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Lineup of JR East Shinkansen trains, November 2007
Lineup of JR West Shinkansen trains, October 2008

The also known as "the bullet train" is a network of high-speed railway lines in Japan operated by four Japan Railways Group companies. Starting with the Tōkaidō Shinkansen in 1964, the now long network has expanded to link most major cities on the islands of Honshūmarker and Kyūshūmarker at speeds up to . Test runs have reached for conventional rail in 1996, and up to a world record 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.

The Tōkaidō Shinkansen is the world's busiest high-speed rail line. Carrying 151 million passengers a year (March 2008), it has transported more passengers (over 6 billion) than any other high speed line in the world. Between Tokyo and Osaka, the two largest metropolises in Japan, ten trains per hour with 16 cars each (1,300 seats capacity) run in each direction with minimum 3 minutes frequency. Though largely a long-distance transport system, the Shinkansen also serves commuters who travel to work in metropolitan areas from outlying cities.


To enable high-speed operation, Shinkansen uses advanced technologies compared with conventional rail, and it achieved not only high speed but also high standard of safety and comfort. Its success has influenced other railways in the world and importance and advantage of high-speed rail has been revalued consequently.


  • Shinkansen routes are completely separate from conventional rail lines (except Mini-shinkansen which goes through to conventional lines). Consequently, Shinkansen is not affected by slower local or freight trains and has the capacity to operate many high-speed trains punctually.
  • It uses tunnels and viaducts to go through and over obstacles rather than around them, with a minimum curve radius of 4,000 meters (2,500 meters on the oldest Tōkaidō Shinkansen).
  • The Shinkansen system is built without road crossings.
  • Tracks are strictly off-limits with penalties against trespassing strictly regulated by law.


  • The Shinkansen uses standard gauge in contrast to the 1,067 mm narrow gauge of older lines.
  • Continuous welded rail is exclusively used.
  • Movable nodes are employed, eliminating gaps at turnouts and crossings.
  • Long rails are used, joined by expansion joints to minimize gauge fluctuation due to thermal elongation and shrinkage.
  • A combination of ballasted and slab track are used, with slab track exclusively employed on concrete bed sections such as viaducts and tunnels. Slab track is significantly more cost-effective in tunnel sections, since the lower track height reduces the cross-sectional area of the tunnel, thereby reducing construction costs by up to 30%.

Signal system

  • It employs an ATC (Automatic Train Control) system, eliminating the need for trackside signals.
  • Centralized traffic control manages all trains operation, and all tasks relating Shinkansen train, track, station and schedule are highly systemized by computer.


Shinkansen uses a 25,000 V AC overhead power supply (20,000 V AC on Mini-shinkansen lines).


  • Shinkansen trains are electric multiple unit style, offering high acceleration and deceleration, reduced damage to the track because of lighter vehicles.
  • Shinkansen cars are air-sealed to ensure stable air pressure when entering tunnels at high speed.


The Shinkansen is very reliable, and 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 over roughly 160,000 Shinkansen trips completed. The previous record, from 1997, was 18 seconds.


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 ( ), a nickname given to the project while it was initially being discussed in the 1930s. The name stuck because of 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 and freight line between Tokyo and Shimonoseki that would have used steam and electric locomotives with a top speed of . 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 Singaporemarker, 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.


Following the end of World War II, high speed rail was forgotten for several years while traffic of passengers and freight steadily increased on the conventional Tōkaidō Main Line along with the reconstruction of Japanese industry and economy. By the mid-1950s the Tōkaidō Line was operating at full capacity, and the Ministry of Railways decided to revisit the Shinkansen project. In 1957, Odakyu Electric Railway introduced its Romancecar 3000 SE service, setting a world speed record of for a narrow gauge train. This train gave designers the confidence that they could safely build an even faster standard gauge train. Thus the first Shinkansen, the 0 Series, was built on the success of the Romancecar.

In 1950s, it was widely believed that railways would soon be outdated and replaced by air travel and highways in America and many countries in Europe. However, Sogō Shinji, President of Japan National Railways, insisted strongly on the possibility of high-speed rail, and the Shinkansen project was implemented.

Government approval came in December 1958, and construction of the first segment of the Tōkaidō Shinkansen between Tokyo and Osaka started in April 1959. Some of the construction was financed by an US$80 million loan from the World Bank. A test facility for rolling stock, now part of the line, opened in Odawara in 1962.

Initial success

The Tōkaidō Shinkansen began service on 1 October 1964, in time for the Tokyo Olympics. The conventional Limited Express service took six hours and 40 minutes from Tokyo to Osaka, but the Shinkansen made the trip in just four hours, shortened to three hours and ten minutes by 1965. It enabled day trips between Tokyo and Osaka, the two largest metropolises in Japan, changed the style of business and life of Japanese people significantly, and increased new traffic demand. The service was an immediate success, reaching the 100 million passenger mark in less than three years on 13 July 1967, and one billion passengers in 1976. Sixteen-car trains were introduced for Expo '70marker in Osaka. With an average of 23,000 passengers per hour per direction in 1992, the Tōkaidō Shinkansen is the world's busiest high-speed rail line.

The first Shinkansen trains, the 0 series, ran at speeds of up to , later increased to . The last of these trains, with their classic bullet-nosed appearance, were retired on 30 November 2008. A driving car from one of the 0 series trains is now in the British National Railway Museummarker in Yorkmarker, England.

Network expansion

The Tōkaidō Line's rapid success prompted an extension westward to Hiroshima and Fukuoka (the Sanyō Shinkansen), which was completed in 1975.

Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka was an ardent supporter of the Shinkansen, 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 Japan National Railways slid into debt throughout the late '70s, largely because of the high cost of building the Shinkansen network. By the early 1980s, the company was practically insolvent, leading to its privatization in 1987.

Development of the Shinkansen continued despite this setback, however. Several new train models followed the first, each generally with its own distinctive appearance. Shinkansen trains now run regularly at speeds up to , placing them alongside the French TGV, Italian TAV, Spanish AVE, and German ICE among the fastest trains in the world.

Since 1970, development has also been underway for the Chūō Shinkansen, a planned maglev line from Tokyo to Osaka. On 2 December 2003, the 3-car maglev trainset JR-Maglev MLX01marker reached a world speed record of .

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 45-year, nearly 7 billion-passenger history, there have been no passenger fatalities due to derailments or collisions, despite frequent 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 such mishaps. There have, however, been suicides by passengers jumping both from and in front of moving trains.

The only derailment of a Shinkansen train in passenger service occurred during the Chūetsu Earthquakemarker on 23 October 2004. Eight of ten cars of the Toki No. 325 train on the Jōetsu Shinkansen derailed near Nagaoka Stationmarker in Nagaoka, Niigatamarker. 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. A new anti-derailment device was installed after detailed analysis of the derailment.

Economic and environmental impact

The Shinkansen has had a great effect on Japan's business, economy, society, environment and culture. The time savings alone from switching from a conventional to a high-speed network have been estimated at 400 million hours, an economic impact of ¥ 500 billion per year. Shinkansen connectivity has regenerated rural towns such as Kakegawa that would otherwise be too distant from major cities. Travelling Tokyo-Osaka by Shinkansen produces only around 16% of the carbon dioxide of the equivalent journey by car, a savings of 15,000 tons of per year.

However, the vast construction costs of the Shinkansen network, particularly the later, less profitable lines often driven more by political interference than actual demand, imposed vast debt servicing costs on JNR that, by 1971, made JNR unprofitable even before depreciation. JNR's Shinkansen-fueled debt eventually ballooned to ¥28 trillion and was an instrumental factor in the company's eventual privatization and breakup. The privatized JRs eventually paid a total of only ¥9.2 trillion to acquire JNR's Shinkansen network.

Challenges encountered

Noise pollution

Noise pollution concerns mean that increasing speed is becoming more difficult. In Japan, the population density is high and there have been severe protests against noise pollution of Shinkansen, and now the Shinkansen noise is regulated less than 70 dB in residential area.Hence, improvement and reduction of pantograph, weight saving of cars, and construction of noise barrier and other measures have been implemented. Current research is primarily aimed at reducing operational noise, particularly the "tunnel boom" phenomenon caused when trains exit tunnels at high speed.


Because of the risk of large earthquake disaster, Urgent Earthquake Detection and Alarm System (UrEDAS) (earthquake warning system) has been introduced since 1992. It enables automatic braking of bullet trains in the case of large earthquakes.

Heavy snow

Tōkaidō Shinkansen frequently encounters snow around Sekigahara, Gifumarker and Maibara Stationmarker in winter. Trains have to reduce speed during that time, and cars initially got disordered frequently. Later, sprinkler systems were equipped and the situation has become better, but delays of 10 to 20 minutes still occur during snowy weather.Along the route of the Jōetsu Shinkansen, winter snows can be very heavy, with snow depths of two to three metres, so the line is equipped with stronger sprinklers and slab track, to mitigate the effects of deep snow.



JR East has announced that the E5 Series of trains, capable of up to , is 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 is not currently feasible because of 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-Aomorimarker is expected to allow journey times of around 3 hours for trains from Tokyo to Shin-Aomori (a distance of approximately ).

Line extension

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 Tunnelmarker). 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.

The Narita Shinkansen project to connect Tokyo to Narita International Airportmarker, 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 there is no plan to convert it into a full Shinkansen line.


The CEO of JR Central announced plans to have the maglevmarker Chūō Shinkansen operating from Tokyo to Nagoya ( ) by 2025. Following the shortest route (through the Japanese Alpsmarker), JR Central estimates that it will take 40 minutes to run from Tokyo to Nagoya. However, Nagano Prefecture prefers a routing that swings north to serve the city of Chino and either Ina or Kiso-Fukushima. However, this will increase both the travel time (from Tokyo to Nagoya) and the cost of construction. Maglev trains have been doing test runs on the Yamanashi test tracks since 1997, running at speeds of over 500 km/h. Because of this extensive testing, maglev technology is almost ready for public usage.

Gauge Change Train

Experiments are taking place with a Gauge Change Train to enable direct operation between standard-gauge Shinkansen and narrow-gauge conventional lines; this could be useful for the Kyūshū Shinkansen branch to Nagasaki and other conventional lines. Future implementation awaits practical operational tests.

List of Shinkansen lines

The main Shinkansen lines are:
Line Start End Length Operator Opened Annual Passengers
Tōkaidō Shinkansen Tokyomarker Shin-Osakamarker 515.4 km JR Central 1964 151,320,000
Sanyō Shinkansen Shin-Osakamarker Hakatamarker 553.7 km JR West 1972 63,432,000
Tōhoku Shinkansen Tokyomarker Hachinohemarker 593.1 km JR East 1982 84,833,000
Jōetsu Shinkansen Ōmiyamarker Niigatamarker 269.5 km 1982 38,294,000
Nagano Shinkansen (Hokuriku Shinkansen) Takasakimarker Naganomarker 117.4 km 1997 10,135,000
Kyūshū Shinkansen Kagoshima Route Shin-Yatsushiromarker Kagoshima-Chūōmarker 126.8 km [[Kyūshū Railway Company|JR Kyūshū 2004 4,184,000]]

Two further lines, known as "Mini-shinkansen", have also been constructed by upgrading existing sections of line:

There are two standard-gauge lines 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 ( ) or "planned Shinkansen". One of these lines, the Narita Shinkansen to Narita Airportmarker, has been officially cancelled, but a few remain under development.

The following lines were also proposed in the 1973 plan, but have subsequently been shelved indefinitely.
  • : Oshamanbe - Muroran - Sapporo
  • : Toyama - Niigata - Akita
  • : Fukushima - Yamagata - Akita
  • : Nagoya - Tsuruga
  • : Osaka - Tottori - Matsue - Shimonoseki
  • : Okayama - Matsue
  • : Osaka - Tokushima - Takamatsu - Matsuyama - Ōita
  • : Okayama - Kōchi - Matsuyama
  • : Fukuoka - Ōita - Miyazaki - Kagoshima
  • : Ōita - Kumamoto

In addition, the Basic Plan specified that the Jōetsu Shinkansen should start from Shinjukumarker, not Tokyo Station, which would require building an additional 30 km of track between Shinjuku and Ōmiya. While no construction work was ever started, land along the proposed track, including an underground section leading to Shinjuku Station, remains reserved. If capacity on the current Tokyo - Ōmiya section proves insufficient once the Hokkaidō and Hokuriku Shinkansen are operational, construction of the Shinjuku - Ōmiya link may be restarted.

Shinkansen technology outside Japan

Class 395 in the United Kingdom, September 2009
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) end to end. Stations are similarly long to accommodate these trains. Some of Japan's high-speed maglev trains are considered Shinkansen, while other slower maglev trains (such as Linimo maglev train line serving local community near the city of Nagoya in Aichi, Japan) are intended as alternatives to conventional urban Rapid transit systems.
Series of Shinkansen

Passenger trains

Tōkaidō and Sanyō Shinkansen

  • 0 series: The first Shinkansen trains, entering service in 1964, and withdrawn in 2008. Maximum speed was 220 km/h. More than 3,200 cars were built.

  • 100 series: Entered service in 1985, and featured bilevel cars with restaurant car and compartments. Maximum speed is 230 km/h. Now used only on Sanyō Shinkansen Kodama services.

  • 300 series: Entered service in 1992, initially on Nozomi services with maximum speed of 270 km/h.

  • 500 series: Introduced on Nozomi services in 1997, with maximum speed is 300 km/h. Since 2008, some sets have been shortened from 16 to 8 cars for use on Sanyō Shinkansen Kodama services.

  • 700 series: Introduced in 1999, with maximum speed of 285 km/h. Now widely used on Nozomi, Hikari, and Kodama services.

  • N700 series: The most recently introduced type on the Tōkaidō and Sanyō Shinkansen, in service since 2007, with a maximum speed of 300 km/h.

Kyūshū Shinkansen

  • 800 series: In service since 2004 on Tsubame services, with maximum speed 260 km/h.

Tōhoku, Jōetsu, and Nagano Shinkansen

  • E1 series: Bilevel 12-car trains in service since 1994 with maximum speed of 240 km/h.

  • E2 series: In service since 1997 with maximum speed of 275 km/h.

  • E4 series: Bilevel 8-car trains in service since 1997 with maximum speed of 240 km/h.

  • E5 series (On order): Trains scheduled to enter service on Tōhoku Shinkansen in 2011 with a maximum speed of 320 km/h, becoming the fastest train in Japan.

Yamagata and Akita Shinkansen

  • E6 series (On order): Scheduled to be introduced in 2013 Akita Shinkansen Komachi services, with maximum speed 320 km/h.

Taiwan High Speed Rail

Experimental trains

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 vehicles

  • 911 Type diesel locomotive
  • 912 Type diesel locomotive
  • DD18 Type diesel locomotive
  • DD19 Type diesel locomotive
  • 944 Type (rescue train)
  • 921 Type (track inspection car)
  • 922 Type (Doctor Yellow sets T1, T2, T3)
  • 923 Type (Doctor Yellow sets T4, T5)
  • 925 Type (Doctor Yellow sets S1, S2)
  • E926 Type (East i)

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 older narrow gauge network that the Shinkansen parallels.

Tōkaidō and Sanyō Shinkansen

Tōhoku, Yamagata and Akita Shinkansen

Jōetsu Shinkansen

Hokuriku Shinkansen (Nagano Shinkansen)

Kyūshū Shinkansen

Speed records

km/h (mph) Train Location Date Comments
200 (124.3) Class 1000 Shinkansen Kamonomiya test track in Odawara, now part of Tōkaidō Shinkansen 31 October 1962
256 (159.1) Class 1000 Shinkansen Kamonomiya test track 30 March 1963 Former world speed record for EMU trains.
286 (177.7) Class 951 Shinkansen Sanyō Shinkansen 24 February 1972 Former world speed record for EMU trains.
319.0 (198.2) Class 961 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 (STAR21) test train Jōetsu Shinkansen 30 October 1992
425.0 (264.1) Class 952/953 (STAR21) 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

Competition with air

Compared with air transport, the Shinkansen has several advantages, including scheduling frequency and flexibility, punctual operation, comfortable seats, and convenient city-center terminals.

The Shinkansen system and airlines often compete with each other for the business of city-to-city domestic travelers. If the Shinkansen connects two cities in less than three hours, most passengers choose the Shinkansen, but if it takes more than four hours by Shinkansen, the majority choose air. Some examples are as follows.

  • Tokyo - Nagoya (342 km), Tokyo – Sendai (325 km), Tokyo – Hanamaki (Morioka) (496 km), Tokyo – Niigata (300 km): Once there was air service between these cities, but it was abolished after Shinkansen service started. Shinkansen runs between these cities in about two hours or less.
  • Tokyo – Osaka (515 km): Shinkansen is dominant because of fast (2 hours and 30 minutes) and frequent service (about every 10 minutes by Nozomi); however, air travel has a certain share (about 20 – 30 percent) because of the availability of discount fares.
  • Tokyo – Okayama (676 km), Tokyo - Hiroshima (821 km): Shinkansen and air travel are mostly even in popularity. The Shinkansen takes about three to four hours and there are Nozomi trains every 30 minutes, but airlines may provide cheaper fares, attracting many passengers.
  • Tokyo – Fukuoka (1,069 km): The Shinkansen takes about five hours even with the fastest Nozomi, and most people choose air. Fukuoka (Itastuke) Airport is near from the CBD - Tenjin, and Fukuoka City Subway Line 1 connects the Airport and Tenjin, via Hakata Station.
  • Osaka - Fukuoka (554 km): One of the most competitive sections. The Shinkansen takes about two and half hours by Nozomi, and JR West operates its own Hikari Rail Star trains twice an hour, taking about 2 hours and 40 minutes between the two cities.

See also


  • (pb)

External links

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