On March 12, 2011, the Kyushu Shinkansen (“bullet train”) line will be complete and open for operation. Previously, the Shinkansen (Sanyo Line) ran from Osaka to Fukuoka, and the Kyushu Shinkansen ran from Kagoshima to Shin-Yatsushiro, with the two connected in the middle by limited express trains. Upon completion of the remaining section, travel time between the Fukuoka and Kagoshima will be cut down from 2 hours 10 minutes to 1 hour 20 minutes. The new line will also cut down travel times to other popular destinations such as Kumamoto and Mt. Aso.
In addition to the Nozomi, Hikari, Hikari Railstar and Kodama trains now running from Osaka to Hakata on the Sanyo Line, Mizuho and Sakura trains will make trips between Osaka and Kagoshima (running through services on both the Sanyo and Kyushu Lines), and Tsubame trains will run on the Kyushu Line (stopping at every station). Some Sakura trains will only run on portions of the Kyushu Line between Hakata Station (Fukuoka) and Kagoshima-Chuo Station (Kagoshima). Furthermore, new 800-series trains (pictured above) with chic interior designs will be introduced.
With the recent extension of the Tohoku Shinkansen to Aomori, it is now possible to ride all the way from the very south of Kyushu to the northern tip of Honshu, with the first part of the Hokkaido Shinkansen set to be complete, at earliest, in late 2015. From Osaka to Kagoshima, airplane and train travel times (city center to city center) have become nearly identical, with the trains providing a cost advantage, not to mention comfort and convenience compared with air travel.
Another interesting feature of the completed Kyushu Shinkansen will be availability of cell phone use in tunnels. Most of Japan’s Shinkansen cut through mountains using long tunnels, making for terrible or no cell phone reception. However, devices placed in all of the tunnels on the Kyushu line will provide full reception for users of au, Softbank and DoCoMo.
Construction of a Nagasaki Shinkansen is also underway, although it will most likely be a narrow-gauge line that reaches speeds of about 200 km/h (~125 mph) rather than a “full” Shinkansen. (Japan’s standard railways use “narrow gauge” tracks, but Shinkansen use wider “standard gauge” to accommodate speeds up to 320 km/h (~200 mph).) The Nagasaki extension would cut travel time between Fukuoka and Nagasaki down to approximately 1 hour 24 minutes. Gauge-changeable trains, or standard gauge tracks running the full distance between Fukuoka to Nagasaki, would reduce travel time further. This project would have been started sooner, but logistical concerns and local protest in Nagasaki delayed commencement of construction.
Technical talk aside, what does the new Shinkansen line mean for travelers? First of all, it means that a lot more people are going to be visiting the sights of Kyushu, because the Shinkansen makes them more convenient and accessible. This will affect not only residents of Kyushu, but visitors from regions outside of Kyushu–Kyushu has long been considered a “distant” part of Japan to residents of other populous regions such as Kansai and Kanto, and this will shorten the psychological distance. Furthermore, visitors from abroad using the Japan Rail Pass can now see some parts of Japan they may have passed up otherwise. I think this will particularly boost tourism in Kumamoto (about 30 min. from Fukuoka), Mt. Aso, Kagoshima, Miyazaki Prefecture, and even Minamata and other less popular destinations. Shinkansen are heavily used for business trips, as well, so the extension may provide an economic advantage for the regions the new line runs through.
The Hakata Station terminal building and surrounding area have undergone renovations to coincide with the new Shinkansen’s launch. This includes renovation of the bus terminal building and opening of the new JR Hakata City shopping and entertainment complex. In addition, numerous events are being held throughout Fukuoka and Kyushu to celebrate and promote the new Shinkansen line.
It is my personal hope that the new Shinkansen line will encourage all of you to come and visit Kyushu, one of the most diverse and fascinating regions of Japan.
Note: Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.