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Shinkansen network tops 2000 km

01 Apr 2002

INTRO: December this year sees the opening of the Morioka - Hachinohe extension of the Tohoku Shinkansen, taking the length of Japan's high speed network to 2047 km. The first part of the Kyushu Shinkansen will open next year, and work is proceeding on two other extensions

BYLINE: Hiroshi Kanazawa

Director, Shinkansen Department, Japan Railway Construction Public Corp

THIS YEAR will see Japan's Shinkansen network expand again when the 97 km from Morioka to Hachinohe opens in December. This will take the route length of the Shinkansen network to 2047 km.

From the initial 515 km of the Tokaido Shinkansen between Tokyo and Shin Osaka in 1964 has grown the core of a national network, the most recent addition to which was the Hokuriku Shinkansen between Takasaki and Nagano that opened in 1997. Every day trains reach 270 km/h on the Tokaido Shinkansen, 275 km/h on the Tohoku and Joetsu Shinkansen and 300 km/h on the Sanyo Shinkansen between Shin Osaka and Hakata. The safety record of the high speed network is exemplary, with no passenger killed in a collision or derailment during 37 years of operation.

The extension to Hachinohe signals completion of the first stage of a major expansion programme. A law was passed in 1970 authorising construction of Shinkansen extensions totalling 1515 km, and of this 117 km has already been opened. A further 630 km forming extensions to the Tohoku, Hokuriku and Kyushu Shinkansen is under construction. For the remaining 768 km further development work is required, and this is currently in hand (Table I).

Funding of the construction work currently in progress is shared between national and local government, with national government bearing two-thirds of the cost and local government one-third. Japan Railway Construction Public Corp takes charge of construction and retains ownership of the infrastructure. The JR passenger operating companies run the trains and hold the responsibility for maintenance and management. They pay JRCC a fee for use of the infrastructure which is taken from their operating profit.

Tohoku extension

No less than 120 km of the 180 km Tohoku Shinkansen extension from Morioka to Aomori runs in tunnel. Construction work for the first 97 km between Morioka and Hachinohe started in 1991, and this will open in December this year.

Work on the 82 km section between Hachinohe and Aomori commenced in 1998. Once all the sections up to Aomori are opened, travel time between Tokyo and Aomori will be reduced to 3h 20min from the current 4h 27min. All the work is expected to be complete by 2013.

The section between Morioka and Hachinohe includes the Iwate-ichinohe tunnel. At 25·8 km, this will become the world's longest railway land tunnel. An even longer tunnel is envisaged on one section of the line between Hachinohe and Aomori.

The Morioka - Hachinohe extension will pioneer the application of a new type of automatic train control. With conventional ATC, a speed limit is set for each track circuit according to the distance from the preceding train, and speed is reduced in steps (Fig 1). This means that speed is reduced unnecessarily, and there are also disadvantages in terms of passenger comfort and efficient operation.

The new ATC calculates the braking curve according to the train's own position, the location of the track circuit occupied by the preceding train, the condition of the track and the train's braking performance. The resulting calculation gives a smooth braking curve.

Even if trains with different braking performance are operating, their speed can be controlled more efficiently. The system also reduces the need for major changes to ground equipment if the line speed is raised in the future or if train performance is enhanced. It will also allow shorter headways and ultimately faster journey times.

For track construction between Morioka and Hachinohe, a special expansion joint has been developed. This permits the use of long welded rail, giving one stretch with a continuous length of rail running for no less than 60·4 km. This should lead to significant savings in maintenance. This is the first installation of its kind in Japan.

North of the Seikan tunnel, on the island of Hokkaido, no date has been set for work to start on the final extension of the Tohoku Shinkansen that will ultimately provide a direct link from Tokyo to Sapporo.

Hokuriku extension

The Hokuriku Shinkansen, also known as the Nagano Shinkansen, will eventually connect Tokyo with Osaka via Nagano, Toyama and Kanazawa, one day providing relief for the busy Tokaido Shinkansen. The first 117 km between Takasaki and Nagano opened in 1997, in time for the Winter Olympics the following year. This reduced the travelling time between Tokyo and Nagano from 3h 20min to just 79min.

Construction has now begun on the next 170 km section between Nagano and Toyama, and completion is scheduled around 2015. This will cut the journey time between Tokyo and Toyama from the current 3h 07min to 2h 10min.

Kyushu Shinkansen

The Sanyo Shinkansen extends from the island of Honshu through the Shinkanmon undersea tunnel to Hakata on Kyushu. From Hakata, the new Kyushu Shinkansen will run south across the island to Kagoshima, a distance of 257 km.

Construction of the initial 127 km section between Yatsushiro and Kagoshima was started first, and this is to be completed at the end of 2003. Work on the 130 km between Hakata and Yatsushiro began in 1998, but this is not expected to be completed until 2013. Once it is open, however, the journey time between the two cities will be cut from 3h 40min at present to about 1h.

On the first section between Yatsushiro and Kagoshima excavation of an 88 km tunnel that accounts for about 70% of the civil works on the extension has almost been completed. The major works remaining entail the building of stations, laying track and installing 25 kV 60Hz electrification equipment.

To provide through trains from Hakata while the remaining part of the Kyushu Shinkansen is completed, JRCC is developing gauge-changing trains. Test running is planned between Yatsushiro and Kagoshima after the line is opened.

In 1991 there was a plan to build the Yatsushiro - Kagoshima section as a 'Super-Express' route with 1067mm gauge track laid on infrastructure built to standard gauge specifications. In 2001 this was revised, and the line is being built to full Shinkansen standards with 1435mm gauge track.

At Yatsushiro station the existing narrow gauge line from Hakata crosses the future standard gauge route, and a new spur is being built to connect the two lines. This will be used by gauge-changing Shinkansen trains from Hakata bound for Kagoshima.

In the meantime it will be used by narrow gauge trains from Hakata, with cross-platform interchange provided into standard gauge Shinkansen trains which will run to Kagoshima. Around 2013 the whole Shinkansen route from Hakata to Kagoshima will be completed, allowing standard gauge trains to run over the whole route.

Work has yet to start on the 119 km Nagasaki Shinkansen, which will branch off the Kyushu Shinkansen at Shintosu, 26 km south of Hakata.

Future trends

As time passes, the Shinkansen network will be continuously improved with superior environmental and safety features. The network will contribute to the balanced development of our country, allowing the JR companies to provide the highest standards of service.

At JRCC we shall endeavour to develop our construction technology with the twin aims of reducing capital cost and maintenance and management expenses. n

TABLE: Table I. Progress with Shinkansen extensions

Line Section Route-km Start of Progress work to date %

Construction in progress

Tohoku Morioka - Aomori 179 9/91 52

Hokuriku Nagano - Toyama 170 3/98 15

Isurugi - Kanazawa 24 8/92 68

Kyushu Hakata - Yatsushiro 130 3/98 8

Yatsushiro - Kagoshima 127 9/91 72

Total 630

Construction yet to start

Hokkaido Aomori - Sapporo 360

Hokuriku Toyama - Isurugi 35

Kanazawa - Osaka 254

Kyushu Shintosu - Nagasaki 119

Total 768

CAPTION: The cable-stayed Yashiro viaduct on the Hokuriku Shinkansen between Nagano and Takasaki opened in 1997

CAPTION: Mabechigawa bridge is located on the Tohoku Shinkansen extension from Morioka to Hachinohe

CAPTION: Right: Fig 1. New ATC to be pioneered on the Morioka - Hachinohe extension will continuously recalculate speed and distance parameters to give a smoother braking curve

CAPTION: The Iwate-ichinohe tunnel on the Tohoku Shinkansen extension makes use of the latest design of concrete slab track

CAPTION: Left: An expansion joint for long welded rail on the Morioka - Hachinohe extension