Four women debuted Friday as bullet train drivers on the Tokaido Shinkansen Line, the first for the high-speed route linking Tokyo and Osaka, Central Japan Railway Co. (JR Tokai) officials said.

Mika Yamamoto, 26, took the driver’s seat at 9:10 a.m at Tokyo Station on a Shin-Osaka-bound Hikari bullet train exclusively for students taking field trips.

Her younger sister, Mami, 23, was the conductor.

Yasuko Umeda and Azusa Sakaguchi, both 26, drove bullet trains out of Nagoya Station, and Noriko Fujibayashi, also 26, departed from Shin-Osaka Station.

“It’s a (new) era and a happy occasion,” Land, Infrastructure and Transport Minister Chikage Ogi told reporters after a Cabinet meeting in the morning. “I have great expectations for them and I hope they will drive with ease.”

“I feel responsibility because the lives of many passengers are in my hands,” Yamamoto told reporters on the Tokyo Station platform before boarding the train.

Fujibayashi made her debut run from Shin-Osaka Station with her father, Teruo, 62, who was also a shinkansen driver on the line, on board her first run.

“I feel the weight of being the person responsible of the train,” Fujibayashi said prior to boarding the Kodama 412 bound for Tokyo at around 11 a.m. “I will work hard so I can exceed my father’s (achievements).”

In Nagoya, Umeda said, “I like the Nozomi (superexpress) best because it can run up to 270 kph.

“I will pay attention to the locations to bring the train to a halt and would like to strive for safe, on-time operations.”

Hired in 1997 and 1998, the four received their licenses to handle bullet trains Wednesday from the transport ministry.

They took a nine-month training course that began in September.

The Sanyo Shinkansen Line, linking Osaka and Fukuoka, debuted female drivers three years ago. The carrier, West Japan Railway Co., now has 10.

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