Happy 50th, Shinkansen

(Toshikazu Aizawa photo)

Oct. 1, 2014

Japan’s bullet trains began running 50 years ago, on Oct. 1, 1964. The trains that put Tokyo on the fast track to economic emergence are a marvel of clean, fast, and efficient travel, and an example for the rest of the world to see how investment in infrastructure pays off in the lives of everyday citizens.

The bullet trains began running with just over a week before the opening of the 1964 summer Olympics in Tokyo, and came to symbolize Japan’s transformation from wartime devastation.

Japan was the first country to build completely new and dedicated railway lines for a new high-speed train network (Shinkansen means “new trunk line”), and today bullet trains connect most parts of the country and make business and pleasure travel into Tokyo and other urban centers far easier and faster than conventional surface rail.

The maximum operating speed is 320 km/h (200 mph). The ride is fast, smooth, and comfortable.

Rail car interiors look more like the spacious cabin of an airplane than a commuter train, with large comfortable seats that recline, plenty of leg room, aisle food service, and white-gloved, uniformed train conductors at your service.

At terminal stops, a team of pink-uniformed cleaners rushes inside the train to wipe down, sanitize, vacuum, replace cloth headrests with fresh ones, and return the train to its normally spotless condition in a matter of minutes.

Yesterday at Tokyo Station, hundreds of people queued up to buy tickets for a 50th anniversary commemorative ride. The Shinkansen trains are beloved for the time they save people, their punctuality and efficiency, and an unblemished safety record.

The era of high-speed bullet trains opened 50 years ago, and Japan continues to show the world how to run a railroad.

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