Japan’s Newest Bullet Trains Can Keep Running on Battery Power in the Event of a Disaster

Photo: Wikipedia, Other
Photo: Wikipedia, Other

Japan’s bullet trains are quite possibly the world’s most punctual form of transportation, and the safest way to hit speeds of over 322 km/h without leaving the ground. The newest version, the N700s that’s now running on the country’s Shinkansen Line between Tokyo and Osaka, is also the first to feature a battery backup to keep it running in the event of a natural disaster.

Given its size and proximity to the Pacific Ocean, Japan is regularly subjected to devastating natural disasters including earthquakes, typhoons, and tsunamis. Such occurrences are so common that the entire country factors disaster preparedness into its infrastructure, and that now includes its iconic bullet trains. The N700S Shinkansen (the “S” stands for Supreme) is the first major upgrade of the N700 series in 13 years, and mostly includes improvements designed to make travel more comfortable for passengers.

Originally intended to be introduced to coincide with the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, the N700S officially entered service on July 1 and while it hit a top speed of 360 kilometers per hour during test runs last year, the train will max out at 285 kilometers per hour while carrying passengers along its route. Amenities include seats that recline even further for passengers who prefer to sleep, a power outlet for every rider, and special lighting in the overhead baggage compartments reminding everyone to claim any luggage or bags they’ve stashed as they’re disembarking.

Less obvious to riders are improvements made to the train’s exterior design. It looks only subtly different to the existing models the N700S is replacing, but a redesigned nose will improve the new train’s streamlining and reduce the amount of noise it produces externally as it whizzes past the countryside. A new active suspension system also promises to make rides smoother by absorbing bumps (although it’s not like these trains are racing down unpaved country roads) while a new braking system reduces the train’s stopping distance in the event of an emergency.

The most notable upgrade on the N700S is something that hopefully never has to be used, but given Japan’s history, will be a welcome feature during future natural disasters. The N700S is the first bullet train to carry its own battery backup system that’s not just for powering emergency lighting. In the event that the train loses external power, it can continue to move under its own power if it’s come to a stop in a place that’s unsafe for passengers to exit, such as in a tunnel or on a bridge. It won’t be able to hit its top speed of 285km/h on battery power, but it will be able to slowly roll along with a much shorter range ensuring passengers are never left stranded.