SAPPORO – A shinkansen made an emergency stop on Friday inside the nearly 54-kilometer undersea tunnel on the newly opened Hokkaido Shinkansen Line, the railway operator said Wednesday.
The driver stopped the train because an emergency signal was triggered by a small metal object lying near the track, Hokkaido Railway Co. officials said. It was the first emergency halt by a bullet train since shinkansen services began between Tokyo and Hokkaido on March 26.
The revelation of the trouble threatens to dampen enthusiasm for the new line soon after it opened to great fanfare.
JR Hokkaido said there are currently no effective steps to prevent a recurrence of a similar incident because of the unusual configuration of a shinkansen line track in the area in question, which is shared with local freight trains.
The JR Hokkaido officials said the driver of the Hayabusa No. 22 bullet train bound for Tokyo applied an emergency brake and halted the train after seeing the signal.
Soon after, a signal indicated it was safe to proceed and the train departed, arriving at Okutsugaru-Imabetsu Station only two minutes behind schedule.
The train was running at 140 kilometers per hour when it received the stop signal. About 350 passengers were aboard, with one later complaining of neck pain, the officials said.
JR Hokkaido did not previously announce the incident, on the grounds that it caused only a slight delay.
The company is investigating why the metal object — measuring roughly 6 centimeters long, 4.5 cm wide and 0.2 cm thick — had fallen near the track.
An 82-km section of the route, including the Seikan Tunnel that links Hokkaido with Aomori Prefecture, is shared with local freight trains. Because the train wheels have different gauges, the section has three rails.
It is thought that the system detected this and took it to be evidence that a freight train was on the track, causing it to send a stop signal.
The tunnel opened in 1988. Until recently only local trains used it.
Although Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto Station in Hokkaido is still in a celebratory mood with many residents gathering to see the new bullet trains, some passengers said they were alarmed to hear what happened.
“I am expecting a service that operates exactly on time. It is very scary that there are troubles inside the Seikan Tunnel,” said a 62-year-old office worker from Sakura City, Chiba, on a business trip to Shichinohe Towada Station in Aomori Prefecture.
Forty-nine-year-old Takao Yoshida, an office worker from Hakodate City, said travelers will avoid the bullet train if there is a single major accident. He called for efforts to prioritize safety.
Yoshida was speaking on his first trip to Aomori Prefecture using the train
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