For the record label, see Sarah Records § Shinkansen Recordings.
A lineup of JR East Shinkansen trains, October 2012
A lineup of JR West Shinkansen trains, October 2008

The Shinkansen (新幹線, new trunk line) is a network of high-speed railway lines in Japan operated by five Japan Railways Group companies. Starting with the Tōkaidō Shinkansen (515.4 km, 320.3 mi) in 1964,[1] the network has expanded to currently consist of 2,764.6 km (1,717.8 mi) of lines with maximum speeds of 240–320 km/h (150–200 mph), 283.5 km (176.2 mi) of Mini-shinkansen lines with a maximum speed of 130 km/h (80 mph), and 10.3 km (6.4 mi) of spur lines with Shinkansen services.[2] The network presently links most major cities on the islands of Honshu and Kyushu, and Hakodate on northern island of Hokkaido, with an extension to Sapporo under construction and scheduled to commence in March 2031.[3] The nickname bullet train is sometimes used in English for these high-speed trains.

The maximum operating speed is 320 km/h (200 mph) (on a 387.5 km section of the Tōhoku Shinkansen).[4] Test runs have reached 443 km/h (275 mph) for conventional rail in 1996, and up to a world record 603 km/h (375 mph) for maglev trains in April 2015.[5]

Shinkansen literally means new trunk line,[6] referring to the high-speed rail line network. The name Superexpress (超特急 chō-tokkyū), initially used for Hikari trains, was retired in 1972 but is still used in English-language announcements and signage.

The original Tōkaidō Shinkansen, connecting the largest cities of Tokyo and Osaka, is the world's busiest high-speed rail line. Carrying 151 million passengers per year (March 2008),[7] and at over 5 billion total passengers it has transported more passengers[8] than any other high-speed line in the world. The service on the line operates much larger trains and at higher frequency than most other high speed lines in the world. At peak times, the line carries up to thirteen trains per hour in each direction with sixteen cars each (1,323-seat capacity and occasionally additional standing passengers) with a minimum headway of three minutes between trains.

Japan's Shinkansen network had the highest annual passenger ridership (a maximum of 353 million in 2007) of any high-speed rail network until 2011, when Chinese High Speed Rail network surpassed it at 370 million passengers annually, though the total cumulative passengers, at over 10 billion, is still larger.[9] While the Shinkansen network has been expanding, Japan's declining population is expected to cause ridership to decline over time. The recent expansion in tourism has boosted ridership marginally.

Though largely a long-distance transport system, the Shinkansen also serves commuters who travel to work in metropolitan areas from outlying cities one or two stops removed from the main cities, and there are some services dedicated to this market.


A JNR map from the October 1964 English-language timetable, showing the then-new Tokaido Shinkansen line (in red) and conventional lines
A 0 series set in Tokyo, May 1967

Japan was the first country to build dedicated railway lines for high-speed travel. Because of the mountainous terrain, the existing network consisted of 1,067 mm (3 ft 6 in) 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.

Among the key people credited with the construction of the first Shinkansen are Hideo Shima, the Chief Engineer, and Shinji Sogō, the first President of Japanese National Railways (JNR) who managed to persuade politicians to back the plan. Other significant people responsible for its technical development were Tadanao Miki, Tadashi Matsudaira, and Hajime Kawanabe based at the Railway Technology Research Institute (RTRI), part of JNR. They were responsible for much of the technical development of the first line, the Tōkaidō Shinkansen. All three had worked on aircraft design during World War II.[10]

Early proposals

The popular English name bullet train is a literal translation of the Japanese term dangan ressha (弾丸列車), a nickname given to the project while it was initially being discussed in the 1930s. The name stuck because of the original 0 Series Shinkansen'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 200 km/h (120 mph). Over the next three years, the Ministry of Railways drew up more ambitious plans to extend the line to Beijing (through a tunnel to Korea) and even Singapore, and build connections to the Trans-Siberian Railway and other trunk lines in Asia. These plans were abandoned in 1943 as Japan's position in World War II worsened. However, some construction did commence on the line; several tunnels on the present-day Shinkansen date to the war-era project.


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 3000 series SE Romancecar train, setting a world speed record of 145 km/h (90 mph) 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 the 1950s, the Japanese national attitude was that railways would soon be outdated and replaced by air travel and highways as in America and many countries in Europe. However, Shinji Sogō, President of Japanese 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. The cost of constructing the Shinkansen was at first estimated at nearly 200 billion yen, which was raised in the form of a government loan, railway bonds and a low-interest loan of US$80 million from the World Bank. Initial cost estimates, however, had been deliberately understated and the actual figures were nearly double at about 400 billion yen. As the budget shortfall became clear in 1963, Sogo resigned to take responsibility.[11]

A test facility for rolling stock, now part of the line, opened in Odawara in 1962.

Initial success

1964 JNR Passenger Timetable, Table 1, showing shinkansen service on the New Tokaido Line

The Tōkaidō Shinkansen began service on 1 October 1964, in time for the first Tokyo Olympics.[12] 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 the 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 '70 in Osaka. With an average of 23,000 passengers per hour in each direction in 1992, the Tōkaidō Shinkansen is the world's busiest high-speed rail line.[13]

The first Shinkansen trains, the 0 series, ran at speeds of up to 210 km/h (130 mph), later increased to 220 km/h (137 mph). 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 was donated by JR West to the National Railway Museum in York, England in 2001.[14]

Network expansion

The Tōkaidō Shinkansen's rapid success prompted an extension westward to Okayama, 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 JNR slid into debt throughout the late 1970s, 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 by the privatised regional JR companies has continued, with new train models developed, each generally with its own distinctive appearance (such as the 500 series introduced by JR West). Since 2014, shinkansen trains run regularly at speeds up to 320 km/h (200 mph), placing them alongside the French TGV and German ICE as 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 21 April 2015, a seven-car L0 series maglev trainset set a world speed record of 603 km/h (375 mph).[5]


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


Shinkansen routes are completely separate from conventional rail lines (except Mini-shinkansen which goes through to conventional lines). Consequently, the shinkansen is not affected by slower local or freight trains, and has the capacity to operate many high-speed trains punctually. The lines have been built without road crossings at grade. Tracks are strictly off-limits with penalties against trespassing strictly regulated by law. 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).[15]


Shinkansen standard gauge track, with welded rails to reduce vibration

The Shinkansen uses 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in) standard gauge in contrast to the 1,067 mm (3 ft 6 in) narrow gauge of older lines. Continuous welded rail and swingnose crossing points 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%.[16] However, the smaller diameter of Shinkansen tunnels compared to some other high-speed lines has resulted in the issue of tunnel boom becoming a concern for residents living close to tunnel portals.

Signal system

The Shinkansen employs an ATC (Automatic Train Control) system, eliminating the need for trackside signals. It uses a comprehensive system of Automatic Train Protection.[11] Centralized traffic control manages all train operations, and all tasks relating to train movement, track, station and schedule are networked and computerized.

Electrical Systems

Shinkansen uses a 25kV AC overhead power supply (20 kV AC on Mini-shinkansen lines), to overcome the limitations of the 1,500 V direct current used on the existing electrified narrow-gauge system. Power is distributed along the axles of the train to reduce the heavy axle loads under single power cars.[11] The power supply for the Tokaido Shinkansen is 60 Hz.


Shinkansen trains are electric multiple units, offering fast acceleration, deceleration and reduced damage to the track because of lighter vehicles compared to locomotives or power cars. The coaches are air-sealed to ensure stable air pressure when entering tunnels at high speed.

A passenger's view of Shinkansen coaches


The Shinkansen is very reliable thanks to several factors, including its near-total separation from slower traffic. In 2014, JR Central reported that the Shinkansen's average delay from schedule per train was 54 seconds. This includes delays due to uncontrollable causes, such as natural disasters.[17] The record, in 1997, was 18 seconds.


The Shinkansen has used the electric multiple unit configuration from the outset, with the 0 Series Shinkansen having all axles powered. Other railway manufacturers were traditionally reluctant, or unable to use distributed traction configurations (e.g. Talgo utilised the locomotive configuration with the AVE Class 102 and continues with it for the Talgo AVRIL on account of the fact that it is not possible to utilise powered bogies as part of the Talgo Pendular system). In Japan, significant engineering desirability exists for the electric multiple unit configuration. A greater proportion of motored axles results in higher acceleration, meaning that the Shinkansen does not lose as much time if stopping frequently. Shinkansen lines have more stops in proportion to their lengths than high-speed lines elsewhere in the world.

Safety record

Over the Shinkansen's 50-plus year history, carrying over 10 billion passengers, there have been no passenger fatalities due to derailments or collisions,[18] 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 accidents. There have, however, been suicides by passengers jumping both from and in front of moving trains.[19] On 30 June 2015, a passenger committed suicide on board a Shinkansen train by setting himself on fire, killing another passenger and seriously injuring seven other people.[20]

There have been two derailments of Shinkansen trains in passenger service. The first one occurred during the Chūetsu earthquake on 23 October 2004. Eight of ten cars of the Toki No. 325 train on the Jōetsu Shinkansen derailed near Nagaoka Station in Nagaoka, Niigata. There were no casualties among the 154 passengers.[21]

Another derailment happened on 2 March 2013 on the Akita Shinkansen when the Komachi No. 25 train derailed in blizzard conditions in Daisen, Akita. No passengers were injured.[22]

In the event of an earthquake, an earthquake detection system can bring the train to a stop very quickly. A new anti-derailment device was installed after detailed analysis of the Jōetsu derailment.


The Shinkansen has had a significant beneficial effect on Japan's business, economy, society, environment and culture in ways beyond mere construction and operation contributions.[13] The results were stunning: 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.[13] That does not include the savings from reduced reliance on imported fuel, which also has national security benefits. Shinkansen lines, particularly in the very crowded coastal Taiheiyō Belt megalopolis, met two primary goals:

However, the initial Shinkansen prudence gave way to political considerations to extend the mode to far less populated regions of the country, partly to spread these benefits beyond the key centres of Kanto and Kinki. In some areas regional extension was frustrated by protracted land acquisition issues, sometimes influenced by fierce protests from locals against expanding Narita airport's runways to handle more traffic that extended well into the 2000s. Tokyo's airports were already at or near capacity and there was no room for another civilian airport given the geography and required US military presence. Shinkansen lines were extended to sparsely populated areas with the intent the network would disperse the population away from the capital.

Such expansion had a significant cost. JNR, the national railway company, was already burdened with subsidizing unprofitable rural and regional railways. Additionally it assumed Shinkansen construction debt to the point the government corporation eventually owed some ¥28 trillion(275 billion USD/200 billion Euro), contributing to it being regionalised and privatized.[23] The privatized JRs eventually paid a total of ¥9.2 trillion to acquire JNR's Shinkansen network.[13]

After privatization, the Shinkansen network continues to see significant expansion to less populated areas, but with far more flexibility to spin off unprofitable railways or cut costs than in JNR days. Currently an important factor is the post bubble zero interest-rate policy that allows JR to borrow huge sums of capital without significant concern regarding repayment timing.

Environmental impact

Traveling the Tokyo–Osaka line by Shinkansen produces only around 16% of the carbon dioxide of the equivalent journey by car, a saving of 15,000 tons of CO2 per year.[13]

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 Shinkansen noise is regulated to less than 70 dB in residential areas.[24] Hence, improvement and reduction of pantograph, weight saving of cars, and construction of noise barriers and other measures have been implemented. Current research is primarily aimed at reducing operational noise, particularly the tunnel boom phenomenon caused when trains transit tunnels at high speed.


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

Heavy snow

The Tōkaidō Shinkansen often experiences heavy snow in the area around Maibara Station in winter. Trains have to reduce speed, which can disrupt the timetable. Sprinkler systems were later installed, but delays of 10 to 20 minutes still occur during snowy weather. Additionally, treefalls related to excess snow have caused service interruptions. Along the route of the Jōetsu Shinkansen, winter snow 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.


Cumulative comparison

Cumulative high-speed rail passengers (in millions of passengers)[25][26]
Year Shinkansen (see notes) Asia (other) Europe World Shinkansen share (%)
1964 11.0 0 0 11.0 100%
1980 1,616.3 0 0 1,616.3 100%
1985 2,390.3 0 45.7 2,436.0 98.1%
1990 3,559.1 0 129.9 3,689.0 96.5%
1995 5,018.0 0 461 5,479 91.6%
2000 6,531.7 0 1,103.5 7,635.1 85.5%
2005 8,088.3 52.2 2,014.6 10,155.1 79.6%
2010 9,651.0 965 3,177.0 15,417 70.8%
2012 10,344 2,230 3,715 16,210 64.5%
2014 11,050 3,910 4,300 19,260 57.4%


Cumulative ridership since October 1964 is over 5 billion passengers for the Tokaido Shinkansen Line alone and 10 billion passengers for Japan's entire shinkansen network.[8]


Peak high-speed rail annual ridership figures (Japan, in millions of passengers)
Tokaido Tohoku Sanyo Joetsu Nagano Kyushu Sum (not actual total)
2007 151.32[30] 84.83[30] 64.43[30] 38.29[30] 10.13[30] 4.18[30] 353.18

Annual ridership has fallen since 2007, to 307 million as of 2011, although the Kyushu line (connected to the Sanyo Shinkansen in March 2011) has seen significant gains while patronage on other lines has fallen. Until 2011, Japan's high-speed rail system had the highest annual patronage of any system worldwide, China's HSR network's patronage reached 440 million and is now the highest.[8]


Construction of Hokuriku Shinkansen in Fukui

Speed increases

Tohoku Shinkansen

E5 series trains, capable of up to 320 km/h (200 mph) (initially limited to 300 km/h), were introduced on the Tōhoku Shinkansen in March 2011. Operation at the maximum speed of 320 km/h between Utsunomiya and Morioka on this route commenced on 16 March 2013, and reduced the journey time to around 3 hours for trains from Tokyo to Shin-Aomori (a distance of 674 km (419 mi)).

Extensive trials using the Fastech 360 test trains have shown that operation at 360 km/h (224 mph) is not currently feasible because of problems of noise pollution (particularly tunnel boom), overhead wire wear, and braking distances. On 30 October 2012, JR East announced that it is pursuing research and development to increase speeds to 360 km/h on the Tohoku Shinkansen by 2020.[31]

Hokkaido Shinkansen

As of 2016, the maximum speed on the approximately 82 km dual gauge section of the Hokkaido Shinkansen (including through the Seikan Tunnel) is 140 km/h (85 mph).[3] There are approximately 50 freight trains utilising the dual gauge section each day, so limiting the travel of such trains to times outside of Shinkansen services is not an option. Because of this and other weather-related factors cited by JR East and JR Hokkaido, the fastest journey time between Tokyo and Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto is currently 4 hours, 2 minutes.[32] The new section takes 61 minutes from Shin-Aomori to Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto on the fastest services.[32]

By 2018, it is proposed to allow one Shinkansen service each day to travel at 260 km/h (160 mph) (the maximum speed proposed for the tunnel) by ensuring no freight trains are scheduled to travel on the dual gauge section at that time. To achieve the full benefit of Shinkansen trains travelling on the dual gauge section at 260 km/h (160 mph), other alternatives are being considered, such as a system to automatically slow Shinkansen trains down to 200 km/h (125 mph) when passing narrow-gauge trains, and loading freight trains onto special "Train on Train" standard-gauge trains (akin to a covered piggyback flatcar train) built to withstand the shock wave of oncoming Shinkansen trains traveling at full speed. This would enable a travel time from Tokyo to Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto of 3 hours and 45 minutes, a saving of 17 minutes on the current timetable.

Hokuriku extension

The Hokuriku Shinkansen is being extended from Kanazawa to Tsuruga (proposed for completion by 2023) at an estimated cost of 3.04 trillion yen (in 2012 currency).[33] There are further plans to extend the line from Tsuruga to Osaka, and there are currently four routes under consideration, plus a fifth proposal by a local politician.[34] On 10 March 2016, a government committee investigating the options decided to narrow down the five routes to the three to Kyoto,[35] i.e. the Kosei route, the second Obama route and the Maizuru route.

The Obama Route

Through Fukui prefecture to Obama and then head south to Osaka, bypassing Kyoto.

This option is favoured naturally by the Fukui government and its Governor. Osaka to Tsuruga on this proposed route would take 33 minutes. The 123 km route is the most expensive option at ¥950 billion, with an average daily ridership of 26,000 passengers.

The Kosei or Western Lake Route

Following the western shoreline of Lake Biwa to Kyoto.

Osaka to Tsuruga on this proposed route would take 35 minutes. The 81 km route is costed at ¥770 billion, with an average daily ridership of 31,000 passengers. This route may require transfer to the congested Tokaido line at Kyoto.

The Maibara Route

Shortest option through Shiga prefecture to terminate at Maibara, requiring transfer to Tokaido Line.

Osaka to Tsuruga on this proposed route would take 45 minutes, due to need to transfer trains. The 44 km route is the cheapest option at ¥550 billion, with an average daily ridership of 33,000 passengers. Originally supported by several Kansai governments in 2013 because it was the simplest and cheapest option, this route has become unpopular due to the need to transfer onto the congested Tokaido Shinkansen.

Second Obama Route

New option put forward by JR West - Tsuruga to Obama and then south to Kyoto.

Osaka to Tsuruga on this proposed route has not been calculated yet for travel times, passenger demand or construction costs. This route may require transfer to the congested Tokaido line at Kyoto.

The Maizuru Route

Kyoto politician, Shoji Nishida's proposal from Tsuruga, via Obama, to Maizuru then south-east to Kyoto, eastern Osaka and Kansai Airport.

This option is uncosted but will be the most expensive due to the scale of the proposal. Its case is to provide development to the Maizuru region as per the Japanese national government's policy, with the Maizuru Maritime Self-Defence Force Base and several nuclear power stations put forward as reasonable traffic generators. The option to extend the line south of Kyoto to a new Osaka station (located to the south east of Osaka) and onwards to Kansai International Airport is seen as a means to avoid the congestion of the Tokaido line. It may even serve as an alternative route or terminus to Shin-Osaka station for Tokaido line trains, reducing Tokaido line congestion.

Interim plans

In order to extend the benefits of the Hokuriku Shinkansen to stations west of Tsuruga before the line to Osaka is completed, JR West is working in partnership with Talgo on the development of a Gauge Change Train (CGT), which will be capable of operating under both the 25kV ac electrification used on the Shinkansen and the 1.5kV dc system employed on conventional lines. The six-car train is due to start trials on the Hokuriku Shinkansen and the 1067mm-gauge Hokuriku and Kosei lines in 2017. As part of the project JR West has already began trials with a purpose-built 180m-long gauge-changer at Tsuruga.[36]

Tohoku extension/Hokkaido Shinkansen

The Hokkaido Shinkansen forms an extension of the Tohoku Shinkansen north of Shin-Aomori to Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto Station (north of the Hokkaido city of Hakodate) through the Seikan Tunnel, which was converted to dual gauge as part of the project, opening in March 2016.

JR Hokkaido is extending the Hokkaido Shinkansen from Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto to Sapporo to open by March 2031,[3] with tunnelling work on the 5,265 m Murayama tunnel, situated about 1 km north of Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto Station, commencing in March 2015, and due to be completed by March 2021. The 211.3 km extension will be approximately 76% in tunnels, including major tunnels such as Oshima (~26.5 km), Teine (~18.8 km) and Shiribeshi (~18 km).[37]

Although an extension from Sapporo to Asahikawa was included in the 1973 list of planned lines, at this time it is unknown whether the Hokkaido Shinkansen will be extended beyond Sapporo.

Nagasaki Shinkansen

JR Kyushu is constructing an extension (to be known as the West Kyushu Shinkansen) line of the Kyushu Shinkansen to Nagasaki, partly to full Shinkansen standard gauge construction standards (Takeo Onsen – Nagasaki) with the existing narrow gauge section between Shin-Tosu and Takeo Onsen.

This proposal initially involved introducing Gauge Change Trains (GCT) travelling from Hakata to Shin-Tosu (26.3 km) on the existing Kyushu Shinkansen line, then passing through a specific gauge changing (standard to narrow) section of track linking to the existing Nagasaki Main Line, along which it would travel to Hizen Yamaguchi (37.6 km), then onto the Sasebo Line to Takeo Onsen (13.7 km), where another gauge changing section (narrow to standard) would lead onto the final Shinkansen line to Nagasaki (66.7 km). However, technical issues with the development of the GCT bogies means the train will not be available for service until at least 2025, requiring consideration of other options such as 'relay' service to ensure the line can open on schedule in 2023[38]

The proposal shortens the distance between Hakata and Nagasaki by 6.2% (9.6 km), and while only 64% of the route will be built to full Shinkansen standards, it will eliminate the slowest sections of the existing narrow gauge route. Use of the GCT was estimated to result in a time saving of 28.5% (32 minutes) on the current timetable. The proposed time saving if a 'relay' service is introduced is unknown at this time.

As part of this proposal, the current 12.8 km section of single track between Hizen Yamaguchi and Takeo Onsen is to be duplicated, with work on that component scheduled to commence in April 2016.

With the completion of excavation of the 1351m Enogushi tunnel, being the sixth tunnel completed in this section, approximately 25% of the 40.7 km of tunnel excavation work on the Takeo Onsen – Nagasaki section has been finished. The entire project is scheduled for completion by March 2023.

Maglev (Chuo Shinkansen)

Maglev trains have been undertaking test runs on the Yamanashi test track since 1997, running at speeds of over 500 km/h (310 mph). As a result of this extensive testing, maglev technology is almost ready for public usage.[39] An extension of this test track from 18.4 km to 42.8 km was completed in June 2013, enabling extended high-speed running trials to commence in August 2013. This section will be incorporated into the Chūō Shinkansen which will eventually link Tokyo to Osaka. Construction of the Shinagawa to Nagoya section began in 2014, with 86% of the 286 km route to be in tunnels.

The CEO of JR Central announced plans to have the maglev Chūō Shinkansen operating from Tokyo to Nagoya by 2027.[39] Following the shortest route (through the Japanese Alps), JR Central estimates that it will take 40 minutes to run from Shinagawa to Nagoya. A subsequent extension to Osaka is planned to be completed by 2045. The planned travel time from Shinagawa to Shin-Osaka is 1 hour 7 minutes. Currently the Tokaido Shinkansen has a minimum connection time of 2 hours 19 minutes.[40]

While the government has granted approval[41] for the shortest route between Tokyo and Nagoya, some prefectural governments, particularly Nagano, lobbied to have the line routed farther north to serve the city of Chino and either Ina or Kiso-Fukushima. However, that would increase both the travel time (from Tokyo to Nagoya) and the cost of construction.[42] JR Central has confirmed it will construct the line through Kanagawa Prefecture, and terminate at Shinagawa Station.

The route for the Nagoya to Osaka section is also contested. It is planned to go via Nara, about 40 km south of Kyoto. Kyoto is lobbying to have the route moved north and be largely aligned with the existing Tokaido Shinkansen, which services Kyoto and not Nara.[43]


Mini-shinkansen (ミニ新幹線) is the name given to the routes where former narrow gauge lines have been converted to standard gauge to allow Shinkansen trains to travel to cities without the expense of constructing full Shinkansen standard lines.

Two mini-shinkansen routes have been constructed: the Yamagata Shinkansen and Akita Shinkansen. Shinkansen services to these lines traverse the Tohoku Shinkansen line from Tokyo before branching off to traditional main lines. On both the Yamagata/Shinjo and Akita lines, the narrow gauge lines were regauged, resulting in the local services being operated by standard gauge versions of 1,067 mm gauge suburban/interurban rolling stock. On the Akita line between Omagari and Akita, one of the two narrow gauge lines was regauged, and a section of the remaining narrow gauge line is dual gauge, providing the opportunity for Shinkansen services to pass each other without stopping.

The maximum speed on these lines is 130 km/h, however the overall travel time to/from Tokyo is improved due to the elimination of the need for passengers to change trains at Fukushima and Morioka respectively.

As the Loading gauge (size of the train that can travel on a line) was not altered when the rail gauge was widened, only Shinkansen trains specially built for these routes can travel on the lines. At present they are the E3 and E6 series trains.

Whilst no further Mini-shinkansen routes have been proposed to date, it remains an option for providing Shinkansen services to cities on the narrow gauge network.

Gauge Change Train

Main article: Gauge Change Train

This is the name for the concept of using a single train that is specially designed to travel on both 1,067 mm (3 ft 6 in) narrow gauge railway lines and the 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in) standard gauge used by Shinkansen train services in Japan. The trucks/bogies of the Gauge Change Train (GCT) allow the wheels to be unlocked from the axles, narrowed or widened as necessary, and then relocked. This allows a GCT to traverse both standard gauge and narrow gauge tracks without the expense of regauging lines.

Three test trains have been constructed, with the second set having completed reliability trials on the Yosan Line east of Matsuyama (in Shikoku) in September 2013. The third set was undertaking gauge changing trials at Shin-Yatsushiro Station (on Kyushu), commencing in 2014 for a proposed three-year period, however testing was suspended in December 2014 after accumulating approximating 33,000 km, following the discovery of defective thrust bearing oil seals on the bogies.[44] The train was being trialled between Kumamoto, travelling on the narrow gauge line to Shin-Yatsushiro, where a gauge changer has been installed, so the GCT could then be trialled on the Shinkansen line to Kagoshima. It was anticipated the train would travel approximately 600,000 km over the three-year trial.

A new "full standard" Shinkansen line is under construction from Takeo Onsen to Nagasaki, with the Shin-Tosu – Takeo Onsen section of the Kyushu Shinkansen branch to remain narrow gauge. GCTs were proposed to provide the Shinkansen service from the line's scheduled opening in March 2023, however with the GCT now being unavailable for service until at least 2025, other options are being considered, such as a 'relay' service.[38]

List of lines

The main Shinkansen lines are:

Line Start End Length Operator Opened Annual passengers[45]
km mi
Tōkaidō Shinkansen TokyoShin-Osaka 515.4 320.3 JR Central1964143,015,000
Sanyō Shinkansen Shin-OsakaHakata 553.7 344.1 JR West1972–197564,355,000
Tōhoku Shinkansen TokyoShin-Aomori 674.9 419.4 JR East1982–201076,177,000
Jōetsu Shinkansen ŌmiyaNiigata 269.5 167.5 198234,831,000
Hokuriku Shinkansen TakasakiKanazawa 345.4 214.6 JR East and JR West1997–20159,420,000
Kyushu Shinkansen HakataKagoshima-Chūō 256.8 159.6 JR Kyushu2004–201112,143,000
Hokkaido Shinkansen Shin-AomoriShin-Hakodate-Hokuto 148.9 92.5 JR Hokkaido2016
Map of Shinkansen lines except Hakata-Minami Line and Gala-Yuzawa Line

In practice, the Tokaido, Sanyo and Kyushu lines form a contiguous west/southbound line, as train services run between the Tokaido and Sanyo lines and between the Sanyo and Kyushu lines, though the lines are operated by different companies. The Tokaido Shinkansen is not physically connected to the lines of the Tohoku Shinkansen at Tokyo Station. Therefore, there is no through service between those lines. All services from Tokyo, not on the Tokaido Shinkansen, travel along the Tohoku Shinkansen until branching off well north of Tokyo.

Two further lines, known as Mini-shinkansen, have also been constructed by re-gauging and 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 (整備新幹線) or planned Shinkansen. One of these lines, the Narita Shinkansen to Narita Airport, was officially cancelled, but a few remain under development.

The following lines were also proposed in the 1973 plan, but have subsequently been shelved indefinitely.

In addition, the Basic Plan specified that the Jōetsu Shinkansen should start from Shinjuku, not Tokyo Station, which would have required 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, at some point, construction of the Shinjuku–Ōmiya link may be reconsidered.

The Narita Shinkansen project to connect Tokyo to Narita International Airport, initiated in the 1970s but halted in 1983 after landowner protests, has been officially cancelled and removed from the Basic Plan governing Shinkansen construction. Parts of its planned right-of-way were utilized by the Narita Sky Access Line which opened in 2010. Although the Sky Access Line uses standard-gauge track, it was not built to Shinkansen specifications and there are no plans to convert it into a full Shinkansen line.

In December 2009, then transport minister Seiji Maehara proposed a bullet train link to Haneda Airport, using an existing spur that connects the Tōkaidō Shinkansen to a train depot. JR Central called the plan "unrealistic" due to tight train schedules on the existing line, but reports said that Maehara wished to continue discussions on the idea.[46] The current minister has not indicated whether this proposal remains supported. While the plan may become more feasible after the opening the Chuo Shinkansen (sometimes referred to as a bypass to the Tokaido Shinkansen) frees up capacity, construction is already underway for other rail improvements between Haneda and Tokyo station expected to be completed prior to the opening of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, so any potential Shinkansen service would likely offer only marginal benefit beyond that.

Line Speed Length Construction began Expected start of revenue services
km/h mph km mi
Kyushu Shinkansen (West Kyushu Route) 260 160 66.7 41.4 2009 FY2022
Hokuriku Shinkansen Phase 3 (Kanazawa – Tsuruga) 260 160 120.7 75.0 2012 FY2023
Hokkaido Shinkansen Phase 2 (Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto – Sapporo) 260 160 211.3 131.3 2012 FY2030

List of train models

Trains are up to seventeen 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,[47] while other slower maglev trains (such as the 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.

Lineup of JR Central and JR West Shinkansen trains in 2004
0 Series, the oldest model (left) and N700 Series, the newest model (right), October 2008

Passenger trains

Tokaido and Sanyo Shinkansen

Kyushu Shinkansen

Tohoku, Joetsu, and Hokuriku Shinkansen

Yamagata and Akita Shinkansen

Hokkaido Shinkansen

Taiwan High Speed Rail

Experimental trains

Maglev trains

MLX01 at Yamanashi test track, November 2005

Maintenance vehicles

List of types of services

Tokyo Station Tokaido Shinkansen platforms, July 2005
The Shinkansen fare system is integrated with Japan's low-speed intercity railway lines, but a surcharge is required to ride the Shinkansen. Here, an ordinary ticket from Tokyo to Takamatsu is coupled with a Shinkansen surcharge ticket from Tokyo to Okayama, allowing use of the Shinkansen from Tokyo to Okayama and use of local lines from Okayama to Takamatsu. For trips exclusively on one Shinkansen, the ordinary fare and Shinkansen surcharge may be combined on one ticket.

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, Sanyō and Kyushu Shinkansen

Tōhoku, Hokkaido, Yamagata and Akita Shinkansen

Jōetsu Shinkansen

Hokuriku Shinkansen

Speed records

Conventional wheeled

Class 955 "300X"
Speed[51] Train Location Date Comments
km/h mph
200 120 Class 1000 Shinkansen Kamonomiya test track in Odawara, now part of Tōkaidō Shinkansen 31 October 1962
256 159 Class 1000 Shinkansen Kamonomiya test track 30 March 1963 Former world speed record for EMU trains.
286 178 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 Tōkaidō Shinkansen 28 February 1991
336.0 208.8 400 series Jōetsu Shinkansen 26 March 1991
345.0 214.4 400 series Jōetsu Shinkansen 19 September 1991
345.8 214.9 500-900 series "WIN350" Sanyō Shinkansen 6 August 1992
350.4 217.7 500-900 series "WIN350" Sanyō Shinkansen 8 August 1992
352.0 218.7 Class 952/953 "STAR21" Jōetsu Shinkansen 30 October 1992
425.0 264.1 Class 952/953 "STAR21" Jōetsu Shinkansen 21 December 1993
426.6 265.1 Class 955 "300X" Tōkaidō Shinkansen 11 July 1996
443.0 275.3 Class 955 "300X" Tōkaidō Shinkansen 26 July 1996

Maglev trains

L0 Series Shinkansen, unconventional world speed record holder (603 km/h or 374.7 mph)
Speed Train Location Date Comments
km/h mph
550 340 MLX01 Chūō Shinkansen (Yamanashi test track) 24 December 1997 Former world speed record
552 343 14 April 1999
581 361 2 December 2003
590 370 L0 series 16 April 2015[52]
603 375 21 April 2015[5] World speed record

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.

Shinkansen fares are generally competitive with domestic air fares. From a speed and convenience perspective, the Shinkansen's market share has surpassed that of air travel for journeys of less than 750 km, while air and rail remain highly competitive with each other in the 800–900 km range and air has a higher market share for journeys of more than 1,000 km.[53]

Shinkansen technology outside Japan

Shinkansen 700T train on a test run on the Taiwan High Speed Rail in June 2006
Class 395 in the United Kingdom, September 2009

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



Taiwan High Speed Rail operates 700T Series sets built by Kawasaki Heavy Industries.


The China Railways CRH2, built by CSR Sifang Loco & Rolling stocks corporation, with the license purchased from a consortium formed of Kawasaki Heavy Industries, Mitsubishi Electric Corporation, and Hitachi, is based on the E2-1000 series design.

United Kingdom

Class 395 EMUs were built by Hitachi based on Shinkansen technology for use on high-speed commuter services in Britain on the High Speed 1 line.

Under contract

United States

In 2014, it was announced[55] that Texas Central Railway would build a 300 mile long line using the N700 series rolling stock. The trains will run at over 200 Mph.[56]


In December 2015, India and Japan signed an agreement for the construction of India's first high speed rail link connecting Mumbai to Ahmedabad. Funded primarily through Japanese soft loans, the link is expected to cost up to $18.6b and should be operational in about 7 years.[57][58]

This followed India and Japan conducting feasibility studies on high-speed rail and dedicated freight corridors.

The Indian Ministry of Railways' white-paper Vision 2020[59] submitted to Indian Parliament by Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee on 18 December 2009[60] envisages the implementation of regional high-speed rail projects to provide services at 250–350 km/h.

During Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's visit to Tokyo in December 2006, Japan assured cooperation with India in creating a high-speed link between New Delhi and Mumbai.[61] In January 2009, the then Railway Minister Lalu Prasad rode a bullet train travelling from Tokyo to Kyoto.[62]

In December 2013 a Japanese consortium was appointed to undertake a feasibility study of a ~500 km high-speed line between Mumbai and Ahmedabad by July 2015.[63] A total of 7 high-speed lines are in planning stages in India, and Japanese firms have now succeeded in winning contracts to prepare feasibility studies for three of the lines.

Proposed subject to funding


Japan will provide Shinkansen technology for a high-speed rail link between Bangkok and the northern city of Chiang Mai under an agreement reached with Thailand on 27 May 2015. Total project costs are estimated in excess of 1 trillion yen ($8.1 billion). Several hurdles remain, however, including securing the funding. If the project is realized, it would mark the fifth time Shinkansen technology has been exported.[64]

Potential opportunities


The governments of Singapore and Malaysia are planning to construct a high-speed rail line connecting Singapore and Kuala Lumpur. The decision about who will construct the line is yet to be made, and it is likely both governments will undertake a bidding process as part of the decision-making process.[65]

United States and Canada

The U.S. Federal Railroad Administration is in talks with a number of countries with high-speed rail, notably Japan, France and Spain. On 16 May 2009, FRA Deputy Chief Karen Rae expressed hope that Japan would offer its technical expertise to Canada and the United States. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood indicated interest in test riding the Japanese Shinkansen in 2009.[66][67]

On 1 June 2009, JR Central Chairman, Yoshiyuki Kasai, announced plans to export both the N700 Series Shinkansen high-speed train system and the SCMaglev to international export markets, including the United States and Canada.[68]


Japan is promoting its Shinkansen technology to the Government of Brazil for use on the planned high-speed rail set to link Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo and Campinas.[69] On 14 November 2008, Japanese Prime Minister Tarō Asō and Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva talked about this rail project. President Lula asked a consortium of Japanese companies to participate in the bidding process. Prime Minister Aso concurred on the bilateral cooperation to improve rail infrastructure in Brazil, including the Rio–São Paulo–Campinas high-speed rail line.[70] The Japanese consortium includes the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism, Mitsui & Co., Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Kawasaki Heavy Industries and Toshiba.[71][72]


Vietnam Railways was considering the use of Shinkansen technology for high-speed rail between the capital Hanoi and the southern commercial hub of Ho Chi Minh City, according to the Nihon Keizai Shimbun, citing an interview with Chief Executive Officer Nguyen Huu Bang. The Vietnamese government had already given basic approval for the Shinkansen system, although it still requires financing and formal consent from the prime minister. Vietnam rejected a funding proposal in 2010, so funding for the $56 billion project is uncertain. Hanoi was exploring additional Japanese funding Official Development Assistance as well as funds from the World Bank and Asian Development Bank. The 1,560-kilometre (970 mi) line would replace the current colonial-era rail line. Vietnam hopes to launch high-speed trains by 2020 and plans to start by building three sections, including a 90-kilometre stretch between the central coastal cities of Da Nang and Huế, seen as potentially most profitable. Vietnam Railways had sent engineers to Central Japan Railway Company for technical training.[73][74]

See also


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External links

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