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The Evolving Shinkansen

A Crystallization of Cutting-Edge Technology


A close-up view of the distinctive “Long Nose” front of the E5 Series. (c)The East Japan Railway Company

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The E5 Series is the latest addition to the Shinkansen team. (c)The East Japan Railway Company

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The Shinkansen, Japan’s famous bullet train, made its debut in 1964. In the 46 years since that first “0 Series,” technological advances made by Japanese researchers have helped introduce high-speed railway travel around the world.

In 2011, the new E5 Series will debut on the Tohoku Shinkansen lines in northern Honshu, Japan’s main island, with a top speed of 300 kilometers per hour. When it reaches its full operating speed in March 2013 the E5 Series will be Japan’s fastest train ever, with a top speed of 320 kilometers per hour, more than 100 kilometers per hour faster than the original “0 Series.” The Shinkansen E5 Series brings together the latest developments in rail comfort and safety.

The Ongoing Battle With NoiseService on the Tohoku Shinkansen lines is currently provided by the E2 Series “Hayate” at a top speed of 275 kilometers per hour. At its full speed of 320 kilometers per hour, the E5 Hayabusa will link Tokyo and Aomori in around three hours and five minutes and will beat the top speed of the E2 Hayate by a full 45 kilometers per hour, reducing travel time by between 20 and 30 minutes.

“Noise and passenger comfort inevitably become issues as the speed of a train increases,” says Endo Tomoyuki, manager of the Rolling Stock Technical Center at the East Japan Railway Company, which was responsible for development of the Hayabusa. “Through a process of trial and error, we made a number of breakthroughs in addressing these issues. The end result is an improved environmental performance and a more comfortable ride than was possible even with the E2 Series.”

Battling against noise has been a major issue throughout the development of the Shinkansen.

The “Tunnel Boom” phenomenon has been a particularly tricky problem to solve. When a train enters a tunnel at speeds above 200 kilometers per hour, the sudden increase in air pressure can cause a loud booming noise at the other end of the tunnel. The shape of the front car has evolved gradually to combat this phenomenon, and the striking “Long Nose” design of the E5 Series is the result of many experiments in limiting the boom. The nose of the E5 Series is 15 meters in length, 9 meters longer than that of the E2 Series.


Illustrations showing the new train’s tilting mechanism. (c)The East Japan Railway Company

Another feature of the E5 Series is a redesigned low-noise pantograph. The pantograph is the device on top of a train that connects it to the overhead electrical lines. The E2 Series requires two pantographs per car, but the E5 Series has just one—further reducing noise from contact with the overhead electrical lines.

In addition, the bogies (wheeled wagons) have been completely covered to reduce noise from rail contact, and sound-absorbing panels have been installed under the floors beneath passenger seats. The development team worked to eliminate even the smallest sources of noise.

Development from the Passenger’s PerspectiveEvery car on the E5 Series is equipped with a full-active suspension system that detects and regulates tilt and lateral movement. The specialized pneumatic suspension tilts passenger cars as the train heads into curves, reducing centrifugal force. These technologies make the E5 Series even more comfortable than the E2 Series.

Although Shinkansen trains have been taken to speeds in excess of 400 kilometers per hour in tests, the running speed of the E5 Series will be limited to 320 kilometers per hour to preserve passenger comfort and minimize the effect of the trains on the environment.

The Shinkansen boasts an excellent safety record, with not a single passenger accident recorded in 46 years of service.

The E5 Hayabusa’s initial maximum speed of 300 kilometers per hour will be raised to 320km per hour only after a review of maintenance feedback and a thorough evaluation of how wear and tear has affected equipment over the first two years of operation. It is no exaggeration to say that this uncompromising approach to safety has made the Shinkansen the safest high-speed rail service in the world. (December 2010)


An E5 Series train on a test run, with a 200 series train in the background. (c)Kawai Satoshi

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The redesigned low-noise pantograph. (c)The East Japan Railway Company

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