Information published on 5 April 2016 in the UIC electronic newsletter "UIC eNews" Nr 492.

Japan: Hokkaido Shinkansen begins commercial service

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Service on 149 km of the Hokkaido Shinkansen line between Shin-Aomori station and Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto station will be launched on 26 March 2016. The fastest train “Hayabusa” will connect Tokyo station and Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto station in just four hours and two minutes. H5 series Shinkansen carriages of JR Hokkaido and E5 series Shinkansen carriages of JR East will be used. Apart from the usual Ordinary cars and Green (First-class) cars, there is an addition of GranClass cars, which provide exceptional quality.

After the tragedy of the typhoon in 1954, where the lives of 1,430 passengers aboard the cross-channel ferry “Toya” were lost, the construction of the world’s longest undersea Seikan tunnel (53.85 km) began in 1964, linking the main island to Hokkaido. Only a conventional 1067mm-gauge line had been in operation after the tunnel was opened in 1988, but an additional rail has been added to enable the Shinkansen operation as well.

Although the maximum speed of Hokkaido Shinkansen is 260 km/h, as freight trains operate in Seikan tunnel, the maximum speed of that section has been set at 140 km/h. JR Hokkaido has started running tests since March 2015 and they have also started to train the drivers since August of that year.

According to a government-affiliated financial institution, the economic ripple effect of the Hokkaido Shinkansen is 101 million euros per year. A total of 620,000 visitors are expected to come and visit, which includes an additional 130,000 people mainly from in and around Tokyo area. An extension line (212km) to Sapporo, the centre of Hokkaido, is planned in the year 2030, which has further greater hopes of customer attraction effect as well as economic revitalisation for Hokkaido.

(Source: Japan Railways Group)