Shinkansen also known as the “Bullet Train”, is a network of high-speed railway lines in Japan operated by four Japan Railways Group companies. Starting with the Shinkansen (515.4 km) in 1964, the network has expanded to currently consist of 2,387.7 km (1,483.6 mi) of lines with maximum speeds of 240–320 km/h (149–199 mph), 283.5 km (176.2 mi) of Mini-shinkansen lines with a maximum speed of 130 km/h (81 mph), and 10.3 km (6.4 mi) of spur lines with Shinkansen services. The network presently links most major cities on the islands of Honshu and Kyushu, with construction of a link to the northern island of Hokkaido underway.
The maximum operating speed is 320 km/h (200 mph) (on a 387.5 km section of the Tōhoku Shinkansen as of 16 March 2013). Test runs have reached 443 km/h (275 mph) for conventional rail in 1996, and up to a world record 581 km/h (361 mph) formaglev trainsets in 2003.
Shinkansen literally means new trunk line, referring to the tracks, but the name is widely used inside and outside Japan to refer to the trains as well as the system as a whole. The name Superexpress , initially used for Hikari trains, was retired in 1972 but is still used in English-language announcements and signage.
The Shinkansen is the world’s busiest high-speed rail line. Carrying 151 million passengers per year (March 2008), it has transported more passengers (over 5 billion, entire network over 10 billion) than any other high speed line in the world. Between Tokyo and Osaka, the two largest metropolises in Japan, up to thirteen trains per hour with sixteen cars each (1,323 seats capacity) run in each direction with a minimum headway of three minutes between trains. Though largely a long-distance transport system, the Shinkansen also serves commuters who travel to work in metropolitan areas from outlying cities. Japan’s Shinkansen network had the highest annual passenger ridership (a maximum of 353 Million in 2007) of any High-speed railnetwork until 2011, when China’s high speed rail network surpassed it at 370 million passengers annually
They are extremely punctual, reliable, and have an excellent safety record: only occassional earthquakes and severe typhoons do stop the shinkansen. There have been no fatal accidents in almost fifty years of service.