The Japanese Shinkansen "Bullet Trains" actually come in a wide
variety of types, but most people who've not visited Japan have only
seen pictures of the very earliest types, from publicity photos back
when the first Shinkansen line began operations in 1964.
Those units were the:
which entered service with the start of Tokaido Shinkansen
operations in 1964. These units were white with a blue stripe along
the windows and another at the bottom of the carbody, including the
front pilot. The story goes that the noses were styled after the
DC-8 airliner, and certainly the resemblance is apparent.
Unlike previous Japanese trains, the Tokaido Shinkansen and all
subsequent Shinkansen were standard gauge (4'8½", 1435mm
between the rails). The trains are all powered by 25kV AC electricity
at 60Hz. On the 0 series, all axles of all cars are powered by 185 kW
traction motors; this is sufficient for a 220km/h (136mph) top speed.
The original trains were 12-car sets; some subsequent sets were 16
car. Later, shorter trains of 6 cars and even 4 cars were assembled
for lesser duties. Production of 0 series units continued from 1963
Life as a Shinkansen train is tough; though most rail equipment has
a service life of thirty or more years, Shinkansen sets are tired
after fifteen, and they are generally removed from service after that
point. The astute reader will realise that all 0 series cars are now
past fifteen years of service; therefore, few are left. The only 0
series sets now in use are 6 car sets used on JR West Kodama
services between Shin-Osaka and Hakata, and on the Hakata Minami
line, which is technically not a Shinkansen line (the extra fare is
This second generation Shinkansen design was produced between 1984
and 1991 for the Tokaido Shinkansen and Sanyo Shinkansen lines;
the earliest units have now been withdrawn from service. The nose
profile is more pointed than the 0 series. Another difference is that
not all cars are powered; the driving cars on each end are unpowered,
as are the two bi-level center cars in a sixteen car train. Some
later production sets have powered driving cars and four unpowered
bilevel trailers in the middle instead.
Now being taken off first line service, 100 series sets are being
reformed into smaller 4 and 6 car sets for secondary service, to
replace the last 0 series trains.
These actually predate the 100 series and were built for the new
Tohuku Shinkansen and Joetsu Shinkansen lines between 1980 and
1986. They resemble the earlier 0 series in styling (some later units
have the pointed 'shark nose' of the 100 series), but are lighter and
more powerful, since these two lines are mountain routes and have
steeper grades. These lines are also prone to snowfall and the
trains have small snowplows fitted, as well as protection of
equipment against snow.
They were originally painted in cream with a green window band and
lower carbody band, but some have now been refurbished and painted
into a white-upper/dark blue-lower scheme with new one piece
wrap-around cab windows.
The first units were capable of 210 km/h (130mph) but later ones
can do 240 km/h (150mph), and four have been converted to be capable
of 275 km/h (170mph). Some units have also been modified with
retractable couplers behind sliding nose doors to be able to couple
with other Shinkansen units to produce longer trains that can be
broken apart when needed.
Some of the earlier units have been withdrawn from service.
These 270 km/h (168mph) units were introduced in 1992 for new, high
speed Nozomi trains on the Tokaido and Sanyo Shinkansen. As more
were delivered (66 trains by 1998) they replaced earlier units on
Hikari service and allowed the thus displaced 100 series units to
finally in turn displace 0 series units in almost all service.
The styling of these units is something of a 'curved wedge' at the
front, replacing the aircraft-style nosecones of previous Shinkansen
trains. The furthest forward point is the very bottom of the pilot.
They are painted brilliant white with a medium-thick blue stripe
beneath the windows.
They are only found in sixteen car sets and have no restaurant
cars, though they do contain two refreshment counters.
Technically, they are notable for being the first Shinkansen
employing three-phase AC traction motors instead of direct current
These 'mini Shinkansen' units were designed for the Tohoku
Shinkansen and Yamagata Shinkansen lines, which feature large
portions that were not newly purpose built Shinkansen lines but rather
existing lines regauged to standard gauge and upgraded, to provide a
cheaper solution than a massively expensive dedicated Shinkansen line.
Clearances are much reduced compared to previous lines, and thus
the 400 series units are much narrower than previous Shinkansen
trains. Seat pitch is also reduced, which should be a warning to
larger Westerners venturing to Japan!
Styling wise, the 400 series is another to have an aircraft-style
nose with a pointed nosecone, though lower than 0/100/200 series.
Originally they were painted a medium silver grey with a darker roof
and area around the cab windows and underframe, but they have been
recently repainted, with a higher area of dark bluish-grey on the
underside, coming up almost to the side windows, and seperated from
the silver grey with a green stripe. The dark grey on the roof and
around the cab windows is gone.
They were originally six car sets, but a seventh car was added to
each to reflect increased popularity of these services.
These are truly astounding looking. If previous Shinkansen
resembled conventional airliners in the front, these look like
Concorde, or a fighter jet, or some train from a science-fiction movie
or some futurist's depiction of the transportation of the future. A
sharply pointed low needle nose slowly sweeping back in a gentle rise,
with two-thirds of the way up a low bulge for cab windows.
The maximum design speed of these units is 320 km/h (200mph) and
they achieve 300 km/h (186mph) in service. All sixteen cars in the
train are powered, giving a train power of 18.24 MW (or an astounding
25000 horsepower). Computer controlled active suspension allows for a
smooth ride even at such high speeds.
They serve on the Tokaido and Sanyo lines on high speed Nozomi
service, and were introduced in 1995. The last was built in 1998.
The drawback to the 500 series is the reason only nine sets were
built; the price tag. Each costs 5 billion yen, or over 40 million
These units were basically designed to be almost as good as the 500
series for substantially less money; they're about 20 percent cheaper
for a useable performance that's only a little less. They're capable
of 285 km/h (177mph); given that speeds higher than that are only
permitted on short stretches of line, the 15 km/h (10mph) difference
in top speed makes for little actual difference in overall journey time.
If the 500 series is a thing of astounding beauty from the pages of
science fiction, the 700 series is from another part of science
fiction; the mutant. It looks like a platypus or something, with a
big, fat 'duck bill' nose. I hope it does more wonders for the
aerodynamics than it does for the looks. Otherwise, it resembles a
300 series train in color and styling.
Even the refreshment counters have been eliminated on these; the
only thing left is vending machines selling drinks.
700 series units are still being delivered.
E1 Series 'Max'
These are the first double-deck Shinkansen trains, aimed at
increasing capacity on services commonly used by commuters -- often
loaded to 200% capacity (i.e. as many people standing as sitting).
Six twelve-car trains were built between 1994 and 1995. They're
painted mostly in a light grey color with silver grey and light green
striping. They can be found on the Joetsu Shinkansen line. The top
speed is 240 km/h (150mph).
These new trains for the Joetsu, Tohoku and the new Nagano
Shinkansen began to be delivered in 1995 and are still in production.
They are found in 8 car sets and have nose end couplings behind
sliding nose doors, and can be coupled to the E3 series of the Akita
They're capable of 315 km/h (195mph) although the service speed is
generally rather less.
The styling resembles the 700 series but without the prominent
'duck bill' -- the nose is more normal shaped, though wide, but it has
the same prominent 'shoulders' of the passenger compartment aft of the
cab. They're painted white on top, dark blue below, with a crimson
Nineteen six or seven car sets of the E3 series were produced for
the new Akita Shinkansen, another 'mini Shinkansen' line on
converted existing tracks. Like the 400 series, they are narrower
than regular Shinkansen. They are capable of 275 km/h (170mph) but
only attain that speed over the lines of the Tohoku and Joetsu
Shinkansen before reaching the Akita portion, over which only 130 km/h
(80mph) can be attained. Some cars are painted in white
upper/metallic grey lower with a magenta separating band, while others
are silver above/grey below with a green separating band.
E4 Series 'Max'
These, the second series of double-deck Shinkansen trains, run
over the Joetsu and Tohoku Shinkansen routes on commuter service.
Twenty-four eight-car sets have been built, which are capable of
coupling with other E4 series units to form 16 car sets, or with 400
series units on some trains.
The styling is rather odd, with a low elongated nose, somewhat
similar to a 700 series but less duckbillish. They are painted white
above and blue below, with a yellow stripe separating the two.
They are capable of the respectable but not amazing speed of 240
km/h (150mph), sufficient for the services they operate.
Prototypes and Experimental
In addition to the above service trains, a number of prototype and
experimental units have been produced. These include the test and
diagnostic Doctor Yellow trains.
No other unusual units are currently to be found, though in fall
2002 an experimental variable-gauge unit capable of both operating on
standard gauge Shinkansen lines and conventional Japanese narrow
gauge track is scheduled to begin testing on the Sanyo Shinkansen.
With help from a wide variety of sources, but technical facts came mostly from Byun Byun Shinkansen at http://www.h2.dion.ne.jp/~dajf/byunbyun/