JR News: 4 of Japan’s shinkansen extension plans
Shinkansen (新幹線 bullet trains) are a symbol of Japanese railway technology, and you cannot talk about railway travel in Japan without mentioning shinkansen. For many foreign tourists, “riding the shinkansen” is one of the must-try things when visiting Japan.
Did you know that there are currently nine shinkansen lines in operation, some of them still being extended, and that new lines are also in the works? Let us check out four of these shinkansen extension plans: Nishi Kyushu Shinkansen, Hokuriku Shinkansen, Hokkaido Shinkansen, and Chuo Shinkansen.
① Nishi Kyushu Shinkansen (西九州新幹線)
Section: Nagasaki Station ↔ Takeo-Onsen Station
Estimated opening: autumn 2022
The section with the earliest estimated opening date on this list is the Nagasaki~Takeo-Onsen section on the Nishi Kyushu Shinkansen (西九州新幹線). When completed, the Nishi Kyushu Shinkansen will connect Kyushu’s most populous city, Fukuoka City, with Nagasaki City in western Kyushu, passing through Saga Prefecture.
Route for the Nishi Kyushu Shinkansen. (Image credit: JR Kyushu)
The first section between Nagasaki Station and Takeo-Onsen Station is scheduled to open next year, in autumn 2022. With the opening of this section, travel time from Nagasaki Station to Takeo-Onsen Station will be cut to just 30 minutes. Currently, it takes around 1.5 hours.
The track length between Nagasaki Station and Takeo-Onsen Station is approximately 66km, and there will be five shinkansen stations:
- Nagasaki Station (長崎駅)
- Isahaya Station (諫早駅)
- Shin-О̄mura Station (新大村駅)
- Ureshino-Onsen Station (嬉野温泉駅)
- Takeo-Onsen Station (武雄温泉駅)
Three stations (Nagasaki, Isahaya, and Takeo-Onsen) connect to local lines, while two station (Shin-О̄mura and Ureshino-Onsen) are new stations built for the Nishi Kyushu Shinkansen.
Nagasaki Station (長崎駅)
Nagasaki Station under construction. (Image credit: JR Kyushu)
Nagasaki is a port city known for having one of the top three night views in Japan. From the new shinkansen station platform, passengers will be treated to a view of the sea, and the roof of the station will be a white membrane that allows for soft, natural lighting. There will also be no walls between the local line platform and shinkansen platform, which creates a sense of openness.
Isahaya Station (諫早駅)
Exterior of Isahaya Station. (Image credit: JR Kyushu)
Isahaya Station connects JR Kyushu’s Omura Line and Nagasaki Line, as well as Shimabara Railway, which runs to the scenic Shimabara Peninsula. The shinkansen station building's design concept is "a gate of hospitality that leads to a bright future", and its special features are the black frame resembling Isahaya stone and the large glass panels.
Shin-О̄mura Station (新大村駅)
Exterior of Shin-О̄mura Station. (Image credit: JR Kyushu)
Shin-О̄mura Station is a new station built specially for the Nishi Kyushu Shinkansen. The design image for Shin-О̄mura Station is "a gateway to a new city, a station where you can feel excitement". It has a design that seemingly spreads toward the sky, representing the bright future of Omura City. The different-coloured, uneven-textured walls are based on the motif of goshikibei (五色塀), a cultural property of Omura City.
Ureshino-Onsen Station (嬉野温泉駅)
Ureshino Onsen is a popular hot spring resort in Saga Prefecture that is famous for its skin-beautifying waters, which feel smooth on the skin. Currently, Ureshino Onsen does not have a train station, and to reach it you need to take a 30-minute bus ride from Takeo-Onsen Station. Once opened, Ureshino-Onsen Station will be just a 10-minute bus ride and walk from the hot spring town, making access more convenient. The design concept for its station building is “hospitality that will melt your heart, and a stage for encounters that lead to the future”.
Takeo-Onsen Station (武雄温泉駅)
Takeo Onsen is another famous hot spring town in Saga Prefecture, and is said to have a history of over 1,300 years. The design image for Takeo-Onsen Station is “a station where you can feel the history and newness of the hot spring town".
Artist's impression of the Nishi Kyushu Shinkansen Kamome. (Image credit: JR Kyushu)
The Nishi Kyushu Shinkansen will utilise N700S Series trains, which are also used on the Tokaido Shinkansen and Sanyo Shinkansen. The ones on the Nishi Kyushu Shinkansen will have a six car formation, and feature a white body with accents in red (JR Kyushu’s corporate colour). The train's interior will be a mix of Japanese and Western, as well as a combination of classic and modern styles, to express a nostalgic and new space. The train name will be Kamome (かもめ), which is inherited from the limited express train service that runs between Hakata and Nagasaki.
Platforms at Takeo-Onsen Station. Local line platform on the left, and shinkansen platform on the right. (Image credit: JR Kyushu)
Once the Nishi Kyushu Shinkansen opens, limited express trains “Relay Kamome” will operate between Hakata Station and Takeo-Onsen Station, where travellers connecting to/from Nagasaki will only need to cross the platform to transfer to/from the shinkansen. The travelling time from Hakata to Nagasaki is expected to be cut to around 1 hour 20 minutes.
② Hokuriku Shinkansen (北陸新幹線)
Section: Kanazawa Station ↔ Tsuruga Station
Estimated opening: spring 2024
Next up, let us look at the Hokuriku Shinkansen extension. The Hokuriku Shinkansen (北陸新幹線) between Nagano and Kanazawa opened in March 2015, making it very convenient to travel from Tokyo to Kanazawa: just under 2.5 hours on the fastest trains. Prior to the Hokuriku Shinkansen's opening, a trip from Tokyo to Kanazawa would have taken around 4 hours.
Currently, the next section of the Hokuriku Shinkansen between Kanazawa and Tsuruga is under construction, and it is estimated that the section will be opened by spring 2024.
Extension plans for the Hokuriku Shinkansen. (Image credit: JR West)
The track length between Kanazawa Station and Tsuruga Station is approximately 125km, and there are six shinkansen stations being constructed:
- Komatsu Station (小松駅)
- Kagaonsen Station (加賀温泉駅)
- Awaraonsen Station (芦原温泉駅)
- Fukui Station (福井温泉駅)
- Echizen-Takefu Station (越前たけふ駅)
- Tsuruga Station (敦賀駅)
Only Echizen-Takefu Station is a new station, while the other five shinkansen stations are being built next to existing stations along the Hokuriku Main Line.
With the opening of this section, travel time from Tokyo Station to Fukui Station will be cut to less than 3 hours. Currently, it takes around 3.5 hours. Eventually, the Hokuriku Shinkansen will connect to Shin-Osaka Station, offering visitors from both Tokyo and Osaka faster and more convenient access to the beautiful Hokuriku Region.
Komatsu Station (小松駅)
Artist's impression of Komatsu Station's exterior. (Image credit: 鉄道・運輸機構)
After Kanazawa, Komatsu is the second largest city in Ishikawa Prefecture. Komatsu Station’s design concept is to be “a terminal that connects hometown traditions with the future.” The station’s exterior will have a three-dimensional, multi-faceted design that aims evoke the image of a snow-covered Mount Hakusan, one of Japan’s Three Holy Mountains. From the shinkansen platform, passengers will be able to enjoy the view of the actual Mount Hakusan through the glass.
The interior of the station will be built will local materials such as Kutani ceramics, local wood, and stones from Kanagaso and Takigahara to create a space where visitors can feel the “Komatsu-ness”.
Kagaonsen Station (加賀温泉駅)
Kaga Onsen is a 1,300-year-old hot spring resort nestled between Mount Hakusan and the Sea of Japan. Kagaonsen Station’s concept will be “a station that shows the nature, history, and culture of Kaga", with traditional Japanese-style motifs that evoke the atmosphere of Kaga Onsen’s hot spring towns, and lets visitors feel the history of the castle town. For example, Kaga’s unique red roof tiles will be used for the waiting rooms.
Awaraonsen Station (芦原温泉駅)
Awara Onsen is a hot spring resort in northern Fukui Prefecture, well-known for the healing properties of its waters. Located near the Sea of Japan, many people visit to dine on Echizen crabs, which are in season during the winter months. The concept of Awaraonsen Station is "a luxury station that springs up in the land of Awara", and it will be a station that evokes the relaxation and the feeling of a trip to Awara Onsen.
Fukui Station (福井駅)
Exterior of Fukui Station under construction. (Image credit: JR West)
Fukui City is the capital of Fukui Prefecture, and boasts a long history dating back to ancient times. The concept of Fukui Station is "from ancient times to the future, a station where you can see eternal history and nature". With a motif of karamon (唐門 type of gate), wood-like louvres, locally-produced wood, and locally-produced washi express the eternal history of Fukui.
Echizen-Takefu Station (越前たけふ駅)
Echizen-Takefu Station is the only new station along the Kanazawa~Tsuruga extension that will not connect to local lines. Initially, it was tentatively named Nan’etsu Station, but the new name Echizen-Takefu was finally revealed in May 2021.
Artist's impression of Echizen-Takefu Station's exterior. (Image credit: 鉄道・運輸機構)
The station’s concept is to be “a symbol that connects tradition and culture with the future”, with a motif of a stork flying to Echizen City, where the station is located. It is imagined that Echizen-Takefu Station will be a station that will be a symbol that connects Echizen’s beautiful natural environment with the future.
Tsuruga Station (敦賀駅)
Tsuruga is a historic port city located along the Kitamaebune route, a major shipping route which stretched from Osaka to Hokkaido, used in the Edo Period (1603–1868).
Artist's impression of Tsuruga Station's exterior. (Image credit: 鉄道・運輸機構)
The concept for Tsuruga Station is “a station floating in the sky, surrounded by nature, and overlooking the harbour”, and expresses the glittering waves of Tsuruga Bay while letting you feel the abundant nature.
In the concourse, the ceilings will have a floating design with the image of sails of a Kitamaebune ship. The floor of the platforms will be finished with wood-like tiles that resemble the deck of a ship, while the waiting room will be designed with a ship motif.
③ Hokkaido Shinkansen (北海道新幹線)
Section: Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto Station ↔ Sapporo Station
Estimated opening: spring 2031
The Hokkaido Shinkansen (北海道新幹線) between Shin-Aomori and Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto opened in March 2016, making it very convenient to travel from Tokyo to Hakodate. Currently, the next section of the Hokkaido Shinkansen between Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto and Sapporo is under construction, and it is estimated that the section will be opened by spring 2031.
Map of Hokkaido Shinkansen extension plan. (Image credit: 鉄道・運輸機構)
The total length between Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto and Sapporo is approximately 212km, and there are plans to create five shinkansen stations:
- Sapporo Station (札幌駅)
- Shin-Otaru Station (新小樽駅) (tentative name)
- Kutchan Station (倶知安駅)
- Oshamambe Station (長万部駅)
- Shin-Yakumo Station (新八雲駅) (tentative name)
Three of them (Sapporo, Kutchan, and Oshamambe) are adjacent to existing train stations that ply local lines, while the other two stations (Shin-Otaru and Shin-Yakumo) are a bit of a distance from the existing local line train stations (Otaru Station and Yakumo Station respectively).
Approximately 80% of the new section will be in tunnels, but when completed, it will be possible to get from Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto to Sapporo in only around 1 hour. Currently, it takes around 3 hours 15 minutes via limited express trains, so the difference is clear, and this is good news for the people of Hokkaido. Let’s have a look at the progress of the construction work:
Sapporo Station (札幌駅)
With the extension of the Hokkaido Shinkansen to Sapporo, the capital city of Hokkaido, construction is gradually underway at Sapporo Station. Currently, there are 10 railway tracks at Sapporo Station that serve local lines. In the future, when the Hokkaido Shinkansen opens, the current Track 1 will become the track for the shinkansen to pass through, so a new Track 11 is being constructed for the local lines.
Construction at Sapporo Station. (Image credit: Hokkaido Railway Company)
In the top left photo above, you can see an aerial view of Sapporo Station from the west direction. The various tracks are arranged in numerical order, starting from Track 1 on the left side, with Track 11, which is under construction, at the very end on the right side.
The top right photo above is one of the platform of Track 1. In the future, this line will be used for the Hokkaido Shinkansen. The photo on the bottom right shows Track 11 being constructed.
Sapporo is the largest city in Hokkaido, and is also where the island’s main international airport is. When the shinkansen to Sapporo is opened, it is estimated that a ride from Tokyo to Sapporo will take around 5 hours.
Shin-Otaru Station (新小樽駅)
Shin-Otaru Station (tentative name) is planned to be constructed in the mountains, about 3km from Minami-Otaru Station and about 4.5km from Otaru Station, and will be the northernmost shinkansen station in Japan.
Shield machine of the Sasson Tunnel between Sapporo and Otaru. (Image credit: 鉄道・運輸機構)
Construction of a tunnel that runs nearby has begun, but construction of the station building has yet to be started. The tunnel between Sapporo and Otaru is called the Sasson Tunnel (札樽トンネル), which utilises the first character of Sapporo (札幌) and the last character of Otaru (小樽). Located in the urban area between the cities of Sapporo and Otaru, this is the first time that a shield tunnel will be adopted. As a starting base for the shield machine (machine for digging a tunnel), a shaft is being dug about 50m underground to assemble the shield machine in.
Otaru is a very popular tourist destination in Hokkaido. When the Hokkaido Shinkansen is completed, access to Otaru will be even more convenient, and many people are waiting to travel there by shinkansen as soon as possible.
Kutchan Station (倶知安駅)
Kutchan Station is the gateway to Niseko, a popular ski resort famed for its beautiful powder snow. The current travelling time between Sapporo and Kutchan is about 2 hours, but when the Hokkaido Shinkansen opens, it will take only about 30 minutes.
Platform construction at Kutchan Station. (Image credit: Hokkaido Railway Company)
The relocation work of the local line platform has begun, and the new local line platform will start operation at the end of October 2021. The opening of the shinkansen is still a long way off, but even with station changes like this, passengers can feel that the days of shinkansen are coming.
Oshamambe Station (長万部駅)
Oshamambe Station is a station located in Oshamambe Town, and is currently a branch station of the Hakodate Line and Muroran Line. It may not be a very familiar town to most people, but Oshamambe is famous for its kanimeshi ekiben (かにめし駅弁), a lunch box filled with delicious crab meat on top of rice, which can be purchased at the direct sales office in front of the station.
Oshamambe‘s shinkansen station is planned to be an elevated station with a height of about 14 m, and a view overlooking Uchiura Bay. Earlier, we mentioned that 80% of the new shinkansen section will be in tunnels, but about half of the non-tunnel scenic section will be in Oshamambe Town.
Shin-Yakumo Station (新八雲駅)
Yakumo Town, where Shin-Yakumo Station (tentative name) is located, is the only town in Japan facing both the Pacific Ocean and the Sea of Japan, and is a town where the agriculture, fishing, and dairy industries are flourishing.
The Futamata Tunnel in Yakumo Town. (Image credit: 鉄道・運輸機構)
The planned construction site for Shin-Yakumo Station is about 3km inland from Yakumo Station, but it is to have a concept of "inside a ranch". Through discussions with the local government, it was decided that the new station would aim to be a compact station building that is in harmony with the surrounding idyllic scenery. The future Shin-Yakumo Station might be the only shinkansen station where you can see cows grazing immediately after getting off at the station!
④ Chuo Shinkansen (中央新幹線)
Section: Shinagawa Station ↔ Nagoya Station
Estimated opening: after 2027
While the previous three shinkansen lines mentioned are funded by the Japanese government, there is another upcoming shinkansen line, the Chuo Shinkansen (中央新幹線), that is funded by JR Central. This new line aims to provide an alternative to the aging 57-year-old Tokaido Shinkansen, Japan’s busiest shinkansen line, and also an alternative in case of natural disasters.
Route of the Chuo Shinkansen. (Image credit: JR Central)
The Chuo Shinkansen will run between Shinagawa Station in Tokyo, to Osaka. The first section between Shinagawa Station and Nagoya Station is currently being constructed, and is estimated to open sometime after 2027. Once opened, it is expected to cut travelling time to Nagoya to around 40 minutes, down from the current 1 hour 34 minutes.
The construction of the section between Nagoya and Osaka will only start construction after the Tokyo to Nagoya section is complete. Once the entire line is complete, it is estimated that a trip from Tokyo to Osaka will take just 67 minutes. Currently, the fastest trains take about 2 hours 22 minutes.
SCMAGLEV trains. (Image credit: JR Central)
Unlike other shinkansen lines, the Chuo Shinkansen will use superconducting magnetic levitation (SCMAGLEV) technology that will operate with maximum speeds of 500km/h. Test runs for the experimental L0 series SCMAGLEV trains have been held, and a maximum speed of 603km/h has been recorded, which set a World Record.
It may still be a while before these shinkansen lines open but I am sure that many of us are looking forward to riding them.
Note: All opening dates and reduced travel times mentioned in this article are estimates, and may change in the future depending on circumstances. Please check the websites of the relevant construction companies and authorities for updates.
Header image credit: JR Kyushu, JR West, Hokkaido Railway Company, JR Central