The Shinkansen (新幹線) is a network of high-speed railway lines in Japan operated by Japan Railways. Since the initial Tōkaidō Shinkansen which was opened in 1964 and running at 210 km/h, the network of 2,459 km has expanded to link most major cities on the islands of Honshū and Kyūshū with running speeds of up to 300 km/h, in an earthquake and typhoon prone environment. Test run speeds have been 443 km/h for conventional rail in 1996, and up to a world record of 581 km/h for Maglev trains, in 2003.

Shinkansen literally means "New Trunk Line" and hence strictly speaking refers only to the tracks, while the trains themselves are officially referred to as "Super Express" (超特急); however, this distinction is rarely made even in Japan. In contrast to older lines, Shinkansen are standard gauge, and use tunnels and viaducts to go through and over obstacles, rather than around them.

Japan was the first country to build dedicated railway lines for high speed travel. Because of the mountainous terrain, the existing network consisted of 3 ft 6 in (1067 mm) 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.

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 due to the Shinkansen locomotive's resemblance to a bullet and its high speed.

The "Shinkansen" name was first formally used in 1940 for a proposed standard gauge passenger/freight line between Tokyo and Shimonoseki, using steam and electric locomotives with a top speed of 200 km/h. 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. By the mid-1950s, the Tōkaidō Main Line was operating at full capacity, and the Ministry of Railways decided to revisit the Shinkansen project. Government approval came in 1958, and construction of the first segment of the Tōkaidō Shinkansen between Tokyo and Osaka started in 1959. Much of the construction was financed by a US$80 million loan from the World Bank.

The Tōkaidō Shinkansen opened on October 1, 1964, in time for the Tokyo Olympics. It 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 210 km/h, later increased to 220 km/h. Some of these trains, with their classic bullet-nosed appearance, are still in use.

This early success prompted an extension of the first line westward to Hiroshima and Fukuoka (the Sanyo Shinkansen), and was completed in 1975.

Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka was an ardent supporter, and his government proposed an extensive network paralleling most existing trunk lines. Two new lines, the Tohoku Shinkansen and Joetsu Shinkansen, were built following this plan. Many other planned lines were delayed or scrapped entirely as the national railway went further into debt, largely due to the high costs of building the Shinkansen network. By the early 1980s, Japan National Railways was practically insolvent, leading to privatization in 1987.

Despite this, development of the Shinkansen continued. Several new models of train followed the first, generally each with its own distinctive appearance. Shinkansen trains now run regularly at speeds of up to 300 km/h, putting them among the fastest trains running in the world, along with the French TGV Eurostar Thalys, Italian TAV, Spanish AVE, German ICE and South Korean KTX trains.

Since 1970, development has also been underway for the Chūō Shinkansen, a maglev train planned to run from Tokyo to Osaka. On December 2, 2003, the 3-car maglev trainset (JR-Maglev MLX01) reached a world speed record of 581 km/h.

In 2003, JR Central reported that the Shinkansen's average arrival time was within six 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 18 seconds. Japan celebrated 40 years of high speed rail in 2004, with the Tōkaidō Shinkansen line alone having carried 4.16 billion passengers. According to, the network has carried over 6 billion passengers.

During the Shinkansen's 40-odd year, 6 billion passenger history, there have been no passenger fatalities due to derailments or collisions (including earthquakes and typhoons). Injuries have been caused by doors closing on passengers or their belongings and attendants are employed at platforms to prevent this.

There have been suicides by passengers jumping both from and in front of moving trains.

The only derailment of a Shinkansen train in passenger service occurred during the Chūetsu Earthquake on October 23, 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. In the event of an earthquake, an earthquake detection system can bring the train to a stop very quickly. Experimental FASTECH 360 trains have ear-like air resistance braking flaps to assist emergency stops at high speeds.

Noise pollution concerns mean that increasing speed is becoming more difficult. Current research is primarily aimed at reducing operational noise, particularly the "tunnel boom" phenomenon caused when trains enter tunnels at high speed. Despite this, there are two planned speed increases, one to 350 km/h for new trains on the Sanyō line, and one to 360 km/h using derivatives of the FASTECH 360 trains currently being tested on the Tōhoku Shinkansen.

The Kyūshū 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, Hokkaidō Shinkansen from Aomori to Sapporo (through the Seikan Tunnel), Kyūshū Shinkansen to Nagasaki, as well as to complete a link from Kanazawa back to Osaka, although none of these are likely to be completed by 2020.

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. Part of its planned right-of-way will be utilized by the Narita Rapid Railway link when it opens in 2010. Although the NRR will use standard gauge track, it will not be built to Shinkansen specifications and it would not be feasible to convert it into a full Shinkansen line.


The main Shinkansen lines are:
* Tōkaidō Shinkansen (Tokyo – Shin-Osaka)
* Sanyō Shinkansen (Shin-Osaka – Hakata)
* Tōhoku Shinkansen (Tokyo – Hachinohe)
* Jōetsu Shinkansen (Ōmiya – Niigata)
* Hokuriku Shinkansen or Nagano Shinkansen (Takasaki – Nagano)
* Kyūshū Shinkansen (Shin-Yatsushiro – Kagoshima-Chūō)

Two further lines, known as Mini-Shinkansen (ミニ新幹線), have also been constructed by upgrading existing sections of line:
* Yamagata Shinkansen (Fukushima – Shinjō)
* Akita Shinkansen (Morioka – Akita)

There are two standard gauge not technically classified as Shinkansen lines but with Shinkansen services:
* Hakata Minami Line (Hakata – Hakata-Minami)
* Gala-Yuzawa Line – technically a branch of the Jōetsu Line – (Echigo-Yuzawa – Gala-Yuzawa)

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, has been officially cancelled, but a few remain under development.

* Tōhoku Shinkansen extension from Hachinohe Station to Shin-Aomori is under construction and will open by 2010.

* Hokuriku Shinkansen extension to Kanazawa is under construction and will open by 2014. The complete extension of the line to Osaka is under development, and only Fukui Station is under construction.

* Kyūshū Shinkansen extension to Hakata is under construction and will open by 2010.

* The second Kyūshū Shinkansen route from Shin-Tosu to Nagasaki section is under development.

* The Hokkaidō Shinkansen from Shin-Aomori to Shin-Hakodate is under construction and will open by 2015. A further extension of the line from Shin-Hakodate to Sapporo is under development.

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

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

* China has ordered 60 eight-car 200 km/h EMUs based on the E2-1000 Series design named CRH-2 built by a consortium formed of Kawasaki Heavy Industries, Mitsubishi Electric Corporation, and Hitachi, for deliveries starting in March 2006.

* For the Channel Tunnel Rail Link, Hitachi-built EMUs based on Shinkansen technology will be exported for use on high-speed commuter services in Britain.

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.

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.
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 old narrow gauge network that the Shinkansen parallels.


JR East to develop new bullet train capable of 320 kph

East Japan Railway Co. (JR East) intends to develop a new bullet train with a top speed of 320 kilometers per hour for its Tohoku Shinkansen Line, company officials have announced.

The Tokyo-based railway operator intends to introduce the new model on the Tohoku Shinkansen when it is extended from Hachinohe Station, its current terminus, to Shin-Aomori Station by the end of fiscal 2010.

The company initially plans to operate the new train at 300 kilometers per hour, but will subsequently raise it to 320 kilometers per hour.

The train is estimate to cover the distance between Tokyo and Shin-Aomori in less than three hours, JR East officials said.

Currently, the fastest bullet trains are the Series 500 and the Series N700, which have a top speed of 300 kilometers per hour, and which run on the Tokaido-Sanyo Shinkansen lines between Tokyo and Hakata in Fukuoka.