Shinkansen (History)

The Shinkansen network dates back to a pre-War proposal for a standard gauge railway line between Tokyo and Shimonoseki. 

There were plans to extend the line to Korea through an undersea tunnel and on to Beijing, connecting with the Trans-Siberian Railway, possibly even extending to Singapore. Those plans were abandoned in 1943, but there had been some construction work and some tunnels on the network date back to the original project.

As the post-war Japanese economy rebuilt, traffic on the Tōkaidō Main Line grew steadily, and by the mid-1950s, the line was operating at full capacity. 

The Railway Ministry decided to revisit the standard gauge Shinkansen project after a newly introduced train set a world speed record of 145 km/h for a narrow gauge train. 

A standard gauge line would deliver higher speeds and government approval in December 1958 allowed construction of the first segment of the Tōkaidō Shinkansen to begin in April 1959 at an estimated cost of ¥200 billion. The final price was nearly double that figure.

Completed in time for the Tokyo Olympics the line began service on 1 October 1964 and had an immediate impact, carrying one hundred million passengers up to 13 July 1967, and passing the one billion mark in 1976. 

As a result, it was extended to connect Shin-Ōsaka with Hakata (Fukuoka). 

That line, the Sanyō Shinkansen, was further extended when the Kyushu Shinkansen from Hakata to Kagoshima was completed in 2011. 

A West Kyushu route to Nagasaki running Gauge Change trains capable of running on an existing narrow gauge line between is under construction and should open by March 2023.


© Ian Hughes 2017