JR West Series 500

The JR Series 500 is a high speed AC propulsion electric multiple unit manufactured by Hitachi, Kawasaki, Kinki Sharyō, and Nippon Sharyō between 1995 and 1998. It was launched by the West Japan Railway Company (JR West) as the flagship train running the Nozomi (nozomi translates into hope; it is service name of the fastest limited-stop service on the Tōkaidō and Sanyō Shinkansen, shinkansen means new trunk line) service between Tōkyō and Hakata. It was the first train in Japan to attain a top revenue speed of 300 km/h (186 mph) on the Sanyō Shinkansen between Shin-Ōsaka (New Ōsaka Station) and Hakata. Due to undesirable track geometry (tight bends with radius as low as 2,500 m and steep grades of up to 2%) on the Tōkaidō Shinkansen (opened in 1964) between Tōkyō and Shin-Ōsaka, track speed is limited to 270 km/h (168 mph).

The aerodynamics of the Series 500 much resembles an aircraft with a somewhat round cross section. A wing-shaped pantograph based on owl feather was specially designed for the series 500. A standard Series 500 W set has a 16-car consist and all axles of the train are powered giving it a total output of 18.24 MW (24,460 hp). The train was designed to be well capable of 320 km/h (199 mph) and was considered overpowered for its normal operations. Acceleration of the Series 500 was software-limited to between 1.6 and 1.92 km/h/s (1 mi/h/s to 1.2 mi/h/s). Due to high cost, only 9 sets of Series 500 were built. The first production Series 500 entered service in March 1997 and refreshed the world record for average speed between two station stops on a scheduled passenger train service. The Series 500 reached an average start-stop speed of 261.8 km/h (162.6 mph) between Hiroshima and Kokura, 192 km (119 mi) apart. The Series 500 would complete its entire scheduled run between Tōkyō and Hakata, a distance of 1049 km (652 mi, 727 mi or 1170 km from Québec City to Windsor), in 4 hours and 49 minutes (trains in Canada typically can make it from Montréal to Toronto in this amount of time on our fastest tracks).

Although the Series 500 marked a milestone in Japanese high speed rail history, the high operational cost and limited headroom at window seats due to its cross sectional shape made it unpopular with both its operator and passengers (despite the love from railway enthusiasts). As the newer generation Series N700 tilting trains (roomier, lower power output with higher start-up acceleration, quieter) entered service, JR West started phasing out the Series 500 from the Nozomi service in 2008. Since then 6 of the 9 W sets were refurbished with regular single-arm pantographs and split into 12 eight-car V sets with newly built end cars. The V sets had their debut on the Kodama (kodama translates into echo; it is the service name for the trains that make all station stops on the Tōkaidō and Sanyō Shinkansen) service on the Sanyō Shinkansen only on 1 December 2008 with a limited top speed of 285 km/h (177 mph).

On 28 February 2010, the short lived Series 500 W set, once the icon of Japanese high speed rail technology, made its last Nozomi run.


Anonymous said…
Great article, but there's a mistake: eight of the original nine sets (sets W2 to W9) were refurbished and formed eight 8-car trains (sets V2 to V9) for Kodama services on the Sanyō Shinkansen, not six 16-car trains formed twelve 8-cars.
If there are only sixteen end cars and one train has got two end cars, there are eight trainsets, not sixteen! The same thing for six trains and twelve end cars.

Only the W1 set, the first and most powerful set, wasn't refurbished.

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