|Frst generation train with Mt Fuji.|
|The above 6 photos are of the latest version.|
Shinkansen literally means "new trunk line", referring to the tracks, but the name is widely used inside and outside Japan to refer to the high speed trains as well as the system as a whole which started with the Tōkaidō Shinkansen in 1964 (one of which is today in the British National Railway Museum at York). Originally intended to carry passenger and freight trains by day and night, the Shinkansen lines carry only passenger trains on the standard gauge network (the rest of the JR sytem is 3'6" or 1067 mm gauge as in NZ).
Often called the bullet train, it is today a network of high-speed railway lines in Japan operated by four Japan Railways Group companies and currently consist of 2,388 km (1,484 miles) of lines with maximum speeds of 240–300 km/h (149–186 mph), 283.5 km (176.2 miles) of Mini-shinkansen with a maximum speed of 130 km/h (81 mph) and 10.3 km (6.4 miles) of spur lines with Shinkansen services. The network presently links most major cities on the islands of Honshu and Kyushu, with construction of a link to the northern island of Hokkaido underway and plans to increase speeds on the Tōhoku Shinkansen up to 320 km/h (199 mph). Test runs have reached 443 km/h (275 mph) for conventional rail in 1996, and up to a world record 581 km/h (361 mph) for maglev trainsets in 2003.
The name Superexpress, initially used for Hikari trains, was retired in 1972, but is still used for English announcements and signage.
The Tōkaidō Shinkansen is the world's busiest high-speed rail line, carrying 151 million passengers a year. Between Tokyo and Osaka, the two largest metropoli in Japan, up to 13 trains per hour with 16 cars each (1,323 seats capacity) run in each direction with a minimum headway of 3 minutes between trains. Though largely a long-distance transport system, the Shinkansen also serves commuters who travel to work in metropolitan areas from outlying cities.