High Speed Trains

Shinkansen O Series

With HS2 (the proposed high speed rail link from London to Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds, reputed to cost £80 billion and the subject of considerable opposition from local people) in the news again, I thought I’d take a look at high speed trains because – guess what – that’s something the Japanese are rather good at. 

To begin at the beginning: before the 1964 Tokyo Olympics there was an unprecedented explosion of development that turned the city from the burnt-out husk left by the Second World War into the beginnings of the high-tech supercity we know today. Crucial to this transformation was the first bullet train (the ‘O’ series) which ran from Tokyo to Osaka on its own dedicated track (hence the name, Shinkansen or New Trunk Line) at a mind-boggling 210 miles an hour, shortening the previous six hour forty minute trip to a mere four hours (three hours ten minutes by 1965).

0 series 6-car set at Higashi-Hiroshima Station, April 2008

0 series 6-car set at Higashi-Hiroshima Station, April 2008 Photo by ナダテ

Interior of standard class car 25-526 of set NH15, 1982 Photo by Peee

Interior of standard class car 25-526 of set NH15, 1982 Photo by Peee

The ‘O’ series lasted an amazingly long time – the final set was retired in 2008 and the driver’s cab from one is now on show at the National Railway Museum in York.

22–141 on display at the National Railway Museum in York. Photo by Steve F-E-Cameron

22–141 on display at the National Railway Museum in York. Photo by Steve F-E-Cameron

Nowadays the N700 series runs between Tokyo and Osaka with the fastest train, the Nozomi, taking two hours twenty-five minutes. They’re famously punctual, which is partly due to the separate track they run on, meaning they don’t get delayed by slower traffic. Though they do stop running for earthquakes and typhoons. (They have an earthquake detection system that stops them automatically).

JR Central N700 series. Photo Mitsuki-2368

JR Central N700 series. Photo Mitsuki-2368

But the E5 series bullet trains on the Tohoku line are faster than that. They began running at 320 miles an hour in March this year and there are plans to increase that to 360 miles an hour by 2020.

E5 series Shinkansen, March 2011. Photo Toshinori baba.

E5 series Shinkansen, March 2011. Photo Toshinori baba.

There are three main manufacturers of high speed trains in Japan – Hitachi, Nippon Sharyo and Kawasaki Heavy Industries.

JR East Shinkansen Lineup in October 2012 L to R E5 Series, 200 Series, E4 Series, E2 Series, E3 Series, E926 Type (East i), and E1 Series. Photo by Rsa

JR East Shinkansen Lineup in October 2012 L to R E5 Series, 200 Series, E4 Series, E2 Series, E3 Series, E926 Type (East i), and E1 Series. Photo by Rsa

You might expect the high speed trains that run though the channel tunnel to be Japanese, but you’d be wrong. The Eurostar trains are British Rail Class 373 and they aren’t made by Hitachi – they’re part of the TGV family, and they’re built by Alstom in La Rochelle, Washwood Heath and Bruges.

British Rail Class 373/0 at St Pancras. Photo Hugh Llewelyn

British Rail Class 373/0 at St Pancras. Photo Hugh Llewelyn

Hitachi’s first contract to supply trains in the UK was for the Javelin in 2005. The trains run on the Eurostar line, but it’s a domestic service to Ashford and the Kent Coast. The Javelin service was a key transport link for the London Olympics in 2012, running from St Pancras to Stratford International.

Javelin trains are named after Olympic athletes, with the first one being named after Dame Kelly Holmes and the twenty-ninth after David Weir, ten times Paralympic medallist.

British Rail Class 395 "Javelin" unit 395008 at Ebbsfleet International station. Photo Sunil060902

British Rail Class 395 “Javelin” unit 395008 at Ebbsfleet International station. Photo Sunil060902

If you want a Hornby Javelin train set, the Sir Chris Hoy is available.

South Eastern 'Sir Chris Hoy' Class 395 Javelin Train Pack - £164.99 from Hornby

South Eastern ‘Sir Chris Hoy’ Class 395 Javelin Train Pack – £164.99 from Hornby

The Javelin trains weren’t made in the UK. They were manufactured in Japan and shipped over, all twenty-nine of them. But the next generation, the class 800 series, which will run on the East Coast Main Line, starting in 2019, will be manufactured by Hitachi Rail Europe at a new purpose-built factory in Newton Aycliffe, County Durham. The new trains will cut journey times between London, Leeds, Newcastle and Edinburgh by up to 18 minutes.

Class 800 series. Picture from Department for Transport

Class 800 series. Picture from Department for Transport

6 thoughts on “High Speed Trains

  1. So interesting,! I visited the national railway museum in York and sat in that wagon, haha, but I would love to try the real thing one day!

    Like

  2. I took the fast train from Osaka to Tokyo in 1970 after visiting the World Expo and it was exactly the one shown in your post. The ride was so smooth, just awesome. It’s time Britain had her fast trains.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s