High-speed Rail in Japan - Future - Tohoku Extension

Tohoku Extension

The Tohoku Shinkansen is being extended by JR East from Shin-Aomori to the new Shin-Hakodate station north of the Hokkaido city of Hakodate through the Seikan Tunnel with scheduled completion in March 2016. For at least the initial 2 years after opening, Shinkansen trains will be limited to 140 km/h when traversing the dual gauge Seikan tunnel due to the risk of narrow gauge freight trains traveling in the opposite direction being derailed by the shockwave of air that moves ahead of Shinkansen trains at higher speeds in tunnels. There are currently approximately 50 freight trains traversing the Seikan tunnel each day, and so limiting the travel of such trains through the tunnel to times outside of Shinkansen services is not an option. In 2018 it is proposed to allow one Shinkansen service each day to travel at 260 km/h (the maximum speed proposed for the tunnel) by ensuring no freight trains are scheduled to travel through the tunnel at that time. To achieve the full benefit of Shinkansen trains travelling through the tunnel at 260 km/h other alternatives are being considered, such as a system to automatically slow Shinkansen trains down to 200 km/h when passing narrow gauge trains, and loading freight trains onto special standard gauge trains (akin to a covered piggyback flatcar train) built to withstand the shockwaves of oncoming Shinkansen trains traveling at full speed. This would enable a travel time from Tokyo to Shin-Hakodate of 3 hrs 45 mins. JR Hokkaido is extending the Hokkaido Shinkansen from Shin-Hakodate to Sapporo to open by 2035, with tunnelling work on the 5,265m Murayama tunnel, situated about 1 km north of Shin-Hakodate station, proposed to commence by March 2015, and be completed by March 2021.

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