Inside Japan’s brand new N700S Shinkansen

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Nose to tail logo with cartoon people in different classes on an aircraftTravellers taking Japan’s Shinkansen trains to Nagoya, Osaka and points west of Tokyo have a new train to look forward to, with updated passenger experience, extra safety features and new aerodynamics.

The newest Shinkansen train is the N700S — S for Supreme — and depending on how you count generations, it’s either the third evolution of the N700 series that entered service in 2007 or a completely new redesign that happens to look very similar to the previous generation in many ways. It entered into service in July.

Let’s start with the looks: from the outside, its duckbill nose shape — which reduces the “tunnel boom” noise as the high-speed train enters relatively small tunnels — has evolved slightly from 2013’s N700A (A for Advanced) series, but spotting the differences is somewhat akin to the two generations of winglet on the Airbus A350.

The new trains also retain the bright white exterior with blue cheatline, a look that has been the trademark of this route since the colour scheme débuted with the very first Shinkansen in 1964.

Inside the N700S, its 1,323 seats are made up of standard car and green car classes of service, with the three green cars offering a total of 200 seats serving as the equivalent of business class between Tokyo and points west to Fukuoka.

Seating in the standard cars remains in a 2-3 layout, but a helpful addition is AC power for each passenger in the armrest rather than power sockets being installed only in the wall.

Inside the N700S’ green car the seats are in the standard 2-2 configuration, with a new burgundy palette on the seat moquette fabric. In what can be a very conservative design context where generational changes are often more along the lines of “the beige is slightly closer to a tan than a taupe”, this is a big step.

The carriages offering green car seating feature active suspension, making what’s already a smooth ride even smoother.

This video (in Japanese) highlights some of the key upgrades.

Newer Shinkansen lines, specifically the Tohoku Shinkansen to the northeast of Tokyo and the Hokuriku Shinkansen to the northwest, also offer Gran Class, a deluxe first class product, but this doesn’t appear on the routes to the west of Tokyo, since the Tokyo-Osaka corridor in particular sees ultra-high demand and so the number of passengers carried is maximised.

It will be interesting to see whether this passenger experience offering changes with the expected arrival of the Chuo Shinkansen 500km/h maglev train’s first section between Tokyo and Nagoya in 2027, diverting a substantial proportion of traffic in the busiest section onto this faster route.

Lavatory facilities onboard also include spaces adapted for people with specific mobility requirements and certain medical needs, while onboard displays and lighting have also been upgraded — including baggage rack lighting that brightens when arriving at stations to remind passengers to retrieve their belongings.

The N700S has been billed as “earthquake-proof”, partly because it now contains large lithium-ion batteries under the floor of four of its sixteen carriages.

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In the event of a power outage (whether from an earthquake or for some other reason) these batteries allow the train to power itself for short distances to avoid getting stuck in bridges or on tunnels.

The N700S also features refinements to the train’s driving and braking systems to reduce braking distance in an emergency.

Its top speed is 360km/h, which is the maximum speed found anywhere on Japan’s Shinkansen network, although the speed on the sections of the Tokaido and Sanyo Shinkansen where the train will initially run — some of Japan’s oldest Shinkansen routes, and not built to 360km/h standard will remain restricted to 285km/h.

And in good news for the rest of the world, the N700S provides additional flexibility for export markets, allowing the trains to be produced in lengths ranging from four to sixteen cars.

Main image credit, John Walton.

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