The Japanese bullet train, or Shinkansen, as it is commonly known, is a marvel of modern public transportation. This high-speed rail system is estimated to carry between 150 and 200 million passengers per year, and is becoming a standard of travel throughout much of Japan. Originally proposed in the early 1940s, the first bullet trains were not opened until the mid-1960s, and have undergone many improvements and upgrades since their implementation.
Shinkansen is a high-speed train with regular speeds reaching nearly 200 miles per hour (mph), or 300 kilometers per hour (kph). Some tests have shown that the trains are capable of traveling at nearly double that rate, but for safety reasons the bullet train remains at a slower pace. Even at the slower rate, the Japanese bullet train reduces travel time considerably for commuting passengers, and has been a model of efficiency and safety since its opening.
The Japanese bullet train originally ran between the cities of Osaka and Tokyo, following the path of an ancient road that connected cities since the days of the samurai. Today, the bullet train transit system covers most of the southern island of Japan, making it useful for a variety of purposes. While daily commuters use the central lines to move from far distant suburbs into the heart of large cities, tourists and sightseers can take Shinkansen to visit outlying destinations with ease and at great speed.
Some consider high-speed train lines such as the Japanese bullet train to be a welcome alternative to increasingly crowded and expensive air travel, especially over relatively short distances. Some Shinkansen trains can carry twice as many passengers as a commercial airliner, and the most popular trains may arrive at depots several times per hour, allowing greater flexibility of schedule for passengers. In addition, the Japanese bullet train has an exceptional safety record, boasting only one derailment in more than 40 years of operation. As of 2009, no passenger fatalities due to crashes or derailments have occurred.
Contrary to some reports, the Japanese bullet train does not operate primarily on magnetic levitation to travel, relying instead on streamlined design and advanced rail techniques to achieve its awesome speeds. Magnetic levitation, a relatively new technology, allows extreme high speed due to magnetic pull and remains in the testing phase in Japan as well as many other countries. However magnetic levitation seems to be the future of Shinkansen, with Japanese Rail executives planning to implement Maglev trains on Shinkansen lines by 2025.