Photo/IllutrationAn artist’s rendition of the end cars of East Japan Railway Co.’s Alfa-X prototype Shinkansen. While the car, top, features a long nose, the one on the bottom measures only 15 meters, the same length as the E5 Series. (Provided by East Japan Railway Co.)

  • Photo/Illustraion

Japan’s rail operators are on track to developing the next-generation Shinkansen that aim to break speed records, improve safety and are more energy efficient.

East Japan Railway Co. (JR East) started creating a test bullet train to eventually produce the world’s fastest commercial train, which will be able to run at 360 kph, though it once failed to break the record.

Meanwhile, Central Japan Railway Co. (JR Tokai) in March began trials toward introducing its first fully remodeled N700-series Shinkansen in 13 years.

BREAKING SPEED BARRIER

An end car of JR East’s Alfa-X prototype Shinkansen, under development, will have a long nose, while the end car on the opposite side will boast a roundish design. The two structures were devised to compare their capabilities to rein in pressure waves that are produced when entering tunnels and causing loud noises.

The prototype train is being developed at JR East’s Research and Development Center in Saitama so that the new prototype will be completed by next spring.

It will be the first time in 14 years for JR East to make a new test train.

Fastech 360, the predecessor of the Alfa-X, was created with the aim of increasing the Hayate train’s maximum speed of 275 kph to 360 kph to coincide with the Tohoku Shinkansen Line’s extension in fiscal 2010 to cover Shin-Aomori Station in Aomori Prefecture.

Although the Fastech 360 operated at up to 398 kph in trial runs, the commercially introduced model had to run at the maximum speed of 320 kph as the noise issue could not be resolved.

The Alfa-X project is intended to produce a Shinkansen that can operate at 360 kph by fiscal 2030, when the Hokkaido Shinkansen Line will be extended to Sapporo Station.

Koji Asano, director of JR East’s Advanced Railway System Development Center, said raising the maximum speed is significant for the company.

“The mission of the Shinkansen is sending passengers to their destinations more quickly,” Asano said.

A new pantograph and brake disc that will not readily produce wind noise, along with the specially designed end cars, in an effort to solve the noise issue in the latest project.

Research on features to conserve energy will also be conducted, according to JR East officials.

Based on lessons from the 2004 Niigata Chuetsu Earthquake and the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake, JR East is working to introduce quake-resistant cars that will not be easily derailed even when running at high speeds.

The railway operator is looking to equip the next-generation Shinkansen with not only an ordinary brake but also an aerodynamic braking system to stop the train more promptly with air resistance.

“We will also carry out research on features to improve comfort, such as lighting devices and functions to eliminate noise inside cars,” Asano said.

SAFETY AND STABILITY

JR Tokai is making efforts to improve “stability” and not to achieve faster operations.

The N700S train, which is being developed to debut in fiscal 2020 and will be JR Tokai’s first fully remodeled Shinkansen in 13 years, is expected to operate at up to 285 kph, the same speed as its current mainstay N700A bullet train, on the Tokaido Line.

Masashi Furuya, general manager of JR Tokai’s Shinkansen Operations Division, said importance is not placed on operating trains at higher speeds.

“The important thing is providing services to transport many passengers at one time in a safe and stable manner,” Furuya said. “We have never been looking to raise the maximum speed of trains.”

As JR Tokai is to open in 2027 the Linear Chuo Shinkansen Line, on which the maglev train that can run at a maximum speed of 505 kph will be available, the rail company apparently wants to differentiate the planned fast line from its conventional routes.

The most notable feature of the N700S is the smaller, lighter equipment under the floor. The design of the undercarriage frame and other structures has been modified to reduce the weight of a train by 13 tons and slash power consumption by 7 percent.

Lithium-ion batteries are set up in the extra space created due to the smaller equipment, so that the Shinkansen can travel to places where passengers can easily disembark even if the electricity from overhead cables is cut off in the event of earthquakes while on bridges or in tunnels. Toilets will also be available in an emergency.

Sockets are installed on the armrests of all seats on the N700S, according to JR Tokai officials.

The new Shinkansen is also specially designed to promote exports.

While there are eight types of cars for the conventional model, the number has been reduced to four, making it easier to convert a 16-car train into a 12-car or 8-car train.

“The new train can be introduced for the Taiwan High Speed Rail and the planned Texas Central Railway,” said Furuya.