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October 5, 2018

Japan’s next-generation Shinkansen is its coolest bullet train yet

by John_A

Designs for each end of Japan’s next-generation Alfa-X bullet train. JR East

Japan’s bullet trains feature some of the coolest train designs in the world, those sleek front cars maximizing their efficiency as they hurtle between the nation’s major cities.

Each new generation of Shinkansen brings with it a design even more dazzling than the one that went before, and the so-called Alfa-X, which stands for “Advanced Labs for Frontline Activity in rail eXperimentation,” is certainly no exception.

At 22 meters, Japan Railways’ next-generation bullet train sports the longest, sleekest nose of any train that’s gone before. The high-speed Alfa-X is set to begin testing in 2019 and will serve routes in the region of Tohoku east of Tokyo, and north to the island of Hokkaido.

The fastest bullet train in operation today travels at almost 320 kmh (198 mph), but the Alfa-X— or E956 Series to give it its official name — will whisk passengers along at a breathtaking 360 kmh (224 mph). During the test phase, however, Japan Railways hopes to push its next-generation bullet train to speeds of 400 kmh (248 mph).

It’ll be the fastest commercial train service in the world, though Shanghai’s maglev train, which admittedly uses different technology, carries passengers at an even greater speed of (431 kmh) 267 mph.

The high speed of the Alfa-X has been made possible by reducing the weight of the train’s components, Nippon.com reports. Work has also gone into reducing train noise inside and out, and, for an even smoother ride, new vertical vibration damping devices have been introduced to accompany the existing lateral ones. As for that extraordinary 22-meter-long nose, it’s been designed that way to reduce the pressure waves that are created when entering tunnels at high speed.

A bullet train currently operating in Japan. Trevor Mogg

In a country that has to deal with the constant threat of earthquakes, the Alfa-X will also incorporate new “anti-earthquake dampers” that automatically activate in response to strong tremors to stabilize the train’s movement and prevent it from toppling off the tracks. Bullet trains brake automatically and rapidly when nearby tremors occur, but the new dampers will help to improve stability not only as it’s moving, but also after it’s come to a stop.

The new design certainly promises an exhilarating experience for locals and tourists traveling east of Tokyo when the train goes into commercial service following testing.

Japan is also developing a high-speed maglev train. Using powerful magnets for levitation and propulsion, the train has already reached speeds of 603 km/h (375 mph) in testing, though a commercial service isn’t expected to launch until 2027 at the earliest.

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