As a result, the speeds of the SE cars reached 145 km/h as planned, achieving the fastest speed in the world for short gauge railways at the time. Next, JNR modified MoHa-90 series electric train-cars for commuters to increase their speeds, for example, by changing the gear ratio, and the modified cars achieved a good record of 135 km/h, although the body shape was disadvantageous in the aspect of air resistance. Based on these results obtained and applying the technologies for Moha-90 series electric train-cars, JNR developed in 1958, the limited-express type 181 series JNR electric train-cars (later 151 series) for the 'Kodama' trains, a limited-express on the Tokaido main line. This streamline-shaped light and low-center-of-gravity train-cars were fully air-conditioned, equipped with air spring bases, and enabled both speed and passengers' comfort to be met at the same time, completely surpassing passenger trains in the concentrated traction system. In July of 1959, the next year, the speed of the car reached 163 km/s in speed tests on the Tokaido main line, surpassing the speed record of Odakyu's SE cars. The outstanding achievements attained by these train-cars verified the abilities of the distributed traction system, offering strong evidence for introducing electric train-cars in Shinkansen train-cars.

Furthermore, JNR also made efforts by itself for introducing AC electric power from 1955, and began using AC electric power in local sections, starting with the Hokuriku main line in 1957. Use of AC power itself originated in the idea that use of AC power would enable the cost of ground facilities to be reduced, compared with use of DC power. However, use of AC power came to be applied to the electric system of Shinkansen later. When trains are operated in a super-high speed on an electric railway line, lots of power is consumed. For this, to collect electric power from aerial power supply line efficiently, high-voltage AC electric power supplies, which enable lots of power to be conveyed for a long distance, were more suited than 1,500-V DC power supplies that had been used (of the railway lines using AC electronic power in Japan, the regular railway lines use 20 kV and the Shinkansen line used 25 kV, voltages more that ten times larger than that of the DC electric power-using lines).

For constructing Shinkansen
TokyoBefore Shinkansen was constructed, when demands for transportation through railway lines and roads increased corresponding to domestic restoration in the post-war era, both capacities of transporting passengers and of transporting cargo on the Tokaido main line, the most important trunk line in Japan at that time, almost reached their limits. All sections of the Tokaido main line were electrified in 1956, but such a measure alone was acutely insufficient for increases in demands. In 1957, 'the trunk railway investigation committee' within JNR submitted a report insisting that the transportation power of the Tokaido main line would be saturated sooner or later and laying railways other than the existing ones would be required. Various implementation methods were proposed, but it was basically decided to select one from among the following three methods:

  1. New railways should be laid along the existing railways, making the railways a four-track line.
  2. New narrow gauge railways should be laid through a new route.
  3. New broad gauge railways should be laid through a new route.

For increasing the number of tracks of the Tokaido line, it would be traditional common sense to adopt the four-track line. However, with future expandability in sight, the executives of JNR, including Sogo, decided to lay new broad gauge railways that were supposed to include many difficult problems. It was a super-high speed train plan with innovative technologies in the post-war era, to realize the bullet train plan in the pre-war era. On May 25, the same year, the railway technology research laboratory (present Railway Technical Research Institute) reported in the lecture meeting commemorating the 50th anniversary of the laboratory that, when new broad gauge railways were laid, it would be possible to operate trains on them in three hours between Tokyo and Osaka. As soon as hearing the report, Sogo showed a keen interest in it, gathered the executives of JNR and had the research officer concerned at the laboratory talk about its details.

In Europe and the United States, for volume transportation measures, high-speed transportation using airplanes and road networks was considered promising, and the opinion was gaining support that railways would be replaced with such new networks and would be old-fashioned. Even in Japan, the general trend was to follow this opinion, and even many persons within JNR questioned the plan to lay a high-speed railway line in specifications different from those of existing regular lines. Even Hiroyuki AGAWA, a famous writer and a railway fan, criticized the plan saying that the battleship Yamato, the Great Wall of China and pyramids constituted 'the three big structures of the world,' and if Shinkansen were built investing a vast amount of money in this era, it would become the second battleship Yamato and would be laughed at by the world (later, seeing that Shinkansen became so successful as to overturn the railway-declining opinion of the world, AGAWA expressed his regret in a talk with Reisuke ISHIDA who succeeded the post of president of JNR from Sogo). Under such a serious situation, Sogo and Shima continued carrying out political activities (by Sogo) and technical projects (by Shima) to lay railways (Shinkansen) for new high-speed transportation along the Tokaido. Backed up technically, the construction plan was approved in 1958 and the ground-breaking ceremony was held on April 20, 1959. The total construction cost was revised, increasing up to \380 billion from the original plan. Originally, Sogo and persons concerned low-balled the estimated cost needed to get approval of the Diet (of Japan), and in addition, rejected requests for constructing local railway lines to concentrate their efforts on the construction of Shinkansen, incurring displeasure of members of the Diet. Therefore, the cost problem became a liability issue later. So as to take responsibility, Sogo resigned as president of JNR and Shima retired from JNR as well.

On May 1, 1961, JNR obtained a loan of US$80 million (at a fixed rate of US$1 = \360 at the time) for this project from the World Bank, with the severe condition that the project should be completed by 1964 (this loan was completely paid back in 1981). With this loan, it became impossible to stop the Shinkansen project due to domestic reasons. Concerning the construction of the railways, many of the tunnels having been excavated for the 'Bullet train plan' and much of the land having been purchased at the time were used effectively, as described above. It is also said that the project was able to be completed in a short period of five years, due to the existence of the land having been procured at that time and works having been already done also at that time. In Osaka Prefecture and Kyoto Prefecture, completed Shinkansen railways were used temporarily for operating trains on the Hankyu Kyoto main line for which the work to construct elevated railways was under way .

1000 series proto-shinkansenThe Kamonomiya Model Section
In 1962, the Kamonomiya model section was completed in the suburbs of Odawara City, Kanagawa Prefecture (between around Koza-Shibuya Station on the Odakyu line and around Kamonomiya on the Tokaido line).

Here, running tests of an experimental '1000-type Shinkansen train,' a two-car train, were conducted repeatedly. Trains of A-organization (1001 and 1002), two-car trains, and Trains of B-organization (1003 - 1006), four-car trains, were manufactured each with different base carriages, in-vehicle facilities or window shapes to obtain comparative data. In a test on March 20, 1963, a train of 1000-type B-organization achieved the fastest speed in Japan of 256 km/h. Research results in the Kamonomiya section were used effectively for the development of 0 series Shinkansen electric train-cars, the first generation Shinkansen electric train-cars, and for that of railway facilities. However, some defects existed in this Kamonomiya section. At Kamonomiya, located near Sagami bay and being relatively warm even in winter, adequate test data assuming high-speed operations in snow fall conditions could not be obtained. Even when snow happened to fall and a small amount of snow accumulation was observed, the snow melted before starting test runs, not constituting a test. Therefore, a record remains that potatoes were placed on the rails to simulate snow fall conditions to test snow-resistant characteristics of the skirt part of the train-cars. For Shinkansen between Nagoya and Shin-Osaka, the route through the Suzuka mountain range was in the initial plan, but was abandoned due to constraints on the cost, technology and the period of work needed and was changed to the one via Sekigahara Town. The area around Sekigahara is located in a valley at a high altitude, and heavy snow falls in winter there. Research about operating high-speed trains in such a section in winter was not able to be sufficiently completed before starting operation. This caused frequent train-car failures that were generated due to the snow stuck to the train-cars in the Sekigahara area in the first winter after operation started in 1964.

This Kamonomiya section was constructed as a section to be used later in actual operation, so that the facilities constructed for the tests would not be useless after operation started. Therefore, this test section was included in the Shinkansen line (a portion between Shin-Yokohama and Odawara) when the line started its operation. This method of constructing a test section was followed by the Oyama test line of Tohoku Shinkansen line and the maglev test line as well. In the Oyama test line, train station facilities were constructed and have been used as Oyama Station later. The experimental electric train-cars used for the tests were modified after the Tokaido Shinkansen line started its operation. The A-organization trains and the B-organization trains became 941 type emergency relief trains and 922-0 type comprehensive electronic railway test trains, respectively, both being made useful later as well. The 941 type trains were put out of service, but the 922-0 trains were used until 'Doctor Yellow' based on 0 series trains were introduced later.

shinkansen openingUntil the privatization and separation of the Japanese National Railways (JNR)
On October 1, 1964, the Tokaido Shinkansen line started its operation meeting the opening of Tokyo Olympic Games In addition, 0 series Shinkansen electric train-cars dedicated for the line were developed and were used in actual operation. In the Japanese pavilion in the New York World's fair held in New York, the United States, from April 22 prior to the start of operation (1964), a mock-up of the train was exhibited, showing Japan's high technological level. When operation started, the trains were operated at the maximum speed of 200 km/s (with operation of the 'Hikari' and that of the 'Kodama trains taking four and five hours, respectively, between Tokyo and Shin-Osaka). Waiting for the railway bed state to stabilized, operations at 210 km/h were started in the next year (three hours and ten minutes for 'Hikari' and four hours for 'Kodama' between Tokyo and Shin-Osaka). Between Tokyo and Osaka, two big cities in Japan, making a day trip became possible from 1958 using the limited express on the regular railway line, but the time allowed to stay at the trip destination was limited to only two hours. However, when the Shinkansen line started its operation, it became possible to stay long enough at a trip destination, changing the social structure drastically. With demands for business and leisure being generated, the initial 12-train-car organization of the Tokaido Shinkansen line was expanded to a 16-train-car organization at the opportunity when the Japan World Exposition '70 started in 1970, establishing a firm position as a high-speed and volume transportation system. On the other hand, JNR was forced to continue making investments in various facilities, such as for constructing Shinkansen, for increasing the number of limited express trains and express trains and furthermore, for increasing the commuter-transporting capacities (for example, the five-direction strategy). Therefore, JNR's balance fell into the red from 1964 when the Shinkansen line started its operation, and the deficit amount continued increasing after that, and it is said that, as a result, the construction of the Shinkansen line was one the causes of the bankruptcy of JNR. For this, Yoshiyuki KASAI, chairman of the Central Japan Railway Company (JR Central) refuted in a book he wrote that 'The Shinkansen line was constructed with only internally reserved money and borrowed money, and the cost has been recovered only by the train fares and other charges, and therefore, it is wrong to say that the construction of Shinkansen triggered the bankruptcy of JNR.' Anyhow, for JNR thereafter, Shinkansen became an important revenue source.

tohoku shinkansen opening

After that, following the Tokaido Shinkansen line, construction on the Sanyo Shinkansen line was started in 1967 in the form of extending the Tokaido Shinkansen line, to drastically increase transportation capacity of the Sanyo main line, transportation demands for which had also increased, as well as to increase the transportation speed on the line. The Shinkansen line started operation up to Okayama on March 15, 1972 and up to Hakata on March 10, 1975. The catch copy was 'Hikari is going to the west.' Furthermore, an extension of the Shinkansen to the Tohoku region was planned. In 1971, construction on the Tohoku Shinkansen line and that to construct the Joetsu Shinkansen line started, and the work for the Narita Shinkansen line, as an access route to Narita airport which was under construction, also started in 1974. It happened to coincide with the time when Prime Minister Kakuei TANAKA proposed 'Nippon Retto Kaizo-Ron' (Building a New Japan) for promoting the development of land in Japan, and it seemed that the construction of these Shinkansen lines could progress smoothly. However, the construction of the Tohoku and Joetsu Shinkansen lines met protest campaigns against it, difficulties in procuring necessary land and also met an abnormal amount of water flow in tunnel excavation work. Therefore, the completion of the former two Shinkansen lines was delayed by five years from the plan, and the work to construct the Narita Shinkansen line was stopped (however, the facilities constructed for this Shinkansen line were used later when JR East and Keisei Electric Railway Co., Ltd. built a railway line to access Narita airport). Environmental pollution problems due to noise and vibration along Shinkansen lines became serious around this time (for example, the environmental pollution caused by Shinkansen trains in Nagoya). In addition, due to repeated fare hikes corresponding to the deterioration of JNR's finance and the frequent occurrences of strikes because of labor troubles, the number of passengers on existing Shinkansen lines tended to decline. Then affected by the business operation problems and labor troubles, no technical innovation was achieved, and the progress and advancement of Shinkansen became stagnant for a while. In 1982, the Tohoku Shinkansen line and the Joetsu Shinkansen line started their operations, with Omiya used as the departure and arrival place (-> refer also to the revision of the JNR train schedule on November 15, 1982 and the new Shinkansen relay train), and in 1985, the operations of those lines were at last extended to the central Tokyo area (Ueno). After this, the railway share of the traffic in the Tohoku and Joetsu regions increased considerably. However, with the burden of the construction of these Shinkansen lines added as well, the finance of JNR reached a catastrophic situation, leading to the division and privatization of JNR in 1987 the by Yasuhiro NAKASONE Cabinet.

100 seriesShinkansen in the era from the inauguration of JR to today
In the division and privatization of JNR, it was decided that the Tohoku and Joetsu Shinkansen lines should be operated by JR East, the Tokaido Shinkansen line by JR Tokai, and the Sanyo Shinkansen line by JR West. However, initially, the facilities were owned by the Shinkansen Holding Corporation, a third class railway enterprise, and each JR company operated the corresponding line or lines borrowing the railways as a second class railway operator. Maintenance cost of Shinkansen lines were shouldered by each JR company, and the Shinkansen Holding Corporation collected only the fees of lending the facilities. The objective of this scheme was to compensate the red finance of the JR companies in other regions with profit from Shinkansen operations. However, when the business operations of the three JR companies described above became stabilized and listed their shares on the Tokyo Stock Exchange and others came into sight, the following problems arose: With the lending fees being paid corresponding to the amount of traffic, the business operation efforts of each company could not be reflected in its business performance, and the amounts of assets and liabilities could not be fixed. Then in 1991, at last, the system was changed so that each of the railway companies should buy up the facilities in 60 annual installments from the Railway Development Fund, which was reorganized from the Shinkansen Holding Corporation.

300 series

Shinkansen-related activities had been stagnant both in the technical aspect and in the business aspect for a while, but, after the privatization and separation of JNR, active activities, such as introduction of new train-cars and new railway system styles came to be seen. As a typical example, JR East introduced mini-Shinkansen lines in the following way, without constructing new railways meeting Shinkansen specifications (full specifications): Existing regular railways were modified, new train-cars dedicated for the railways were manufactured and these trains were enabled for operation through both Shinkansen lines and regular railway lines. In 1992, 400 series Shinkansen train-cars were manufactured and the Yamagata Shinkansen line started operation between Fukushima Station (located in Fukushima Prefecture) and Yamagata Station of the Ou main line; In 1997, E3 series Shinkansen train-cars were manufactured and the Akita Shinkansen line started operation between Morioka Station and Akita Station on the Tazawako line and the Ou main line; in 1999, E3 series 1000 - 1999 Shinkansen train-cars were manufactured additionally and the section between Yamagata Station and Shinjo Station of the Ou main line started operation as an extension of the Yamagata Shinkansen. JR West made the railway section to the comprehensive railway yard for Sanyo Shinkansen used for passenger train-cars as well, and started operation of the Hakata-Minami line between Hakata Station and Hakata-Minami Station in 1990 using trains-cars for Kodama trains and as limited-express trains on regular railway lines. The maximum speed of Shinkansen remained at 210 km/h for a long time. However, from towards the end of the JNR era, the speed was increased gradually, and now, the maximum train speeds have reached 285 km/h on the Tokaido Shinkansen line, 320 km/h on the Tohoku Shinkansen line and 300 km/h on the Sanyo Shinkansen line. In addition to increases in the train speed, to further reduce the traveling time between major stations, efforts have also been made for shortening the stopping periods at stations and for maintaining high speeds between stations as long as possible, although the amount of time reduced with these measures is at a level counted in minutes.

E6 series

Since around the end of the 20th century, use of Shinkansen for commuting to offices or schools has increased. This is because, in and after the bubble economy era, the price of land in large cities rose steeply, and many came to live in the suburbs from where they could commute to their offices or schools if using Shinkansen (mostly in Tochigi Prefecture, Gunma Prefecture and the east part of Shizuoka Prefecture for commuting to offices or schools in Tokyo). Starting with selling commuter passes for Shinkansen in February 1983, the number of companies offering commuter passes for Shinkansen increased, and in addition, the limit of nontaxable income for commuter passes given by companies was raised, accelerating this trend. Shinkansen trains in the morning and in the evening became congested with commuters, and train schedules for commuters became provided. As a measure for this situation, JR East introduced two-level train-cars, which were called Max and were provided with lots of seats, increasing the number of passenger seats per train-car drastically.

E3 series

Since the Tokaido Shinkansen line was constructed earlier, the railway conditions, such as curves, are designed for 200 km/h to 299 km/h. Even in the later Sanyo Shinkansen and Tohoku Shinkansen line, the routes are rather mountainous compared with those in France and Germany, being provided with many obstacles, such as undulations and curves, which have prevented high-speed designs. In particular, in the latter Shinkansen lines as well as the Joetsu Shinkansen line, provision of cold-proof and snow-proof equipment reequipped for cold areas is inevitable, being disadvantageous in respect to weight. In addition, many problems still remain unsolved to operate trains at speeds over 300 km/h: For example, measures against noise are necessary because many houses exist along the railway lines. However, JR Tokai and JR East started introducing N700 series Shinkansen train-cars from 2007, which enabled a maximum speed of 300 km/h on the Sanyo Shinkansen line, the same as that of 500 series Shinkansen train-cars and, with a car-body tilting system equipped, also enabled a speed of 270 km/h in the 2500-m radius curve sections, where the speed had to be decreased to 255 km/h in the past.

0 Series Shinkansen in 1965's Tokyo
0 Series Shinkansen in 1965's Tokyo
0 Series and E5 Series Shinkansen next to each other
0 Series and E5 Series Shinkansen next to each other
E6 Series Shinkansen Bullet Train in Akita
E6 Series Shinkansen Bullet Train in Akita
500 Series Shinkanse Bullet Train in Shizuoka
500 Series Shinkanse Bullet Train in Shizuoka
L0 Series, the Fastest Train in the World
L0 Series, the Fastest Train in the World
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Encyclopedia of Japan