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Gentlemachines
What's new at the crossroads of culture, technology and science
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How the Shinkansen bullet train made Tokyo into the monster it is today

How the Shinkansen bullet train made Tokyo into the monster it is today | Gentlemachines | Scoop.it
At 10am on 1 October 1964, with less than a week and a half to go before the start of the Tokyo Olympic Games, the two inaugural Hikari Super Express Shinkansen, or “bullet trains,” arrived at their destinations, Tokyo and Osaka. They were precisely on time. Hundreds of people had waited overnight in each terminal to witness this historic event, which, like the Olympics, heralded not just Japan’s recovery from the destruction of the second world war, but the beginning of what would be Japan’s stratospheric rise as an economic superpower. The journey between Japan’s two biggest cities by train had previously taken close to seven hours. The Shinkansen had made the trip in four.

The world’s first high-speed commercial train line, which celebrates its 50th anniversary on Wednesday, was built along the Tokaido, one of the five routes that connected the Japanese hinterland to Edo, the city that in the mid-1800s became Tokyo. Though train lines crisscrossed the country, they were inadequate to postwar Japan’s newborn ambitions. The term “shinkansen” literally means “new trunk line”: symbolically, it lay at the very centre of the huge reconstruction effort. All previous railways were designed to serve regions. The purpose of the Tokaido Shinkansen, true to its name, was to bring people to the capital.
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At 10am on 1 October 1964, with less than a week and a half to go before the start of the Tokyo Olympic Games, the two inaugural Hikari Super Express Shinkansen, or “bullet trains,” arrived at their destinations, Tokyo and Osaka. They were precisely on time. Hundreds of people had waited overnight in each terminal to witness this historic event, which, like the Olympics, heralded not just Japan’s recovery from the destruction of the second world war, but the beginning of what would be Japan’s stratospheric rise as an economic superpower. The journey between Japan’s two biggest cities by train had previously taken close to seven hours. The Shinkansen had made the trip in four.

The world’s first high-speed commercial train line, which celebrates its 50th anniversary on Wednesday, was built along the Tokaido, one of the five routes that connected the Japanese hinterland to Edo, the city that in the mid-1800s became Tokyo. Though train lines crisscrossed the country, they were inadequate to postwar Japan’s newborn ambitions. The term “shinkansen” literally means “new trunk line”: symbolically, it lay at the very centre of the huge reconstruction effort. All previous railways were designed to serve regions. The purpose of the Tokaido Shinkansen, true to its name, was to bring people to the capital.

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Ideas coming down the track

Ideas coming down the track | Gentlemachines | Scoop.it
COMPARED with other modes of transport, train technology might seem to be progressing as slowly as a suburban commuter service rattling its way from one station to...
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"[T]here is no shortage of new ideas, and they are steadily making their way out onto the rails. Better technologies are delivering everything from improved traction, braking and route-planning to sleek levitating trains designed to glide on air at an astounding 500kph (310mph). Energy-efficiency and safety are up, and derailments are down. There are schemes to transfer electrical energy from braking trains into local power grids, and even more radical plans for “moving platforms” that dock with high-speed trains.

For proponents of rail transport, such developments strengthen the political and economic case for favouring trains over roads or short-haul air travel. In 2011 a European Commission “roadmap” document on transport strategy called for a trebling of high-speed rail capacity in Europe, and further investment in urban networks, with the goal of halving the use of fossil-fuel-powered cars in cities within two decades. That seems optimistic. But high oil prices, clogged roads and rising demand for passenger and freight capacity have prompted widespread talk of a “rail renaissance” which will accelerate the adoption of new technologies."

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