AN AGREEMENT announced on December 16 between the government and ruling coalition parties means that investment in the construction of Shinkansen lines will rise by ´2bn in the fiscal year commencing April 1 2005. In the three previous years from 2001-02 to 2004-05 the trend has been downwards.

Total spending on new Shinkansen projects in 2005-06 is set to reach ´220bn, of which the government will contribute 32% in grants. The remainder will come from local authorities and JR Group companies. As a result of this latest decision, construction will begin on three new sections in the coming year.

The Tohoku Shinkansen has already reached Hachinohe and is expected to open as far as Aomori by 2010-11, two years earlier than originally planned. Work will now commence on a further extension through the Seikan undersea tunnel to Hakodate on the island of Hokkaido. This is due to be completed by March 2016. The Seikan tunnel was built with dual gauge track in the expectation that the Shinkansen would eventually reach Sapporo.

The Hokuriku Shinkansen is already under construction between Nagano and Toyama, and the extra funding now available means that work can start in 2005-06 on a further extension to Kanazawa. It had been the intention that the latter section would be constructed to Shinkansen standards but used by narrow gauge trains for some years. This idea has apparently now been dropped, and Shinkansen trains should reach Kanazawa by 2014-15.

No date has been set for completion of the third line to be started as a result of the decision in December. This isolated section extends from Takeo Onsen to Isahya on the island of Kyushu, and is ultimately intended to form part of a through route from the present JR-West Shinkansen terminus at Hakata in Fukuoka to the western city of Nagasaki.

However, there is a precedent, also on Kyushu, in the line from Hakata to Kagoshima. The outer section of this route from Shin-Yatsushiro to Kagoshima-Chuo was built first and opened in March 2004 (RG 10.03 p626). JR-Kyushu operates a narrow-gauge limited express connection from Hakata to Shin-Yatsushiro while the missing link is still under construction. This section is now expected to be completed in 2012.