The Japanese have theirs, We’ll soon have ours

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The Japanese have theirs, We’ll soon have ours

Saturday, 14 May 2022 | R C ACHARYA

The Japanese have theirs, We’ll soon have ours

It’s all about commuting from home to work and back!

Urbanisation the world over has spawned transport systems ranging from bicycles to horse drawn carriages, buses, cars, trains.The ultimate in trains being the ‘Bullet’ trains which first appeared in Japanin 1964. Typically, a commute should last no more than 2 or 3 hours beyond which sustaining it on a daily basis,5 days a week, months on end, would be somewhat inconvenient. The urban sprawl has been somewhat limited by this need to commute where typically the Railway commuter systems world over such as the Delhi Metro, London tube, or New York Transit system running at an average speed of 100 kmph would cover 200 kms in 2 hrs. However, the Japanese found a way to beat this limit by introducing trains with an average speed of 250 kmph, the bullet-shaped nose of the lead bogie earning it the name — ‘Bullet’ train. It connected Osaka 500 kms away to Tokyo, enabling a daily commute in just 2 hours. Rising out of the ashes of the Second World War II, Shinkansen was a bold reassertion of Japanese national pride, and involved concerted effort by the Government, business and the scientific community to place priority on train travel. These state-of the-art trains run on dedicated tracks laid usually on concrete to minimise maintenance, and have few level crossings, enabling them to maintain an accident-free record for the last almost 60 years. Tokaido Shinkansen, covering 515 km between Tokyo and Shin-Osaka, was the first service, serving a number of major cities Shin-Yokohama, Shizuoka, Nagoya, and Kyoto en route.

Laid with tracks having a curve radius of no less than 4 km, the speed could now be raised to 260 km. Serving the major cities of Shin-Osaka, Shin-Kobe, Okayama, Hiroshima, Kokura, and Hakata, the line was a precursor to a nationwideShinkansen network. Now, most trains attain a maximum speed of 300 kmph. A new station complex at Shinagawa, just south of Tokyo station, was opened in October 2003, which allowed some trains to start and terminate there, thereby increasing the number of trains on the Tokaido line from 11 to 15 per hour, that is, one every four minutes. In all, nine lines, ranging from the smallest of Hakata-Minami with just 8.5 km run by JR West, and the longest of Tokyo-Hachinohe of 593 km, totalling 2556 km are now in operation. Japan, being a relatively small country, the short runs at high speeds have successfully made the nation virtually a suburb of Tokyo. And to keep commuters happy, trains run, as suburban trains of Mumbai do, on some sections atthree-and-half-minute intervals during peak hours. Back home, we still have to dream about our own “Bullet” trains soon becoming part of the Indian scenery running between Ahmedabad and Mumbai, making the 492-km journey in just two hours against the seven now taken by the super-fast Shatabdi Express.In the process it would also put fast growing tier 2 cities such as Surat, Valsad, Bharuch, and Vadodara, on a quick transit map connecting to India’s financial capital, Mumbai. With trains running at an average speed of 250 kmph, completing a journey from city-centre to city-centre in just under two hours would also save a traveller the hassles of a long commute to and from the airport, security checks and uncertaintycreated during foggy days. Trains may be delayed, but you don’t have to cool your heels in the passenger lounge waiting for the announcement to board. Last but not the least, they will always reach you to the intended destination, and in one piece.

(The writer is a former Member,Railway Board. The views expressed are personal.)