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Last Updated: Friday, 1 October, 2004, 14:17 GMT 15:17 UK
Japan marks bullet train's 40th
By Jonathan Head
BBC Tokyo correspondent

Japanese shinkansen
The Japanese bullet train is renowned for its safety
Ceremonies have taken place in Japan to mark the start of the world's first high-speed railway service in 1964.

The shinkansen, or bullet train, has since carried more than six billion passengers between Japan's major cities at speeds of up to 300km/h (188mph).

Some trains run at intervals of less than four minutes, and yet on average they are no more than 12 seconds late.

The service is one of the country's proudest achievements, and has never suffered a fatal accident.

The opening of the first shinkansen line in October 1964, just before the Tokyo Olympic Games, was an important symbolic moment for Japan, offering proof of the country's spectacular industrial and technological progress since its defeat in 1945.

It would take another 17 years before a rival high-speed rail system began running in France.

Export failure

Since then, the shinkansen has acquired its enviable record for safety and punctuality.

Now Japan is aiming for even greater speed, with an experimental magnetic levitation train which travels at more than 500km/h (313mph), although the system is so expensive that no-one can yet afford to build it.

But Japan has been less successful in selling shinkansen technology overseas.

It lost the bid to build a high-speed rail network in South Korea to a European consortium, and lingering resentment over Japan's military aggression in World War II has limited the adoption of shinkansen technology in China's ambitious railway modernisation plans.

Travelling on a bullet
04 Jul 02  |  Asia-Pacific

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