Japan trains

Goodbye to the 500-Series

There was sad news for Japanese railfans the other day.  On Sunday the much loved pointy nose 500-series bullet trains were retired from their “Nozomi” superexpress service to be replaced by newer, faster N700-series trains.


500 series bullet train. (Image: Wikimedia commons creative commons license)

The 500-series were adored by many for their futuristic, sleek design, even winning several prestigious design awards.  They were the first passenger trains in the world to operate at 300 kph (186 mph) when they went into service in 1997.  However, they were very expensive to build, and only nine sets were made.  A few years ago the faster N700 series trains began to come into service.  They operate at the same top speed of 300 kph but are able to maintain higher cornering speeds thanks to tilt-technology, shaving five minutes off the trip from Tokyo to Osaka.

Don’t worry, though.  Japan Railways aren’t scrapping these beautiful machines.  They will go into slower “Kodama” service between Shin-Osaka and Hakata, stopping at all stations instead of making the Tokyo-Shin-Osaka run in one blazing nonstop.

What I find most fascinating about the retirement of these trains is the intensity of the fan interest surrounding it.  Railfans exist everywhere, but the nostalgic fever exhibited for this train was amazing.   Over 1,500 fans showed up to send off the last departing 500-series Nozomi service from Tokyo station yesterday, as this Mainichi Daily News article shows.  Can you imagined thousands of people crowding an Amtrak station to bid farewell to the Acela?  I can’t.  The Japanese simply love their trains, and for good reason.

Lastly, take a look at some great YouTube video of this cool train in action.  It’s beautiful!

6 replies on “Goodbye to the 500-Series”

1997. The 500 series trains shown here are quite new. But you are right about the bullet trains in general. The line opened in 1964.

Aw. I guess I’ll never get to ride one now… Geoff says there’s a lot of trouble adjusting trains to the tilt technology – something about people getting sick from the force of it?

Well, you can still ride this particular train, but on the slower (not actually a slower speed, but stopping at every station) Kodama service. Worry not! And I’m not sure about the tilt tech. The Acela on the east coast of the US uses similar technology, as do some express trains here in Hokkaido that run on narrow gauge track. When I rode the N700 shinkansen a year or so ago, I didn’t even notice that it tilted. It’s only a few degrees of tilt.

I thought you were saying goodbye to the Amiga 500, until I saw your link. I was going to tell you that Commodore stopped making computers years ago.

It isn’t a maglev?

No, the maglev is, as it has been for 20 years, under development. The cost is estimated at something reee-diculous, and considering Japan’s economy has been in the crapper for more than a decade, I doubt I’ll ever ride it in actual service. There is a test track in Yamanashi prefecture that has conducted runs with human passengers. Off the top of my head, the highest speed attained was 550 kph. Anyway, they want to build a line from Tokyo to Osaka, but they actually have to construct an entirely new line, can’t reuse any existing track, and probably only a little bit of existing right-of-way. This means constructing hundreds of new tunnels, and being much more limited in the radii of turns. There’s also still a big problem dealing with the forces created when two trains pass each other in a tunnel – a relative speed of 1000 kilometers per hour. God I hope I can ride it someday. FYI, if you feel like riding an actual maglev that does go faster than the standard track bullet train, there is one in Shanghai, and I have ridden it.

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