Photo/IllutrationShinkansen Hayabusa No. 22 of the H5 Series near Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto Station in Hokuto, Hokkaido, on Dec. 18 (Hiroyuki Yamamoto)

Bullet trains on the Tokyo-to-Hokkaido route just got faster thanks to an increased operating speed, making the trip just under four hours.

Two services from Tokyo Station to Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto Station in Hokuto, Hokkaido, and one in the inverse direction will offer transportation on Hayabusa bullet trains in 3 hours and 58 minutes starting in mid-March, making them an attractive alternative to aircraft for some passengers.

Hokkaido Railway Co. will increase the maximum speed of passenger trains hurtling through the undersea Seikan Tunnel, which is shared with freight trains, from 140 kph to 160 kph, shortening the time required to cover the section by up to 4 minutes.

The changes were part of the updated timetables announced Dec. 14 by JR group railway companies and set to kick in March 16.

Meanwhile, the Hayate bullet train running once a day from Tokyo Station to Morioka Station in Morioka, Iwate Prefecture, will be superseded by the faster Hayabusa.

The Hayate, which will continue to run on other lines, made its debut in 2002 when the Tohoku Shinkansen Line was extended to Hachinohe Station in Hachinohe, Aomori Prefecture.

Among other changes, 10 services between Tokyo Station and Niigata Station in Niigata along the Joetsu Shinkansen Line, will use the E7 series, which currently runs along the Hokuriku Shinkansen Line, featuring Gran class, or high-end seats.

With regard to the Tokaido Shinkansen Line, Central Japan Railway Co. will increase the number of Shinkansen trains that can run up to 285 kph, aiming to shorten the time between Tokyo Station and Shin-Osaka Station in Osaka by 3 minutes via 70 Nozomi bullet train services.

East Japan Railway Co. and private railway company Fujikyuko Co. will jointly offer a new express train service named Fuji Kaiyu (Fuji excursion) between Shinjuku Station in Tokyo and Kawaguchiko Station in Fuji-Kawaguchiko, Yamanashi Prefecture, aiming to connect the Tokyo metropolitan area and the area around Mount Fuji, which is popular among foreign visitors, without changing trains at Otsuki Station in Otsuki, also in Yamanashi Prefecture.