EAST JAPAN Railway formally inaugurates the first stage of its Nagano Shinkansen between Takasaki and Nagano on October 1, with the launch of Asama super-express services from Tokyo. The 126 km branch diverges from the existing Joetsu Shinkansen, and is designed for operation at up to 260 km/h.

The line was originally to be known as the Hokuriku Shinkansen, as it is intended to serve the Hokuriku region along the Sea of Japan coast, including the towns of Toyoma and Kanazawa. As this area is currently served by JR West and no timetable has been set for completion of the shinkansen extension beyond Nagano, JR East has dropped the Hokuriku name as potentially confusing.

Services to Nagano will be worked by Series E2 trainsets (right). The line is expected to carry heavy traffic in the early part of next year, when Nagano hosts the 1998 Winter Olympic Games.

An additional island platform has been built at Tokyo Central to accommodate the increased JR East shinkansen activity; there are now four platform tracks for Tohoku, Joetsu, Yamagata, Akita and Nagano services, and six tracks for JR Central and JR West trains on the Tokaido and Sanyo Shinkansen. o