JR EAST will launch direct shinkansen services on March 22 between Tokyo and Akita. Marketed as Komachi, they will be formed of Series E3 trainsets (RG 10.95 p663) running over the Tohoku shinkansen as far as Morioka and then on the regauged Tazawako line from Morioka to Omagari and Akita.

Of the 13 daily services in each direction, three will link Tokyo and Akita in under 4h, with the fastest achieving a 3h 48min timing, cutting 48min off the present fastest journey that requires a change of train at Morioka. These three trains will run with an E3 set coupled to an E2 unit on a Yamabiko service; both types of train will be authorised to run at 270 km/h on the Tohoku shinkansen. The final section of standard gauge track on the Tazawako line was laid on December 13, when a completion ceremony was held in Morioka.

From March 22 JR West will run a Series 500 trainset at 300 km/h as a Nozomi service between Shin Osaka and Hakata in 2h 17min. Series 500 sets will work through from Hakata to Tokyo from the autumn, but maximum speed on the Tokaido shinkansen will be 270 km/h. A Series 500 ran to Tokyo on test on December 13.

Also from March 22 JR East will launch between Echigo-Yuzawa and Kanazawa on the Sea of Japan coast 10 daily Hakutaka expresses running at 140 km/h on the newly-completed 1067mm gauge Hokuetsu-Hoku line, cutting the journey time from Tokyo to Kanazawa by 25min.

JR Hokkaido is introducing three daily Super Ozora trains running at up to 130 km/h on existing 1067mm gauge track between Sapporo and Kushiro. In central Osaka JR West opens its Tozai line, joining the Katamachi and Fukuchiyama lines by a 12·3 km double track underground link used by 157 commuter trains a day in each direction. o

New routes

from March 22: