Japan just opened the newest addition to its high-speed network: the “Hokudriko Shinkansan” between Nagano and Kanazawa on the Sea of Japan. Trains built for the line are designed for running speeds of about 160 miles per hour.
Japan also increased the top speed on its original trunk line between Tokyo and Osaka from 168 to 178 miles per hour (270 to 285 km per hour). This will probably add some capacity to the system, but the effect on total travel time–a reduction of 3 minutes–is hardly a big deal. Coming up next year: The first phase of the high-speed link in Hokkaido, the north island. It will start at the current northern high-speed terminal at Aomori, run through the 34-mile Seikan Tunnel, up to the key city of Hakodate.
Other line openings due this year are the Spanish line extension from Valladolid to Leon, a short German section near Leipzig, a short Italian segment near Milan, the Medina-Mecca line in Saudi Arabia, completion of the Ankara-Istanbul line and other lines in Turkey, and a line in Morocco.
Last year marked the 50th anniversary of Japan’s “bullet train,” the world’s first new-tech high-speed rail service. The initial top speed, between Tokyo and Osaka, was 210 km/hour, or 130 mph–a figure that had actually been equaled decades earlier (according to industry legend) by the Milwaukee Road’s 4-6-4 steam-powered Hiawatha and the Pennsylvania’s 4-4-4-4 steamers between Chicago and Pittsburgh. Since then, Japan’s network has grown to more than 1,800 miles, with a top speed of 180 mph. Other parts of Asia and Europe have overtaken Japan in terms of routes and speeds: China has more than 8,000 miles of high-speed lines and Europe has about 4,600 miles, both with some sections operating at top speeds of 200 mph.
The U.S.? A segment of the Northeast Corridor between Boston and Providence allows operation up to 150 mph (maybe) but nothing else is imminent until (another maybe) the California line.
— Ed Perkins, editor