The 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 210 km/h (130 mph) Tokaido Shinkansen in 1964, the now 2,459 km (1,528 mi) long network has expanded to link most major cities on the islands of Honshuu and Kyuushuu at speeds up to 300 km/h (186 mph). 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) for maglev 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 Tokaido Shinkansen is the world's busiest high-speed rail line. Carrying 151 million passengers a year 2008, it has transported more passengers (over 6 billion) than any other high speed line in the world. Between Tokyo and Osaka, the two largest metropolises in Japan, up to ten trains per hour with 16 cars each (1,300 seats capacity) run in each direction with a minimum of 3 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.
The Tokaido Shinkansen began service on 1 October 1964, in time for the Tokyo Olympics. The conventional Limited Express service took six hours and 40 minutes from Tokyo to Osaka, but the Shinkansen made the trip in just four hours, shortened to three hours and ten minutes by 1965. It enabled day trips between Tokyo and Osaka, the two largest metropolises in Japan, changed the style of business and life of Japanese people significantly, and increased new traffic demand. The service was an immediate success, reaching the 100 million passenger mark in less than three years on 13 July 1967, and one billion passengers in 1976. Sixteen-car trains were introduced for Expo '70 in Osaka. With an average of 23,000 passengers per hour per direction in 1992, the Tokaido Shinkansen is the world's busiest high-speed rail line.
The first Shinkansen trains, the 0 series, ran at speeds of up to 210 km/h (130 mph), later increased to 220 km/h (137 mph). The last of these trains, with their classic bullet-nosed appearance, were retired on 30 November 2008. A driving car from one of the 0 series trains is now in the British National Railway Museum in York, England.