Bullet trains get new roll protection

Kyodo News

Using lessons learned from the only shinkansen derailment ever, East Japan Railway Co. has equipped its bullet-train cars with devices designed to prevent them from overturning, company officials said Wednesday.

The devices have been installed alongside the wheels of every car running on the Tohoku, Akita, Yamagata, Joetsu and Nagano Shinkansen lines.

The L-shaped alloy plates hang outside the wheels. During a derailment, they will help keep the cars moving in a straight line, preventing them from skidding violently sideways and flipping over, JR East said.

The design is based on what happened during the derailment on the Joetsu Shinkansen Line on Oct. 23, 2004, during a magnitude 6.8 quake.

The 10-car Toki No. 325, running from Tokyo to Niigata, was going about 200 kph in Nagaoka, Niigata Prefecture, when the quake struck.

Of the train’s 40 axles, wheels from half of them left the track. But no cars overturned because the wheels of the lead car and part of its body were guided by the tracks.

There was not a single injury among the 154 passengers and crew members.

Inspired by the phenomenon, JR East came up with the prevention device and developed it in cooperation with the Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry’s investigation panel as well as the Tokyo-based Railway Technical Research Institute.

Central Japan Railway Co. (JR Tokai), which operates the Tokaido Shinkansen Line, is currently conducting test runs of trains installed with similar equipment.

JR Tokai and West Japan Railway Co., which operates the Sanyo Shinkansen Line, are also studying the possibility of laying out plates to prevent a derailment itself.

The 2004 accident has been the only shinkansen derailment since they were introduced in 1964.