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The Fast Track to Sustainability

Close-up image of a shinkansen destination

Imagine a commute where you zoom past other commuters at speeds as high as 200 mph. Many Japanese commuters don’t need to imagine this; it’s their reality!

The Shinkansen, known to English speakers as the Japanese bullet train, connects the majority of continental Japan with one high-speed railroad line. Combining the Japanese characters for “new” and “main line,” Shinkansen indicates just how essential this train is for Japanese citizens.

In the past 57 years that the Shinkansen has been in operation, it has been host to more than 10 billion passengers. Most of those passengers are Japan’s residents, making a daily commute or traveling in their own country, but others are tourists, journeying between Japanese cities on their vacations.

Serving as the blueprint for other high-speed rails around the world, the Shinkansen pioneered the way into sustainable travel by becoming the first operating high-speed train in 1964. Along with connecting most of mainland Japan, the train also reduced the country’s carbon footprint—by a lot!

Train engineers are constantly adjusting the trains to be more efficient by increasing speed and decreasing energy usage. The trains use about 88% less energy than an airplane traveling approximately the same route. Because each of these Shinkansen trains can carry 1,300 people, compared to an airplane’s average of 175, this form of transportation produces 92% fewer carbon emissions per seat.

Despite concerns that the high-speed train would be dangerous for the passengers, the Shinkansen boasts zero fatalities and injuries on board due to derailments or collisions in the entirety of its decades-long history.

Shinkansen trains and other bullet trains around the world have proved to be more sustainable, convenient, safe, and comfortable than other travel methods, and they’re only getting better!

So next time you’re traveling in a new country, check out your transportation options. There might be a bullet train that would be better for you (and the planet) than a flight.

Illustration of shinkansen train

Comfort on the Rails

With each train having a capacity of 1,300 people, comfort might seem hard to achieve, but the Shinkansen is actually regarded as more comfortable than most American domestic airplanes. With an interior structured in a similar manner as airplanes, Shinkansen trains have rows of seats divided by an aisle with overhead space available for luggage. The seats tend to be more spacious and comfortable than commercial airline seats, and the Shinkansen allows for more legroom for each passenger. Though amenities can vary slightly between different trains, each includes bathrooms, smoking rooms, air conditioning, electrical outlets, and a food and drink trolley that consistently runs up and down the aisle.

Lizzi Haynes