INTRO: Series 500 trains are poised to cut journey times on the Sanyo Shinkansen, but JR West’s long-term plans envisage high performance trains to replace Kodama services, and ultra-high-speed trains

BYLINE: Masataka Ide

President, West Japan Railway Co

THIS YEAR marks the 25th anniversary of the 161 km Sanyo Shinkansen which opened in 1972 between Shin Osaka and Okayama. From that date high speed trains largely replaced services over the 180 km conventional narrow gauge route between the two cities. Later, the line was extended from Okayama to Hakata, taking the total length from Shin Osaka to 554 km, compared to 645 km on the original narrow gauge route.

Today, more than 200 trains a day use the line, and traffic has risen to 16 billion passenger-km a year. Accounting for 40% of JR West’s total traffic revenue, the Sanyo Shinkansen is a vital part of our network. The line runs through the western part of Japan forming a major artery linking several cities with over one million people - Osaka, Kobe, Hiroshima, Kitakyushu and Fukuoka.

The line has become established as a prime means of business, tourist and commuter travel. Much of it enjoys a straight alignment, permitting sustained high speed running, and around half of it runs in tunnel. Most of the open sections run through residential areas, and almost half the total track length is laid with slab track.

The growth of air and road travel has made both increasingly serious competitors for the railway. Rail has 60% of the rail/air market between Shin Osaka and Hakata. For comparison, the ratio between Tokyo and Osaka, an equivalent distance, is 85% rail and 15% air. JR West has therefore been working to strengthen its competitiveness by raising operating speeds and improving service through the introduction of new trains such as the Series 100N and 300.

300 km/h and beyond

In 1990 JR West established a project team with the goal of running at much higher speed by developing the Series 500 Shinkansen able to operate at over 300 km/h. Many factors had to be considered when increasing operating speed on the Sanyo Shinkansen - noise reduction, measures to reduce aerodynamic effects such as micropressure waves in tunnels, and better ride quality.

JR West put major effort into research and development in these areas. Many new technologies were developed, making it possible to achieve an operating speed of 300 km/h while maintaining ride quality and paying heed to environmental concerns. The results of this research have been incorporated into the first Series 500 train which will start one or two daily round trips on the Sanyo line on March 22. Series 500 will reduce journey times between Shin Osaka and Hakata by a further 15min, to 2h 17min.

Growing competition

Social conditions in Japan are changing. The population is getting older, families are having fewer children and the rate of population growth is slowing. Improved airport facilities and deregulation are resulting in better air services. Bridges between the islands of Honshu and Shikoku are nearing completion, as is a highway through the Chugoku region, greatly expanding the road network in western Japan. All these factors can be expected to have a great impact on the railway’s ability to compete.

JR West therefore needs to anticipate accurately the operating conditions the Sanyo Shinkansen will face in the future, and develop aggressive operational strategies that will give the company a lead over other modes.

For long-distance direct travel on the Tokaido and Sanyo Shinkansen, JR West is working to provide more journey options where point-to-point travel times are less than 4h - high speed rail is competitive with air over this range.

Series 500 trains travelling at 300 km/h will be taking over the Nozomi workings, which are the fastest services. Four trains are due to be in service by the autumn, starting direct services to Tokyo.

Current plans are for a total of nine sets to be introduced, running at two hour intervals, and preparations are being made with JR Central to run Series 500 trains on the Tokaido Shinkansen as well.

Trains with a top speed of 270 km/h made available by introduction of Series 500 will be transferred to Hikari services, replacing units capable of only 220 or 230 km/h.

Using technology developed for the Series 500, we are working with JR Central on the development of the Series N300 train, which will be used on both the Tokaido and Sanyo Shinkansen. Combining technology used in the Series 500 and JR Central’s Series 300X experimental train, Series N300 will be a high performance, low-cost train. A prototype is scheduled for completion in the autumn. JR West’s goal is to achieve operating speeds of 270 km/h or more for Series N300 trains, which is expected to improve the performance of direct services.

Local services will also be speeded up, and we are working to improve operations to provide more flexible services, with more direct trains and better connections between local and express trains. Traffic volume declines gradually as it progresses further west, and JR West must work to ensure the most efficient operations by matching capacity closely to demand.

As JR West works to improve its rail network, we are examining carefully all aspects of our operations, from equipment to management, including conventional lines connecting with the Sanyo Shinkansen.

Kodama replacement

Since inauguration of the line, Series 0 trains have been used for local Kodama services. This is another area where JR West is planning to develop a specialised Shinkansen train with better performance.

Several factors must be taken into consideration. As the train will make frequent stops, high maximum speed, acceleration and deceleration will be essential so that it does not delay other trains. We aim to develop a short train with automatic couplings to provide efficient and flexible operations to different destinations. JR West aims to ensure that the train has low capital and operating costs.

Ultra-high-speed train

JR West is also working to lift train speeds further in a continued effort to raise rail’s market share between Osaka and Hakata. Our goal is to offer a 2h timing by 2007, and we are already examining the feasibility of an ultra-high-speed train for use on the Sanyo Shinkansen.

Many steps are being taken to improve train performance and achieve maximum operating speeds. These include revising the cross-section of the train body to improve aerodynamic performance, and greatly reducing body weight. JR West is also making excellent progress in the research and development of technology such as tilting trains for use on the Sanyo Shinkansen.

Today’s Sanyo Shinkansen has been made possible by the support and patronage of all our customers. JR West will continue to respond to customers’ needs and work to refine further all areas of service. Our aim is for JR West and the Sanyo shinkansen to be chosen as the best means of transport in western Japan, both now and in the future. o

Key facts

n Sanyo shinkansen provides 40% of JR West revenue

n Series 500 enters service at 300 km/h this month

n Kodama replacement train on the drawing board

n Ultra-high-speed train planned

CAPTION: Shinkansen trains on the Sanyo line. From left to right: Series 0, Series 100N, WIN350, Series 300, and Series 500

CAPTION: Series 500 enters service on March 22 between Shin Osaka and Hakata, cutting fastest timings to 2h 17min

Introduction of Series 500 will allow Series 300 units to be cascaded on to Hikari duties, which will in due course be retimed to run at 270 km/h