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With its duckbill-shaped nose, the new 700-series Nozomi (Hope) bullet train debuts on the Tokaido and Sanyo Shinkansen lines today, linking Tokyo with Hakata, Fukuoka Prefecture, in four hours and 57 minutes.

The new Nozomi, which has only reserved seating, will make three round trips a day between the two cities. The train, jointly developed by Central Japan Railway Co. (JR Tokai) and West Japan Railway Co., is the third-
generation Nozomi, following its 300- and 500-series predecessors.

The latest addition is designed to be more comfortable for passengers and environmentally friendly, instead of focusing on a higher speed, according to a spokeswoman for JR Tokai.

Compared with the current Nozomi trains, the ceiling of the 700-series is 6.5 cm higher and the aisles are 3 cm wider, according to JR officials.

The 700-series is also designed to minimize noise pollution with the use of sound-proof materials and cut train vibration with a “semiactive suspension” — a computer system that uses sensors to pick up carriage swaying and instantly suppresses it.

The nose is designed to reduce micropressure waves through the air and thus cut noise as the train enters a tunnel. The nose shape also helps increase space inside the train.

The latest model consumes about 10 percent less energy than the 300-series.

The JR carriers face severe competition with airlines amid the current deregulation efforts, which have led to the entry of new airlines and a decline in air fares.

Skymark Airlines Co. plans to start service in late April between Osaka and Fukuoka at 10,000 yen for a one-way trip, 37.5 percent less than the regular air fare offered by other carriers. The no-frills airline started Tokyo-Fukuoka service in September at 13,700 yen for a one-way trip, half the fare charged by other carriers.

JR West currently charges 15,560 yen for a one-way Nozomi ticket between Shin-Osaka and Hakata, and 14,590 yen for the Hikari. On that route, about 65 travelers take the bullet train for every 35 that fly, according to a spokesman for JR West.

“Skymark itself will not be a direct threat to us because the carrier has a limited number of flights. But if other airlines follow suit and inexpensive flights increase, we may be affected,” the spokesman said.

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