Autumn 2015

Shinkansen Bullet Train

A Bullet Train in New York?

The Shinkansen, the Japanese bullet train, serves approximately 930,000 passengers every day throughout Japan. During rush hour Shinkansen trains can arrive as often as every six minutes and even accounting for earthquakes and typhoons their average annual delay is only 36 seconds. For over 50 years these trains have been ferrying people around the country at speeds approaching 200 mph, all while retaining an impeccable safety record.

The first Shinkansen system opened in 1964, just in time for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. That section, known as the Tokaido Shinkansen, connects Tokyo and Osaka, a distance of approximately 320 miles. The original Shinkansen trains could travel at speeds of up to 130 mph, covering the distance between Tokyo and Osaka in four hours. After half a century of numerous improvements in the system, the current generation of Shinkansen can make that trip in less than two and a half hours. Since 1964 the Shinkansen has gone on to connect most of the major population centers in the country, totaling nearly 2,025 miles of track as of March 2015, with more routes planned for the future.

The Shinkansen’s remarkable success stems in part from the amazing technology that forms the backbone of the Shinkansen system. The Shinkansen system incorporates advanced Automatic Train Control (ATC) systems, centralized line controls, and emergency stopping systems along the entirety of its length, and has done so since its inception. On top of these measures, track improvements such as sound barriers have been added to reduce noise pollution for residents living near the tracks and improvements in train design and other measures have continued to make each generation of Shinkansen faster, safer, smoother, and quieter.

There are currently plans to bring high speed rail (HSR) to the United States, many of which will incorporate technology from the Shinkansen. One of these projects has already broken ground in California, where the California High-Speed Rail Authority hopes to link Sacramento and San Diego via bullet train. The Japanese Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transportation and Tourism has been working with the California High-Speed Rail Authority by exchanging information regarding HSR standards and design concepts since 2005. One aspect of this technological exchange is the Japan-California High Speed Rail Consortium. The consortium is composed of seven Japanese companies that specialize in railway operation, including the East Japan Railway Company (JR East). Yasutake Kojima, the Director of JR East New York office, believes HSR will be a welcome and successful option to California’s transit network due to the state’s population density.

Another project working to bring HSR to the United States is underway in Texas. This project is run by Texas Central, a private railway company working in cooperation with the Central Japan Railway Company (JR Central). Their goal is to operate an international version of the Series N700 Shinkansen, the same trains that currently run on the Tokaido Shinkansen, cutting the time it takes to travel between the two cities to less than 90 minutes.

JR Central is also involved in a project to bring a next-generation Shinkansen to the east coast. Japan began research into trains propelled by Magnetic-Levitation, or Maglev, in 1962 and JR Central has plans to have an operational line running between Tokyo and Nagoya by 2027. Japanese Government has offered to provide maglev system to the US in order to kick-start a project that would connect Washington D.C. and New York City.

Imagine what it would be like if, one day, a Shinkansen pulled in to Penn Station, or even Grand Central.

Banner Photo: A Japanese Shinkansen bullet train awaiting passengers

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