Snow no match for Japan's bullet train

When the mercury plummets in Japan, hot water is sprayed onto the bullet train's tracks -- one of several measures to ensure snow does not disrupt the high-speed services, famed for their punctuality.

(AFP) -

When the mercury plummets in Japan, hot water is sprayed onto the bullet train's tracks - one of several measures to ensure snow does not disrupt the high-speed services, famed for their punctuality.

In contrast to the three-day shutdown of the Eurostar in the tunnel under the English Channel due to "fluffier" than expected snow, Japan's "shinkansen" trains are rarely delayed significantly by a cold snap.

Last December, a bullet train in northern Yamagata prefecture made the headlines due to a delay of just an hour and 25 minutes due to a snowstorm.

"We have various methods to tackle snowfalls: sprinkling hot water on tracks to melt the snow, putting ploughs on the front cars, and coating cables with a chemical substance that prevents snow sticking," a railway official said.

Eurostar said the severe delay to the Paris-London service appeared to be linked to powdery snow which built up in the engine and condensed on entry to the tunnel, causing electrical faults.

Japanese railway officials were careful Tuesday not to gloat that such a thing would never happen in Japan, saying that the cause of the Eurostar's problems were not yet completely clear.

Even Japan's technological prowess sometimes meets its match in mother nature, such as when earthquakes rattle the archipelago or typhoons bring strong wind and rains, causing delays to rail services.

Japan spends billions of yen on safety measures and steps to minimise delays to the shinkansen trains, which whisk hundreds of thousands of passengers across the world's number two economy every day.

The Tokaido Shinkansen connecting Tokyo and Osaka boasts a record of zero fatal accidents during its 44 years of commercial operations.

Operating 323 ultra-high speed services a day that run at up to 270 kilometres (168 miles) per hour, its average delay is less than one minute, according to Central Japan Railway Co.

For Japanese railway operators, public anger is perhaps a bigger fear than the natural disasters themselves, in a nation famous for its punctuality.

"In Japan everyone is aware of the impact a delayed train can have on society so Japanese railway operators and builders are very strict on security," said Takafumi Koseki, a professor at Tokyo University who specialises in transport engineering.

"Also, since the railway a pretty huge market in Japan, there's a lot of investment."

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