75 Pivotal Public Policies: Japan’s Bullet Trains

Running between Tokyo and Shin-Osaka, the Tokaido Shinkansen was the world’s first high-speed rail line. Its construction was approved in 1958, with completion in time for the Tokyo summer Olympics in 1964. The so-called bullet train, serving nine different routes across the country, is allowed to operate at speeds of up to 200mph. In over 50 years of service, bullet trains have carried over 10bn passengers without a single fatality due to an accident.

Since then, high-speed rail has spread rapidly around the world. Notable examples include the French Lignes a Grande Vitesse, opened in 1981 between Paris and Lyon, the first high-speed rail line in Europe. Today, running on renewable electrical energy, high-speed trains between France and Spain have a low carbon footprint, with every 100km travelled enabling an emission reduction of about 15kg of carbon dioxide compared with prior means of travel.

More recently, China has enthusiastically embraced high-speed rail, including launching a massive expansion program in 2016. Already having built the world’s most extensive high-speed rail network, the government’s 13th Five-Year Plan, for 2016-2020, set out plans for a further 30,000km of track in a strategy aimed at connecting 80% of the country’s large cities.


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