Japan was the first country to introduce an extensive bullet train system (1964). Since then, only one passenger has died as the result of an accident (involving the doors of a train). Trains now have a variety of systems and procedures to prevent this from happening again.
High Speed Rail and EarthquakesThe shinkansen's near-perfect safety record is remarkable considering that Japan is the most seismically active country in the world. Shinkansen are wired into Japan's earthquake early warning system. In most cases, a shinkansen has time to brake before an earthquake arrives.
A variety of anti-derailment systems have also been installed on trains.
High Speed Rail and TyphoonsShinkansen are designed to operate in high winds such as typhoons. They sometimes need to reduce speeds in very high winds.
Shinkansen Versus FlyingFor most routes, shinkansen are faster than flying (total trip including travel to airport). Shinkansen stations are located in convenient downtown locations — airports tend to be far from city center. Airlines typically require passengers to be at the airport an hour before a domestic flight (shinkansen have no such restriction).
Shinkansen have comfortable seating, convenient schedules and are almost never late. Between Tokyo and Osaka 13 trains an hour run in each direction during peak. Each train has a capacity of more than 1,300 seats.
Shinkansen prices are comparable to the cheapest flights. Prices for flights vary greatly based on incomprehensible pricing models. Shinkansen prices are standardized and predicable.
Shinkansen Versus DrivingJapanese highways have expensive tolls. All things considered, shinkansen is almost always cheaper than driving (unless you pack 6 people into your car).
On Time PerformanceShinkansen are rarely late. Average arrival time is within 6 seconds of schedule (JR Central). This includes all natural causes of delay such as weather.
A shinkansen arriving 30 seconds late is a big deal. The shinkansen lines run on tight schedules. Trains must be spaced 3 minutes apart for safety reasons. One delay propagates through the system.
SpeedConventional shinkansen can travel 443 km/h (275 mph). Maglev shinkansen can travel 581 km/h (361 mph).
For noise and safety reasons they are currently operated at a maximum of 240–300 km/h (149–186 mph). There are plans to increase these speeds.
ProfessionalismEveryone from shinkansen engineers (train drivers) to service staff are known for their professionalism and diligence.
Green CarsShinkansen have first class cars known as Green Cars that have more comfortable seats.
Eki-benTrain lunch boxes (Eki-ben ~ 駅弁) are sold at most shinkansen stations and on the trains themselves. Many stations have famous eki-ben that resemble fine cuisine in a box (at a reasonable price). In Japan, people are fond of travel by shinkansen. They buy snacks, beverages, eki-ben and have a relaxing trip. It's common for groups of friends to have little parties on the train.
Shinkansen and CultureShinkansen have dramatically changed Japanese culture. They make business trips far more efficient saving travelers an estimated 400 million hours per year.
They have made remote Japanese towns and villages accessible — stimulating rural economies. They have also dramatically improved city life. In Tokyo you're never far away from snow, beach and onsen.
EfficiencyShinkansen use less energy per passenger mile than driving or flying.
System MapMost of Japan's major population centers have a shinkansen station. The prominent exception is Sapporo. There's a shinkansen line under construction that will connect the northern island of Hokkaido to the system by 2014.
The FutureSeveral models of Japanese Maglev train are ready for passenger service. However, the construction of tracks is expensive and time consuming. There are plans to build a 366 kilometer track that connects Tokyo to Nagoya by 2025. The service will cut the journey to 40 minutes. It takes 5 hours by car (without traffic).