Streamlined and Safer Shinkansens for the Future


2020 and the Tokyo Olympics are just around the corner. Similarly, JR’s (Japan Railways) latest streamlined and safer shinkansens (bullet trains) is rapidly approaching too. In the next few years, they are looking to continue innovation with existing models, in terms of environment and energy efficiency. However, in the medium to longer-term, they are also investing towards the future. Plans include new faster and more efficient trains, plus cutting edge developments that could potentially change the landscape of domestic travel.

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Two Shinkansens
Photo courtesy of JR Central

Ready for 2020

Set to debut just before the Olympics, JR is continuing to develop its new line of N700S high-speed trains. This sleeker and safer model combines improvements in refinement, weight and it’s carbon footprint as it looks to the future.

A new sharper nose design will enable the train to achieve lower wind noise. Furthermore, the use of new carbon material will help to reduce the overall weight. Plus, a new air cooling system will improve energy efficiency and reduce its environmental impact. The maximum speed of the new model will still remain unchanged at 300 kph though.

The interior will also go through some upgrades with individual power outlets available for every seat.

Shinkansen Interior
Photo courtesy of JR Central

JR hopes this new and improved range will entice more overseas buyers. Especially, with its efficiency gains and greener image.

The Next Generation

In the next few years, JR is also looking to reach the new ground with their ALFA-X model. This is a model they are planning for release towards the beginning of 2030. JR already has plans underway to start trailing the new series from around May this year.

An artists impression of the future shinkansen
Photo courtesy of JR Central

By current estimates, the new model should easily reach speeds of up to 400kph. This is to ensure they can maintain safety, efficiency and more frugal speeds of around 360kph. The speed increases will further reduce the travel time between stations, particularly in anticipation for the new Sapporo link. This should enable a travel time between Tokyo and Sapporo of around 3 hours or more.

The bullet train network’s link to Hokkaidō’s main city should be completed in the early 2030s. The Nagasaki extension from Hakata (Fukuoka) is also due to be completed in 2023, however technical issues may cause further delays.

Looking Longer Term

Further into the future, we will also see the creation of a new form of transportation known as magnetic levitation (mag-lev). The technology is called リニアモーターカー in Japan,  which translates directly into the linear motor car. This is the latest in rail transportation, with the latest testing already reaching speeds in excess of 600kph. Construction is already progressing with initial plans to reach Nagoya, then further expanding the line to Osaka.

Mag Lev
Photo courtesy of JR Central

Unfortunately, the initial development of a line to Nagoya is already riddled with challenges. For example, about 86% the line will run under the areas of Shizuoka and Nagano, so these areas will require excavation. In fact, some of these tunnels will be 1400m deep underground too. Moreover, they still need to tender some of the remaining work out to contractors. As a result, this may push the original deadline out until the early 2030s.

The Nagoya link is planned for completion in 2027, while the Osaka link is planned for completion in around 2045.

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