Construction Scheduled to Begin for the Nagasaki Shinkansen

The planned Nagasaki Shinkansen route, which runs along the Kyushu Shinkansen tracks from Hakata to Shin-Tosu (blue line with white fill), cuts over from Shin-Tosu to Takeo Onsen on conventional tracks (blue line), then runs along Shinkansen tracks again from Takeo Onsen to Nagasaki (pink lines). (Image courtesy of Asahi Shimbun.)

JR Kyushu has made the final decision to proceed with construction of the Isahaya-Nagasaki portion of the planned Nagasaki Shinkansen (“bullet train”) route and submitted this decision to the national government for approval. Construction of this final portion is expected to begin later this year, as early as June.

Although the Nagasaki-Isahaya section was originally planned to be constructed in Super Tokkyu style rather than as a full Shinkansen — meaning it would use narrow-gauge tracks rather than the standard-gauge tracks used by conventional Shinkansen, enabling moderately fast operating speeds of about 200 km/h, but not standard Shinkansen speeds of about 320 km/h — it has been decided that the final Isahaya-Nagasaki portion will be constructed as a standard Shinkansen route, conforming to the same standards as other Shinkansen routes around the country. This means that Nagasaki-bound Shinkansen will run on the existing Kyushu Shinkansen line from Hakata to Shin-Tosu, then on narrow-gauge tracks (standard among conventional lines in Japan) to Takeo Onsen, then again on standard-gauge tracks from Takeo Onsen to the final stop in Nagasaki, cutting travel time from Fukuoka to Nagasaki down to about 1 hour and 20 minutes (it currently takes about 2 hours by limited express train, and 2.5 to 3 hours by highway bus). To accomplish this, gauge change trains capable of operating on both wider, standard-gauge Shinkansen tracks and narrow-gauge tracks will be used. This also makes it possible for Nagasaki-bound Shinkansen to continue on to other destinations along the Kyushu and Sanyo Shinkansen lines.

The new route is expected to be operational near the end of 2021. Considering the cost of construction and the questionable necessity of a route that parallels other conventional lines (which operate fairly efficient limited express services), many people have resisted the construction of this new line. Although it will enable incredibly fast access between two of Kyushu’s largest cities and help JR compete with airline companies, the introduction of a Shinkansen line will increase the cost of train travel between the two cities in exchange for faster travel time (limited express trains on the same route will almost surely be eliminated, as occurred with the introduction of the Kyushu Shinkansen). One also wonders whether it would be useful to provide increased rail transport capacity between Sasebo and Nagasaki.

On the other hand, the new line is likely to increase tourism in Fukuoka, Nagasaki, Mt. Unzen, Takeo Onsen, Huis Ten Bosch and other destinations on and near the line. It will also bring the major urban centers of Kyushu closer together than ever before, leaving only Oita and Miyazaki on the east coast without high-speed rail connections.

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