Japan tests new Shinkansen bullet train prototype

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Japan's JR East Railway Company unveiled a next-generation Shinkansen bullet train codenamed ALFA-X on Thursday. The company said the €82 million ($91 million) 10-car train, which was completed in early May, had already reached speeds of 320 km/h (198 mph).

The company says that when the train goes into service on some lines in 2030 it will travel at 360 km/h. The train is scheduled to be tested at speeds as high as 400 km/h over the next three years.

The next-generation train will also be tested with two different nose cones, one that is 16 meters long and another that is 22 meters long (52 and 72 feet). The nose cones are designed to improve aerodynamics and reduce noise — experts say the train would emit a large boom whenever it entered or exited a tunnel without such a nose cone.

Read more: Europe faces China, Japan in high-speed rail battle in Asia

Arriving in Sapporo in 2031

The E956 ALFA-X (Advanced Labs for Frontline Activity in rail eXperimentation) was built by Kawasaki Heavy Industries and Hitachi, and will go into full service when construction of the new Shinkansen line to Sapporo on the northern island of Hokkaido is completed in 2031.

Fastest commercial-train in the world

The estimated top speed would make the ALFA-X the fastest commercial-service train in the world, surpassing China's Beijing-Shanghai high-speed railway, which reaches speeds of 350 km/h.

France holds the world record for passenger train top speed at 574.8 km/h, however, the amount of energy needed to propel a train to such speeds makes the pace economically prohibitive.

The only faster trains on earth are magnetic levitation trains — which operate without wheels — such as China's Shanghai Maglev, which travels at 431 km/h. Japan is currently working on its own maglev train scheduled to be completed by 2027. The projected top speed of that vehicle will be 505 km/h.

A source of national pride

Japan's Shinkansen program, which was started in 1964, is a source of national pride. It operates on eight main lines, completing more than 1,000 journeys each day.

Average train delays are less than one minute, and there have been no accidents on any lines since the program was initiated.

By comparison, Germany's Inter City Express, or ICE, only reaches its top speed of 300 km/h on short stretches, arrives less than six minutes late 74.9% of the time, and has had several serious accidents.

Read more: Eschede: Germany's worst train disaster remembered 20 years on

JR East says, "The development of the next generation of Shinkansen is based on the four key concepts of exceptional performance, a high degree of comfort, excellent service, and innovative maintenance."

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