2013 No.10

Quality with a Japanese Flair


Shinkansen High-speed
Trains Run Safe

Shinkansen super express trains connect major cities throughout Japan, traveling at astounding speeds while keeping to the schedule remarkably well. Equally surprising is their safety—for example, during 48 years of continued operations since Tokaido Shinkansen trains began running in 1964, the system has never experienced an accident causing an on-board passenger fatality. These pages look at just a few of the technologies, systems and people involved. Also revealed here are some of the secrets of Shinkansen safety as it speeds into the future.

Photos by Watanabe Shigeki

Central Japan Railway Company's newest train, the N700A, on a Tokaido Shinkansen track. It is equipped with a system that stops trains quickly in emergencies to avoid accidents.

Central Japan Railway Company's Shinkansen General Control Center controls operations on the Tokaido Shinkansen Line.

The "brain" behind train operations: The Shinkansen General Control Center

The "brain" keeping Tokaido Shinkansen trains running safe and on time is the Shinkansen General Control Center. A large room there has an immense board extending across an entire wall, showing tracks, stations, and real-time information on train locations at a glance. If it looks like a train might be delayed, controllers may adjust scheduling to let trains behind it move ahead. In heavy rains or strong winds, a command might go out to stop trains at a moment's notice, limiting delays elsewhere and preventing accidents. With the help of controllers' alert eyes and input, the control system is second to none, as the Shinkansen's strong safety record shows.

"Dr. Yellow"—Diagnosing conditions on the go


Dr. Yellow” checks the condition of the track and overhead power supply wires.

Nicknamed "Dr. Yellow," the Shinkansen Electric and Track Inspection Train is a reliable diagnosis tool for the high-speed rail system. It makes "doctor's" rounds between Tokyo and Hakata about once every 10 days, checking the condition of the overhead power lines and track. On-board sensors diagnose the condition of equipment, and any maintenance needs are addressed promptly. People rarely see the train, so many who catch sight of it consider it a sign of good luck. Some people even call it "The Good Luck Train."

7-minute magic: Marvelous interior cleaning

Shinkansen trains are well known for their clean and tidy interiors. Tokyo Station, the busiest station in Japan's high-speed rail network, is the departure point for the Tohoku and Joetsu Shinkansen lines. Trains on these lines slide in and out every four minutes or so, using four platforms. They remain there for 12 minutes, five of which are for passengers to get on and off. That leaves just seven minutes for station staff to change the seatback covers, collect and remove garbage, sweep floors and more, coordinating their teamwork under a leader. The workers bow to arriving and departing passengers; these scenes of hospitality on Shinkansen platforms have become legendary.


East Japan Railway Company staff work without a wasted movement, cleaning and tidying a passenger car interior. It takes them just seven minutes.


Their job done, they give a low welcoming bow to passengers about to get on the train.

N700A series trains: New technology for fast, safe stops


Japan's latest high-speed train is the N700A. It entered service on the Tokaido Shinkansen Line in February 2013, and on the Sanyo Shinkansen Line the following month. It is equipped with a newly developed earthquake-triggered braking system that permits even shorter stopping distances when a quake is detected. The N700A also has a system that continually monitors vibrations experienced by the wheel systems supporting the railcar and quickly detects even minor abnormalities.