Japan announces goal to launch self-driving bullet trains in 2028
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Japan announces goal to launch self-driving bullet trains in 2028

By Molly Kaiser for The J-Pop Exchange

Japanese rail companies Central Japan Railway Co and East Japan Railway Co are chugging into the future with plans to roll out self-driving versions of the shinkansen bullet trains in the next decade.

According to The Japan Times, the companies conducted tests in mid-May of the automatic train operating system (ATO) on the Tokaido Shinkansen line departing from Hamamatsu Station. Goals were set for the Tokaido Shinkansen self-driving line to be brought to market in 2028, and the Joetsu Shinkansen in the mid-2030s.

The trial was deemed a “major success” by Japan Railway officials, The Japan Times reported. But the project is far from complete. “We need to continue to work on how to make a smooth stop at a station. There is still room for improvement,” said JR East official Yasuaki Suzuki.

Some lingering concerns over a self-driving model among the public include the trains’ ability to adapt to natural disasters, vulnerabilities to cyber attacks and ensuring prompt arrivals.Train conductors will stay on board through its roll-out to handle emergencies, but their role could evolve after the technology is perfected.

The history of the shinkansen

The shinkansen, which translates to “new trunk line,” was the first high-speed rail founded globally in 1964 in the aftermath of the country’s rebuilding after World War II. The need for a high-speed rail system was borne out of a dense post-war population in Osaka that caused backups on roads and rails.

The system was developed in the 1950s and ready for the 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, with a max speed of 130 mph set by the World Bank. The new invention entirely altered life and travel across the nation. It shrank the duration of the 320 mile journey between two of Japan’s largest cities Tokyo and Osaka from 16.5 hours by train in 1889, to only three hours and 10 minutes in 1965.

Japan’s progress on the bullet train inspired other developed nations, with the exception of the U.S., to pursue such technology. The Amtrak Express Acela, which runs at average speed of 105 mph for “a short stretch” between Baltimore, D.C. and Delaware, is the closest the country has to a high-speed rail system.

Transportation of the future

Today, the shinkansen run up to 200 mph and connects the country’s most populous islands Honshu, Hokkaido and Kyushu. The system is known for its predictability, timeliness and comfort.

As they were half a century ago with the initial advent of the bullet train, it appears Japan will continue to be a leader in transportation with the self-driving shinkansen.


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