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Shinkansen 0 Series at Fukuyama Station, April 2002
Shinkansen 0 Series at Fukuyama Station, April 2002
Shinkansen 500 Series at Kyoto Station, April 2002
Shinkansen 500 Series at Kyoto Station, April 2002
Missing image
300 (Left) and 700 Series Shinkansen at Tokyo Station

The Shinkansen (新幹線) is a network of high speed rail lines in Japan on which the famous "Bullet Trains" run.

The Shinkansen are run by the various companies of Japan Railway, formerly Japanese National Railways but now a private consortium.



The name "Bullet Train" is a Western translation of the Japanese term dangan ressha (弾丸列車), which was the name given to the project while it was initially being developed in the 1940s. Nowadays, the trains are known in Japan as Shinkansen trains. The name Shinkansen literally means "New Trunk Line", and thus should technically refer to the lines and not the trains, which are officially referred to as "Super Expresses". The prefix 'shin' means 'new' in Japanese and oftentimes when building the Shinkansen network, it was not feasible to build it to the already existing station, therefore a second station was built with the 'shin prefix'. For example, Osaka Station serves the Tokaido Line and the Osaka Loop Line, while Shin-Osaka Station serves the Tokaido Line, but also serves the Tokaido Shinkansen and the Osaka Outer Loop Line currently under construction. Please note that a station name with 'shin' in the name does not necessarily mean that it serves the Shinkansen.


Japan was the first country to build dedicated railway lines for high speed travel. Due to the largely mountainous nature of the country, the pre-existing network consisted of 3 ft 6 in gauge (1067 mm) narrow gauge lines, which generally took indirect routes and could not be adapted to higher speeds. In consequence, 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. In contrast to the older lines, Shinkansen lines are standard gauge, and use tunnels and viaducts to go through and over obstacles, rather than around them.

Construction of the first segment of the Tokaido Shinkansen between Tokyo and Osaka started in 1959. The line opened on October 1, 1964, just in time for the Tokyo Olympics. The line was an immediate success, reaching the 100 million passenger mark in less than three years on July 13, 1967 and one billion passengers in 1976.

The first Shinkansen trains ran at speeds of up to 200 km/h (125 mph), later increased to 220 km/h (135 mph). Some of these trains, with their classic bullet-nosed appearance, are still in use for stopping services between Hakata and Osaka. A driving car from one of the original trains is now in the British National Railway Museum in York.

Many further models of train followed the first type, generally each with its own distinctive appearance. Shinkansen trains now run regularly at speeds of up to 300 km/h (185 mph), putting them among the fastest trains running in the world, along with the French TGV and German ICE trains.

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 6:00 every day to allow maintenance to take place, including the running of Doctor Yellow test trains. The few overnight trains that still run in Japan run on the old narrow gauge network which the Shinkansen parallels.

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) from front to back. Stations are similarly long to accommodate these trains.

In 2003, JR Tokai reported that the Shinkansen's average arrival time was within 0.1 minutes or 6 seconds of the scheduled time. This includes all natural and human accidents and errors and is calculated from all of about 160,000 trips Shinkansen made. The previous record was from 1997 and was 0.3 minutes or 18 seconds.

The first derailment of a Shinkansen train in passenger service occurred during the Chuetsu Earthquake on October 23, 2004. 6 of the total of 8 cars of the train on the Joetsu Shinkansen derailed near Nagaoka Station in Nagaoka, Niigata. However, there were no injuries nor deaths among the passengers.


Although the idea that there have been no fatalities associated with operation of the Shinkansen is widely believed, there have been several incidents, some fatal, during Shinkansen operations. The majority of deaths and injuries have been due to hands or clothing getting caught in closing doors, and the train leaving the platform before anyone notices that a person is stuck. There have also been suicides. There have also been several derailments, but none have resulted in death.

Having said that, there have been no fatalities caused by operational accidents, such as collisions, and given the huge number of passengers (over 3.5 billion) over the decades that the Shinkansen has been in service, its safety record is still impressive.


In recent years, due to noise pollution, increasing speed is getting harder. Thus, the current research is rather aimed to reduce the noise, particularly when trains exit tunnels.

The Kyushu 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. There are also long-term plans to extend the network, Hokkaido Shinkansen from Aomori to Sapporo (through the Seikan Tunnel), Kyushu Shinkansen to Nagasaki, and as well as complete a link from Kanazawa back to Osaka, although none of these are likely to be completed by 2020.

List of Shinkansen lines

Map of Shinkansen network
Map of Shinkansen network

The main Shinkansen lines are:

Two further lines, known as Mini-Shinkansen (ミニ新幹線), have also been constructed by upgrading existing sections of line:

There are two standard gauge not technically classified as Shinkansen lines but with Shinkansen services:

The following lines are under development:

Most Shinkansen lines that were proposed during the boom of the early 1970s have been postponed indefinitely. These include a link to Shikoku by the Honshu-Shikoku bridge system, a link from Tokyo to New Tokyo International Airport, a link from Shinjuku to Omiya (part of the Joetsu Shinkansen), and a route covering the entire Sea of Japan coast of Honshu.

List of Shinkansen train models

List of types of Shinkansen services

External links


de:Shinkansen es:Shinkansen fr:Shinkansen id:Shinkansen it:Shinkansen ms:Shinkansen nl:Shinkansen ja:新幹線 pl:Shinkansen fi:Shinkansen zh:新幹線


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