SAPPORO-A series of bullet train test runs began Sunday inside the Seikan Tunnel in northeastern Japan to confirm whether the service can safely operate alongside a freight train that shares the tunnel if its speed is upped to 160 kilometers per hour from the current 140 kph.
The Hayabusa Shinkansen series with a top speed of 320 kph has been slowed down to 140 kph inside the tunnel connecting two of Japan’s main islands to prevent freight train loads from falling due to wind pressure when they pass each other.
If the speed limit in the tunnel is raised to 160 kph, possibly in the spring of 2019, it will be able to shorten the travel time between Tokyo and Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto on Hokkaido to less than four hours — although it will cut the journey time by only three minutes to three hours and 59 minutes.
About 50 freight trains and 30 shinkansen bullet trains pass through the tunnel daily.
The Hokkaido Shinkansen line, which began operating in 2016, is expected to be extended from Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto to Sapporo — the capital of Hokkaido — in 2031.
The Japan Railway Construction, Transport and Technology Agency, a governmental institution, will carry out test runs during off-hours of train operations until Sept. 19.