What is the Tokyo Bullet Train?

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  • Written By: J.S. Metzker Erdemir
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 12 September 2019
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The Tokyo bullet train is a high-speed train that connects Tokyo with most of the major cities on Honshu, Japan’s largest island, with a more recent connection to Fukuoka on the nearby island of Kyushu. Known as Shinkansen in Japan, these trains reach speeds of 186 mph (300 kmh). The Tokyo bullet train is operated by Japan Railways on a network of 1,528 miles (2,459 km) of tracks. In addition to its high speeds, Shinkansen is also known for safety and punctuality.

The Tokyo bullet train made its first run in 1964 between Tokyo and Osaka on a track that paralleled the old Tokaido road, used since the times of the samurais. The early Shinkansen went as fast as 130 mph (209 kmh). The Osaka line was expanded south to Hiroshima and later to Fukuoka, and north to Hachinohe. Most recently, in 2004, a line between Yatsushiro and Kagoshima on the island of Kyushu was completed, and the line between Yatsushiro and Fukuoka is expected to be completed in 2010, making it possible to travel from Kyushu’s southernmost tip to Honshu’s northernmost tip.


There are three types of Shinkansen on the Tokaido line, categorized by how fast they travel and how often they stop. The fastest are the Nozomi trains, which make the trip between Osaka and Tokyo in about two and a half hours, stopping only at main stations. The next fastest are the Hikari trains, which stop more often and can complete the Osaka-Tokyo journey in about three hours. The Kodama trains are the slowest because they stop at all local stations, making the trip last a little over three hours. Each bullet train on the Tokaido line is 10 cars long, and has a 1,300 passenger capacity. Trains run six times an hour. Since beginning operation in 1964, the Tokaido line has transported over 4.5 billion passengers, making it the busiest high-speed train in the world.

In addition to carrying more passengers than all the other high-speed trains in the world combined, the Tokyo bullet train has the best safety record, with no accident-related fatalities. The Tokyo Shinkansen is also known for its punctuality, with all trains arriving within seconds of their scheduled times. Currently, experimental maglev trains are being tested, which run by magnetic levitation rather than on wheels, allowing trains to travel faster, more quietly, and more smoothly. Maglev Shinkansen are capable of reaching speeds over 300 mph (482.8 kmh).


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