HSR in the world


It’s impossible to imagine Japan without high-speed railways. This country was the first to introduce high-speed trains. As early as in the 1960s, "bullet trains" flew through Shinkansen’s network at speeds of over 200 km/h. Currently Japanese manufacturers are developing a train that can accelerate to 360 km/h. High speed rail was developed for crowded Japan. It is not only a fast and comfortable form of transport which can accommodate many passengers, it’s also part of the country's image. High-speed rail can be regarded as part of Japan’s national identity. Its creation of a high-speed rail network has helped to turn this country into a world leader, not only in economic terms but in scientific and technological terms as well. Most of Japan’s scientific centres and high-tech areas are concentrated in areas serviced by Shinkansen trains. Japan provides high-speed railway links between cities and research centres, which contributes to business and research activities.


Japan is a real pioneer in the field of high speed rail. The country built the world's first high speed railway network, the Shinkansen (Japanese for "New Trunk Line"). The network was given this name due to the fact that the Shinkansen was the first railway in Japan to use the standard European gauge - 1435 mm. Until then, the Japanese used a narrow gauge - 1067 mm.

The first Shinkansen line was 515 km in length, and linked Tokyo with Osaka (the Tokaido line). It opened 1 October 1964 before the eighteenth summer Olympics in Tokyo. In the 1960s, Shinkansen trains were already travelling at a speed of 200-220 km/hour, which at that time was an absolute record. For their incredible speed, the Japanese dubbed the express trains "bullet-trains."

In 1972, the Tokyo-Osaka line was extended 160 km to the city of Okayama, and in 1975 it was extended another 393 km to Hakata Station in Fukuoka on the island of Koshu. In 1982, two more lines went into operation, connecting Tokyo with Niigata City (the Joetsu line, 270 km) and the city of Morioka (the Tohoku line, 465 km). The speed of the train reached 240 km/h, and in one part of the tracks the trains travelled as fast as 274 km/h. The lines of the railway trains pass through many tunnels, including the tunnel that travels under the Strait of Shimonoseki between the islands of Honshu and Kyushu. The Nagano line (length: 117.4 km) between the cities of Takasaki and Nagano was opened in 1997. Branches of routes, such as the Kyushu line from Hakata to Kagoshima Chuo-(256.8 km) were introduced into operation successively between 2004 and 2011.

Features of operation

The operator, Shinkansen, consists of a group of companies under Japan Railways Group. JR Group controls about 74% of all Japanese lines; including high-speed routes as well as traditional ones. The maximum speed of trains along old portions of routes is 210 km/h, and it is 260 km/h along newer ones.

Originally Shinkansen lines carried freight and passenger traffic during the day and night. Now they serve only passengers, and in the period between midnight and 6 am, traffic is stopped for repair and maintenance. Japan has virtually no night trains, and they continue to utilize the old railway netwok. But the time intervals between trains during morning and evening rush hour on the Shinkansen are only 5 - 6 min. Annual passenger traffic on the network totals about 350 million people. The oldest line, "Tokaido" carried approximately 5 billion passengers between 1964 and 2010.

The Japanese high-speed network is one of the safest in the world. In nearly 40 years of operation, it has not recorded a single fatal accident.

The Shinkansen system uses a European track width of 1435 mm. The lines are electrified by the network; the system uses a single-phase AC 25 kV 60 Hz current.

Rolling Stock

The oldest line on the Japanese high-speed rail system, the "Tokaido" transports about 375,000 passengers every day. The express trains share their names with those of the routes which they service. There are three types of Shinkansen routes: Nozomi (the fastest type of train, which stops only at the largest stations), Hikari (a little slower, more stops) and Kodama (very slow, for local traffic).

Nozomi express trains

Nozomi ("Hope" in Japanese) routes are the fastest high-speed train routes in Japan. These express routes are the second fastest in the world among trains in regular service (after the Shanghai maglev). In some places, Nozomi trains reach a speed of 300 km/h. The path from Tokyo Station to Shin-Osaka Station (515.4 km) takes about 2 hours and 25-37 minutes; the route to Hakata Station (1069.1 km) takes from 4 hours and 50 minutes to 5 hours and 20 minutes. Nozomi express trains only stop in major cities. Currently, this route is serviced by Shinkansen train series 500, 700 and N700.

The 500 series train was the first to feature a special aerodynamic design – it has an elongated nose, which is analogous to that of supersonic airliners such as the Concorde. The first 15 metres of the train is slanted in shape. These trains are reminiscent of spaceships. Their appearance on the railway lines of Japan has completely changed the standards for high-speed rail.

The manufacturer of these trains is Kawasaki HI of Japan. The trains have been in operation since 1997. Their maximum speed is 320 km/h, but in everyday operation, the speed of the train rarely exceeds 300 km/h. The cost of building one of these is estimated at 5 billion yen (over $6 million). Therefore, only nine of the 500 series trains have been built (144 cars).

The 700 series and N700 express trains are gradually replacing their predecessors.

The Shinkansen 700 Series train has been in operation since 1999. Its maximum speed is 270 km/h. The capacity of a 16-carriage train is 1,323 people, while that of an 8-carriage train is 571 people. The trains mainly differ from those of the 500 series in terms of their cost of production – they cost 1 billion yen less.

The Shinkansen N700 series trains took to the rails in 2007. They are able to cover the distance between Tokyo and Osaka (515 miles) in less than 2.5 hours. Their maximum speed is 300 km/h. The 700 Ntrains were the first in Japan to use tilting wagons; this technology allows them to corner without reducing their speed. In terms of capacity, the N700 does not differ from the Shinkansen 700.

Hikari express trains

Hikari (Japanese for ‘light’) routes feature express trains which are second in Japan in terms of speed. The trains which service these routes were originally the fastest on the Tokaido/Sane lines, and have since been upstaged by the newer Nozomi trains. Hikari trains make stops at intermediate stations. The first Hikari train was introduced in 1964, and travelled between Tokyo and Osaka in four hours. Major express trains on this route include those from the Shinkansen 300 series, although now Shinkansen 700 and N700 trains also service these routes.

Shinkansen 300 series trains were introduced in 1992. A total of 66 trains were produced (with 1,104 carriages). The train can reach speeds of up to 270 km/h. The 300 series express trains were the first in Japan to use a tri-phase alternating current traction motor instead of DC motors. Shinkansen 300 trains consist of 16 carriages and have a capacity of 1,323 people. These express trains were produced by Nippon Sharyo, Hitachi, Kawasaki, and Kinki Sharyo. Since 2007, the train has gradually been removed from service, and is being replaced by the N700 train.

Kodama Express trains

Kodama Express

Kodama (Japanese for "Echo") express trains are slower than those that travel along the two faster express routes. These trains make stops at all the small and minor stations. However their rate of travel is still higher than 200 km/h at times, although in some areas it drops to 110 km/h.

Kodama routes still make wide use of Shinkansen 100 series trains. These trains were introduced in 1984, when they began to replace Shinkansen’s first series, the 0 series. Their production continued until 1991. They were manufactured by Nippon Sharyo, Kawasaki, Hitachi, Kinki Sharyo, and Tokyu Sharyo. A total of 1,056 carriages were built. To date, the Express is used in a short, four or six-carriage layout. The capacity of these train totals 1,277 people.

Most Japanese Shinkansen express trains are manufactured by Hitachi, Kawasaki HI, Nippon Sharyo, Kinki Sharyo, and Tokyu Sharyo. These companies, together or separately, have developed all of Japan’s high speed trains. In 2006, the railway company JR East introduced a prototype of a new high-speed train, known as the FASTECH 360S, which it claims is the world's fastest train which can be used along regular routes (360 km/h) and at the same time, it is more reliable, more convenient and less noisy. The development of the prototype has already led to the production of the E5, which travels at 300 km/h, and in 2013 will increase in speed to 320 km/h. The modern express trains will allow Japan to once again claim that it makes the fastest trains in the world.

Prospects for development

The Shinkansen network continues to evolve. At present, two branches are being constructed: from Morioka to Aomori, and from Hakata to Kumamoto. These are scheduled to start operation in 2013.

In addition, high-speed trains will run between the cities of Nagano and Kanazawa, as well as Fukuoka and Yatsusiro. The longest of the planned routes is one that will service the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido. It will utilize the 54 km Seykan tunnel under the Tsugaru Strait, an area known for its storms. However, the construction of this line will not begin before 2020, and the feasibility of implementing this project is yet to be explored, particularly given the difficult economic situation in Japan that has resulted from the recent earthquakes.

Since the 1970's, the Japanese have been developing a new kind of high-speed train system, the JR-Maglev. By 2025, the country plans to build a 290 km high-speed railway, which the maglev will be able to travel in 35 minutes. The line would link Tokyo and Nagoya. Construction of the branch and trains will cost about $ 45 billion, and maglevs will "fly" at a speed of at least 500 km/h. Trains are currently being tested in Japan which are completely controlled by computers. The engineer monitors the image of the journey through a video camera, and there are no windows in his cabin that have views of the front of the train. Thus, Japan has its finger on the pulse of the latest trends in high-speed traffic.

Exportation of technology

Japanese high-speed trains are extremely in demand around the world. Thus, the Taiwan High Speed Railway Express operates using Series 700T trains, built by Kawasaki Heavy Industries. In China, the CRH2 train, which is built by local manufacturers CSR Sifang Loco & Rolling Stocks Corporation must obtain a license from Kawasaki Heavy Industries, Mitsubishi Electric Corporation and Hitachi. The construction of the train is completely based on the Shinkansen E2.

Hitachi has also developed the Electric Train Class 395 for the UK. Japanese express trains will run along the High Speed 1 line, before the 2012 Olympics.

Japan is in talks to supply its trains to Brazil, the USA and Canada. Vietnam plans to build a line by about 2020 which would be similar to Shinkansen, for high-speed travel between Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, the country’s southern commercial centre.

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