The oldest trains currently operating on the Tokaido Shinkansen are in fact at least 21 years old and Japan Central Railways have decided it is time for this iconic stock, its fourth generation of high speed trains, to bow out. To the casual observer it will not seem as if much has changed. This is because the newer stock is, at quick glance, seemingly identical in terms of appearance. There are differences though! The older trains retire in March 2020.
Later this year new N700S stock will be introduced. It will mean there have been six generations of Shinkansen stock on the Tokaido route. It means there’s been a new generation of trains on average every nine years, though it was actually twenty-one years before the original 1964 trains began being replaced. Essentially it means since 1985 a brand new high speed train has been introduced every five and half years!
The end for the older 700 stock was announced in early February and several units began sporting the final date. Source: Twitter
Decals being put on one of the 700’s announcing the end of operation for these 21 year old trains. Source: Twitter
Right from the word go, the famous Shinkansen has held the world’s attention. The original trains (later known as Series 0) which started work in 1964 gave the world the term ‘bullet train’ on account of their distinctive front nose. See my post on the New Tokaido Line.
Twenty one years later came the Series 100, then the 300’s, followed by the Series 700 and N700/700A. From 8th March 2020 the N700/700A will be the main Shinkansen stock, later supplemented by the N700S.
The final run of the original 0 series (1964) stock on the Tokaido Shinkansen. 19th September 1999. Source: Twitter
The remaining 0 stock was relegated to the Sanyō Shinkansen (Osaka to Hakata) for a few more years. Final regular services took place on 30th November 2008. A day of commemorative services was arranged a couple of weeks later on the 14th December and meant the original bullet trains had served the country forty four years.
The original 1964 stock’s final run on 14th December 2008, the unit is seen at Shin Osaka, bound for Hakata. Source: Wikipedia
Left to right: 300 series, 100/200 series and the original 0 series. Source: Twitter
The 100/200 series was classed as such depending on which company the trains belonged to. They were numbered 100’s for JR Central, but instead numbered as 200’s for JR East.
Evolution of Japan Railways Central’s Shinkansen stock. The 700’s from 1999 are being retired. Source: JR Central
The N700 stock is a standard design but as new stock gets released, there have been tweaks in design thus there is slight variation across the stock.
The Shinkansen Series 700 and N700 have tilting mechanisms. That might come as a surprise to some, however this is because the original Tokaido Shinkansen, even with its gentle curves, wasn’t built for speeds much beyond 220km/h. The tilt mechanism means the newer trains can utilise even faster speeds through those very gentle curves.
The latest iteration of the series, the N700S prototype stock, was introduced in 2018. It has undergone further development and a far more advanced version is to be introduced during 2020.
A pre-production N700S passing Mount Fuji. Pic from an official Government of Japan announcement. Source: Twitter
What of those Shinkansen trains that have an even longer protuberance? Aren’t they the more modern ones? Well yes and no. It depends on the type of Shinkansen in use as well as the line’s owners. Those trains with the much longer noses are not Tokaido stock at all, but rather E5 stock belonging to the Tohoku Shinkansen operated by JR East.
JR Central’s new N700S generation will be the most modern Shinkansen trains to date even though they wont have such elongated noses as the E5 stock! Its just a different kind of styling in terms of how each train deals with wind, noise and the tunnels they pass through – and what the railway company requires in terms of design.
The new N700S stock should be ready for the Tokyo Olympics this summer. They will ensure Japan once again holds the speed record for the world’s fastest trains – 360kmh (223 mph) – for the moment.