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The first Shinkansen train

In the autumn of 1964, the Japanese started a new chapter in the history of transport. An electric train of aerodynamic shape, lacquered in blue and ivory, swiftly departed from the railway station in Tokyo, followed the twin dark strip formed by the railroads and disappeared from view within the rice crops in maduration. In the wide valley of the Sagami, the indicator of the tachometer in the fully automated driving cabin crossed while trembling the mark of 200 kilometers per hour, to then surpass it and finally reach 210 kilometers per hour. The passengers, who as well could see the tachometer in the two dining cars, hold their breath. But they felt no abrupt movement, nor rattling in the rails, neither a roar from the engines. After exactly four hours, the train silently entered the station in Osaka, slowly braking and softly swinging its leaf springs.

Shinkansen train passing by the Fuji

"Hikari", the "light one", had traveled from its departure point more than 515 kilometers developing an average speed of 129 kilometers per hour. It was its inaugural travel, which caused sensation not only in Japan; specialists from more than twenty countries arrived to look at this technical marvel. And it was indeed a marvel what they could see: the fastest railway in the world, the Tokaido Line. What that day of autumn caused sensation soon turned to be a daily image in the route between Tokyo and Osaka, the two greatest commercial and industrial centers in Japan. One year later, fourteen of these trains transported more than 28000 passengers every day in both directions; and the duration of the travel was exactly four hours each time.

The Tokaido Line had to be built because in the mid 1950s the twin railroad between Tokio and Osaka was terribly overloaded. Despite of trains passing every 7.5 minutes - totalling 122 passenger trains and 78 freight trains every 24 hours - the congestion of the route was turning to be catastrophic due to the increment in the transport of persons and materials. So the president of the Japanese railways, Shinji Sogo, took the determination to fix the problem. But before the new train were a reality, there were many problems to solve. Firstly, the specialists decided to not use the already congested lines, but to build a new railroad instead. Also, the Japanese had to switch from their traditional railroad gauge of 1067 millimeters, excessively narrow for such fast trains, to the European gauge of 1435 millimeters. Then they made very precise studies, regarding the effects of pressure and turbulences that could happen when two trains crossed each other in a tunnel at 200 kilometers per hour. A number of models were tested in a wind tunnel and, to increase safety, they were subjected to speeds of 300 kilometers per hour.

After having acquired the necessary lands in the route of 515 kilometers, the works in the terrain started; gigantic machines removed 23 millions of square meters of land, 66 tunnels were excavated, more than three millions of cubic meters of reinforced concrete were consumed and 17 kilometers of bridges and viaducts were laid above rivers, valleys and other communication lines. In June 1962 the first test travels took place on a strech of 37 kilometers on the new line. Trains, rails and personnel were subjected to the hardest trials. It was seen that the problem with the tunnels was still not solved; when a fast train entered a tunnel it created the effect of a piston moving inside a cylinder, creating a compression effect in the air. Then the railway administration decided to build hermetically closed wagons, in such way that the interior of these could be mistaken with that of a modern airliner.

Shinkansen train entering Tokyo

At the high speeds projected it was too risky to entrust the driving to the hands of human machinists. It was decided to use instead an automated remote control system which left the driver with the sole task of observation. The driver would not actuate the controls until the automatic system had reduced the speed to 30 kilometers per hour, when approaching a station. Then it would be unlocked the compressed-air system of the brakes and the machinist would slowly stop the train. Japan spent in the Tokaido Line about a thousand millions of dollars. It was a lot of money, but also other industrialized countries understood that they had no other alternative than to build fast railroad lines connecting their largest urban concentrations.