The Shinkansen, known as the bullet train, is a network of high-speed railway lines operated by Japan Railways.
The original Tokaido Shinkansen connects Tokyo and Osaka, Japan’s largest cities,
carrying more than 165 million passengers annually. It is known for its
high-level comfort, punctuality, safety, and efficiency,
referred to by some people as an art of business
perfection. To express its flawless operation,
various artists worldwide created an original
art of Shinkansen, revealing its technologies
and endless endeavor.
A special exhibition was held in downtown Los Angeles Arts District.
The maximum speed of the Tokaido Shinkansen (bullet train) is 285 km/h. It connects Tokyo and Shin-Osaka in 2 hours and 22 minutes at the shortest. Approximately a little over two hours has been reduced since when the Shinkansen was first launched in 1964 requiring four hours for the same distance. Speed is one of the main features of the Shinkansen, but it can only be pursued hand in hand with comfort and safety, such as installing a function to tilt the train body when passing through curves for riding comfort, and reinforcing brakes to endure high-speed operation. With such technical advancements, the Shinkansen’s speed is getting faster.
The Tokaido Shinkansen normally consists of 16 train cars and is capable of carrying 1,323 passengers at one time. The Shinkansen runs, in the busiest time, every three minutes and 365 times per day and carries about 452,000 passengers in total every day. This means that the Shinkansen has carried approximately 5.6 billion passengers in 54 years since its inauguration. Its capability of carrying all these passengers every day is backed up by the best punctuality in the world (average delay per train is about 24 seconds!) and its highly sophisticated operation and organizational behavior.
To safely transport approximately 450,000 passengers per day, the Shinkansen is under its strict double- to triple-check system.
Every train car of the Shinkansen is subject to an overhaul = every 36 months or within a travel distance of every 1,200,000 km. Various portions of train cars are disassembled into parts, and such parts are inspected one by one by testing equipment to check for any possible problems. We also detach and wash the seats, exchange windowpanes, and paint the train cars. It takes about 14 days to complete the entire process.
For maintenance of the Shinkansen, nighttime from the last train until the first train next day is very important. Besides regular inspections of equipment, we carry out equipment replacement. As one of such operations, we implement rail replacement. Rails are gradually and steadily worn away and weakened by metal fatigue each time a train passes; therefore, we change the rails according to the number of train operations and the wear status of the rails. We change a welded rail of hundreds meters long into a new one during the night. Such complete maintenance management ensures the highly reliable safety of the Shinkansen. In fact, there has been no fatal injury accident for more than 50 years since its inauguration.
When you come to a Shinkansen platform, you will often notice a station staff member pointing his finger and calling. Such action is called “Pointing and Calling” and taken to confirm the operating time of trains, signals, and the safety. This is a method for preventing errors and oversights by using the body, eyes, voice and ears. By pointing at the object, watching it with our eyes, calling aloud, and hearing the voice with our own ears, we can effectively avoid errors and oversights, and it is said that by doing that way, we can reduce the possibility of an error or accident to one-sixth.
“Pointing and Calling” is implemented not only by the train crew and station staff, but also by workers in the train car factory; therefore, it can be said “Foundation for the safety of the Shinkansen.”
It is the Automatic Train Control equipment, ATC, which enables the Shinkansen with its maximum speed of 285 km/h to offer as many as 365 services per day. For the Shinkansen driver, unlike a conventional local train driver, it is difficult to confirm ground signals, and there is a possibility of overlooking them. To prevent such incidents, ATC has a function to display a signal of the maximum speed limit in the train car and automatically slow down when needed. Such a function makes it possible to maintain a safe distance from the train that run ahead and, even when it becomes necessary to make an emergency stop, a collision never occurs.
To operate 365 services of the Shinkansen per day, speedy cleaning is indispensable. At Tokyo Station, there are a number of Shinkansens that immediately resume shuttle operations. The time available for discharging passengers who arrived at the terminal and for receiving new passengers is very limited, that is, as short as about 10 minutes. During that time, in all 16-train cars, we need to change the direction of the seats, collect garbage, clean the seats, and exchange backrest sheets. It is highly trained hospitality professionals who can manage to complete such high-speed cleaning. We do recommend arriving at the platform a little earlier and witness their agile cleaning.
Although various technologies are introduced for the maintenance of the Shinkansens, what catches your eye most would be the polishing operation by robot arms. When overhauled, the Shinkansens are newly repainted. On such occasions, it is necessary to carry out polishing work to make the surface coarser so that the paint and varnish may be applied and spread out easily. However, the first train car having many curved surfaces, requires a considerable amount of time to finish such polishing work when it is conducted by human power. To solve this problem, robot arms were introduced, and they are currently served to substantially reduce the time required for the work to polish the surfaces of the car body.
One of the most important elements in the operation of the Shinkansen is the train operation schedule called the timetable diagram. The vertical axis shows each station and the horizontal axis shows the time required, and each line represents a train. The timetable diagram shows as a graphic how efficiently and safely we can transport passengers by using more than 130 Shinkansens in 2 train lines, up line and down line. The diagram is designed after taking various conditions into consideration, for example, whether the designed schedule is easy for passengers to use, whether the time for transfers to conventional local trains is secured,and whether the deployment of station staff and crewmembers is practically appropriate. Therefore, the timetable diagram is worked out by not only using computers but also experts making calculations in an elaborate manner. For the Shinkansens used by about 450,000 passengers per day, it is exactly the timetable diagram that plays an important role to enhance the value of the Shinkansen.
The Tokaido Shinkansen is Japan’s main artery connecting the two major cities, Tokyo and Osaka. Between Tokyo sta. and Shin-Osaka sta., the Shinkansen passes through various popular tourist spots in Japan, such as the port city of Yokohama, hot spring town of Atami, Mt. Fuji, and the ancient capital of Kyoto, literally running through Japan. For your travel, the smartEX App will enable you to make a train reservation even from overseas and is recommended.
When taking the Shinkansen in Japan, we recommended the Shinkansen Reservation App, smartEX. By using this app, you can make a Shinkansen train reservation and purchase tickets from overseas. You can make a reservation from a month prior to the departure date, getting tickets for a maximum of six people at a time. In addition, any changes of the reservation are accepted at any time and as many times as you hope, and you can apply for a change up to four minutes before the departure of the Shinkansen. This is a quick and easy way to enjoy your trip in Japan.
An important thing to remember to enjoy the Shinkansen is a train station lunch box, “ekiben.” Ekiben provides a convenient and affordable means of discovering the best culinary temptations that Japan has to offer from sushi to tempura. You can get ekiben at a kiosk of a station for about 10 US dollars. There are so many kinds of ekiben that you may dither which one to choose. So let’s try to get it in plenty of time. Even if you should get on the Shinkansen without any time to buy ekiben, that would be okay as you could enjoy on-train sales service on the Shinkansen, except for Kodama Shinkansen.
At Nagoya Station, there is a restaurant called Sumiyoshi on the platform. Sumiyoshi is a long-established store famous for its “kishimen” (flat noodles, a specialty of Nagoya) and pretty popular among businesspersons who very much look forward to their business trip to Nagoya to enjoy eating the kishimen of Sumiyoshi. The store is always busy with many customers. However, by giving a meal ticket, which you bought at the entrance to a server, you can start eating in about 30 seconds at the earliest or within one minute at the latest. This is real fast food!
If you encounter rush hour traffic at Shinagawa Station, it might be pretty fun for you to stop walking and watch what’s going on in front of you for a while. There are many major corporations near Shinagawa Station, and the scenes both in the morning and in the evening, which are crowds of people heading in the same direction, might give you a strange impression. The Starbucks coffee shop near the entrance of the Shinkansen platform is the best viewpoint.