JR East Series E5

Japan might be the first country to come to mind when people talk about "bullet trains".  It is the first country to have a 210 km/h (130 mph) standard gauge high-speed railway, the Shinkansen, literally translated as new trunk line.  The first line, the Tōkaidō Shinkansen (Tōkaidō, literally translated as east sea road, named of the most important of the Five Routes of the Edo Period connecting Edo, which became the modern day Tōkyō, and Kyōto) between Tōkyō and Ōsaka began service on 1 October 1964 with trains that have bullet shaped noses.  However, today's high-speed trains in Japan resemble little of what they use to look like half a century ago.  Of the high-speed trains operated by the different privatised JR (Japan Rail) companies, the East Japan Railway Company's Series E5 AC-traction EMU represents the latest and greatest of high-speed rail technology in Asia.  It is currently in pre-production stage and undergoing 2 years of trial-runs before it enters service in the spring of 2011 operating at 300 km/h (186 mph) until 2013 when it begins to operate 320 km/h (199 mph) services.  All high-speed trains developed nowadays in Japan have to go through the same pre-production trial-run period in order for manufactures to make final design adjustments to ensure reliable revenue services.  The East Japan Railway Company, or JR East, is to operate the E5 on its 675 km (419 mi.) Tōhoku Shinkansen (northeast new trunk line, began service in 1982 with 465 km or 289 mi. of mainline between Ōmiya and Morioka) between Shin-Aomori Station and Tōkyō Station once the 82 km (51 mi.) extension from Hachinohe (current terminus at kilometre 593.1, began service in 2002) to Aomori is complete.

Unlike many other countries, rail operators and engineering firms join forces in the development of rolling stocks in Japan and therefore it is somewhat more difficult to stick a single brand-name on domestic Japanese trains.  The high-speed EMUs are designed jointly by the operating railway company and a permutation of Hitachi, Kawasaki, Mitsubishi, Tōshiba, and Nippon Sharyō, and manufactured by Hitachi, Kawasaki, and Nippon Sharyō.  Mitsubishi often focuses on traction equipment (inverter, traction motor, etc.) and Tōshiba (yes, the same Tōshiba that makes laptops, televisions, medical equipment, missiles, etc.) specialises in locomotives.

The nose shape of Japanese high-speed trains are mostly dictated by the strict noise control laws (due to extremely high population density along the rail lines) and aged infrastructure with tight tunnels.  Drastic measures often have to be taken in the design of the train nose to minimise noise and pressure change in the cabin when encountering tunnels.  Due to these constraints and excessive wear on the overhead cantenary with the prototype train in the development phase, the top speed of the production E5 in revenue service is reduced to only 320 km/h from the originally planned 360 km/h (224 mph).  The top speed of the current Hayate services (service name, literally translated as a strong or violent wind), the fastest train service on the Tōhoku Shinkansen, is 275 km/h (171 mph).  As a design requirement, the Series E5 operating at 320 km/h will produce the same noise level and have the same braking distance as the current 275 km/h Series E2.  When the Series E5 begins 320 km/h services, the Series E2 trains will begin to operate at 300 km/h to ensure better traffic flow.

Being one of the world's widest-body high-speed trains (3.35 m or 11 ft), the E5 is the fist to offer 3-class seating in Japan, with standard 3 + 2 seating in economy class, 2 + 2 seating in the Green Car (business class), and 2 + 1 power-reclining shell style seating in the Super Green Car (provisional name, first class).  The E5 has a 10-car consist (1 Super Green, 1 Green, 8 economy, with 8 powered cars in the middle of the train and 2 trailing end cars) like the more recent versions of the E2 and will form joined trains with the 6-car Series E6 trains (under development) used by the Komachi services on the Akita Shinkansen at Morioka.  (Komachi, literally translated as small town, name of a neighbourhood in Kamakura in the Kanagawa prefecture of Japan.  Here, Komachi is from the first name of Ono Komachi, a famous Japanese waka poet from the Akita prefecture.  She was noted as a rare beauty and Komachi became the symbol of a beautiful woman in Japan.)

Below is a 2 minute video from YouTube showing some footages of the E5 in test runs filmed by railfans in Japan.

To keep post relatively short, more background information on Japanese railway systems will be provided the next time we talk about a Japanese train.


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