Japan has always been a front runner in highly sophisticated railway transportation systems. When the first bullet train or popularly known as the ‘Shinkansen’ rolled out in 1964, there was much at stake. The Tokyo Olympics were just a week away and Japan was still under the shadow of the second world war.
The original journey between Tokyo and Osaka, covered in just four hours, turned out to be a stupendous success. It heralded Japan’s rise into the superpower ranks of the 20th century and eventually justified the astronomical sums spent on the project. Since then, Japan’s railway network has grown by leaps and bounds.
Grab a railway map of the Tokyo region and examine it for some time. It is mind-boggling, given the multitude of colorful lines that criss-cross each other in every possible direction. One of the most prominent routes is the JR Yamanote Line, a circular network that touches a flurry of Tokyo hot-spots such as Ueno, Akihabara, Shinjuku and Shibuya.
It is often said that even veterans lose their way in the Shinjuku station, widely regarded as the world’s busiest railway station handling an average of 3.6 million passengers every day. Hence, it came as no surprise in 2014 when Tokyo secured the top spot in a TripAdvisor survey by claiming to offer the ‘best experience’ to international tourists. One of the evaluation criteria was public transportation, where Tokyo edged out all others.
Consider this: The ‘Shinkansen’ has an average delay time of less than a minute. That speaks volumes about the reliability of Japan’s railway network. Departures and arrivals are timed to the second, barring the few off-hand incidents of passenger injury. Given that the trains are filled to excess during rush hours, this punctuality is no mean feat.
Not to forget the awe-inspiring disciplined manners that passengers adhere to. Some people may frown that the trains are off the tracks for around five hours post midnight, but that’s the price one pays for the clean compartments, day in and day out.
With China’s rapid development in railways over the years, Japan lost some of its sheen. The Shanghai Maglev Train is still the world’s first and only commercialized maglev. The principle entails that the train is suspended above the railway tracks with no support save the magnetic fields. Japan has risen to the occasion with a test run of their own Maglev train, recording speeds up to 500 kmph. This trumps the existing Shinkansen trains, which operate at around the 320 kmph mark.
Japan’s exemplary railway ensures that the dependency on private forms of transport is kept to a bare minimum. Now with the JR operating the Hokkaido Shinkansen as well, things can only look up. Every nation has much to learn, since there are important environmental implications as well. It can help reduce carbon emissions into the atmosphere from the motor vehicles that choke the heart of every metropolis.
Yet another reason to focus resources on developing the railway systems. Way to go, Japan!