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On Track for the Future

Takeo Baba

The people who run Japan's busiest bullet train service are on track to take one of their routes to the next level. They're upgrading a line that runs between Tokyo and Osaka with state-of-the-art rails.

High-speed trains need a high-end track. Up to now, the rails used in Shinkansen tracks have been 50 meters long. The new rails are 150 meters long, making them the longest in the world.

The longer rails mean fewer welds are needed to join the tracks together. This will reduce the chances of problems developing at the joints and provide greater comfort by cutting the noise and vibration.

Getting the extra-long rails to where they are needed requires specially designed freight cars that allow the rails to bend easily as the train goes around a curve.

"This is a significant moment in the history of rail manufacturing. We can now transport them in the length they were made," says Katsuya Iwano of Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal.

The first new rails were laid last month. The work was done at night so that service could continue during the day. But officials say it will take another 12 years to install the new rails on the entire length of track line between Tokyo and Shin-Osaka.

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