I’ve spent the last week in Japan, meeting civil servants, politicians and scientists, and visiting factories, research institutes and civil facilities. One of these visits was to the Shinkansen high-speed rail control centre operated by the rail company JR East in Tokyo.
Japanese Shinkansen trains – known in the west as ‘bullet trains’ because of their distinctive shape – have been icons of Asian modernity ever since they first entered operation in 1964, the year of the Tokyo Olympics. Even to those familiar with European high-speed rail, they remain astonishing trains to ride – wide, spacious, utterly reliable and, of course, fast.
No one has ever been killed in a train accident on a Japanese bullet train, in a country regularly devastated by earthquakes. Indeed, during the massive earthquake that hit the east of Japan last year, 27 bullet trains were gradually brought to a halt after sensors picked up the primary wave of the quake, ensuring that none was derailed and no passengers were hurt when the full force of the quake struck. All of this was made possible by the superb integrated systems management operations in the central Tokyo control centre.
If you’re not yet convinced of the case for high-speed rail in the UK, read this presentation and think again (and check out the design of the E5 – it’s enough to make you a trainspotter).