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Shinkansen (新幹線, Shinkansen) - A network of high-speed railway lines in Japan operated by four Japan Railways Group companies. Since the initial Tōkaidō Shinkansen opened in 1964 running at 210 km/h (130 mph), the network (2,459 km or 1,528 miles) has expanded to link most major cities on the islands of Honshū and Kyūshū with running speeds of up to 300 km/h (188 mph), in an earthquake and typhoon prone environment. Test run speeds have been 443 km/h (275 mph) for conventional rail in 1996, and up to a world record of 581 km/h (361 mph) for maglev trainsets, 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, chō-tokkyū?); 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.

Though largely a regional transport system, the Shinkansen also serves a few regular commuters who travel to work into metropolitan areas from cities beyond the metropolitan areas.

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 (1,067 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 (124 mph). 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.

In 1957, Odakyu Electric Railway introduced its Romancecar 3000 SE service, setting a world speed record of (145 km/h or 90 mph) for a narrow gauge train. This train gave designers the confidence they could build an even faster standard gauge train, as the first Shinkansen, the 0 Series, and built on the success of the Romancecar.

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. A testing facility for rolling stock, now part of the line, opened in Odawara in 1962.

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. Sixteen-car trains were introduced for Expo '70 in Osaka.

The first Shinkansen trains ran at speeds of up to 210 km/h (130 mph), later increased to 220 km/h (135 mph). Some of these trains, with their classic bullet-nosed appearance, are still in use, and a driving car from one of them is now in the British National Railway Museum in York.

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 and a single fatality have been caused by doors closing on passengers or their belongings; attendants are employed at platforms to prevent this. There have, however, 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.

Information source: “Shinkansen.” Article date: 2 Feb. 2008. Retrieved: Wikipedia. 2 Feb. 2008 <Shinkansen>.

Video - The following videos show excellent examples of Shinkansen.





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