EAST JAPAN Railway President Masatake Matsuda was up early on the morning of March 22 to give the first Tokyo-bound train on the Akita mini-shinkansen a high-level send-off from the northeastern city. Also present on the platform to flag away the 06.12 Komachi departure was Akita Governor Kikuji Sasaki.

In Tokyo the first Komachi for Akita departed at 06.50 (centre right) after a ceremony attended by Minister of Transport Makoto Koga and JR East Chairman Suichiro Yamanouchi.

Replacing a service requiring passengers to change between standard gauge Tohoku Shinkansen and 1067mm gauge trains at Morioka, the five-car Series E3 trains forming the Komachi services use standard gauge tracks over the former 127 km narrow gauge route between Morioka and Akita. They run at 275 km/h on the Tohoku Shinkansen coupled to E2 sets working Yamabiko services, and after dividing at Morioka, at a maximum speed of 130 km/h on the former narrow gauge route.

There are 13 services a day, the fastest linking Akita with the capital in 3h 49min, saving 48min compared with the previous fastest timing.

Work on the Akita mini-shinkansen project began in April 1992 and was carried out in stages. This entailed adding a parallel standard gauge single track to the 51·7 km section of the Ou line between Omargari and Akita, and addition of a third running rail to one of the two narrow gauge tracks over the 13 km between Jinguuji and Mineyoshikawa. The last stage was conversion of the 75 km narrow gauge Tazawako line from Morioka to Omagari and construction of a ramp at Morioka to connect with the Tohoku Shinkansen. This was finished last December.

The total cost of the conversion was around ¥97bn.