CEREMONIES were held in Japan at the end of March to mark the formal start of work on three more shinkansen extensions, following their approval by Transport Minister Takao Fujii on March 12. Construction of the three routes is expected to be spread over 20 years because of limitations on government funding (RG 2.98 p71).

On March 21 the minister and his predecessor Mr Koga joined the President of Japan Railway Construction Public Corp S Shioda and JR Kyushu Chairman Yukitaka Ishii at an event in the western island to inaugurate the next phase of the Kyushu Shinkansen. Running from 85·4 km from Funagoya to Shin Yatsushiro, this will include 23 km of tunnels and 45 km of viaducts and bridges. There will be four stations, including Kumamoto and Shin Yatsushiro. The Kyushu Shinkansen route will initially be laid with 1067mm gauge track aligned for a maximum speed of 200 km/h.

A week later Shioda participated in another ceremony at Nagano with Governor Yoshimura of Nagano province and JR East Vice-President K Harayama to launch the 59·7 km Nagano - Joetsu section of the Hokuriku Shinkansen. Costed at ´219bn at 1997 prices, this 260 km/h route will have 34 km of tunnels, including the 22·2 km Iiyama tunnel, and 17 km of viaducts and bridges.

Also on March 28 JR East Chairman Shuichiro Yamanouchi and JRCC Vice-President Takamatsu joined Governor Kimura of Aomori province in the northern Honshu city of Aomori to inaugurate work on the 81·8 km Hachinohe - Shin Aomori extension of the Tohoku Shinkansen. Once again designed for 260 km/h operation, this is costed at ´314bn in 1997 prices. As well as 22 km of viaducts and bridges, there will be 47 km of tunnels including the 26·5 km Hakkoda tunnel which JR East says will be the longest mountain rail tunnel in the world. o