Japan's bullet trains: Coming soon to a station near you

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The Independent Travel

Japan has rolled out the latest version of its state-of-the-art bullet trains at the same time as developers go looking for new markets for the technology.



East Japan Railway unveiled its eye-catching new E6 series shinkansen this week. The sleek, seven-car train will go into operation on the Akita Shinkansen Line in northern Japan in the spring of 2013, company officials said, operating at speeds of up to 320 kph.

The new train has caught the imagination thanks to its 13-meter long nose, which is a full 7 meters longer than the nose on the present E3 Komachi generation of super express trains and is designed to reduce drag and noise.

The design of the train was overseen by Ken Okuyama, who previously served as a senior designer for Ferrari.

Quite apart from the look of the trains, they are increasingly in demand for their reliability, high levels of comfort and impeccable safety record - no passenger has been killed since the first bullet train went into operation in 1964.

Taiwan has already introduced a high-speed railway system based on shinkansen technology linking Taipei in the extreme north of the country with Kaohsuing in the far south, while discussions between Vietnam and Japan on a route that would link Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh city are reportedly close to completion.

A final decision on that project is expected in May, although the developers of the Japan Railway fleet appear to have fought off competition from France's TGV and the German ICE.

The latest country to express an interest in acquiring Japan's railway know-how is the United States, with President Barack Obama keen to promote a more comprehensive railway system.

Officials representing JR Tokai, a sister firm to JR East that operates in central Japan, have identified the route connecting Tampa, Orlando and Miami as being very promising, as well as a line between Las Vegas and Los Angeles. The company also believes there is potential in the even faster maglev system of magnetically levitated trains operating between Baltimore and Washington DC and from Chattanooga to Atlanta.

Other markets that Japanes firms are exploring include Brazil, while the Japanese-built Javelin trains, which operate between London and Folkestone, in Kent, are also based on shinkansen technology.