The third instalment in this comprehensive series on the origins of the Shinkasen! We begin with the notion the new line would be affectionately named Yume no Chōtokkyū – or the ‘Super Dream Express.’ The older (eg 1930s era) and considerably more popular name which many use – ‘Bullet train’ – didn’t gain world wide fame until the new high speed line had in fact opened in 1964. We also look at the new trains and the special test track at Odawara (the ‘Model Line’) the new prototype Shinkansen trains were tested on – plus a brief look the high speed run that was achieved by the ‘B’ prototype bullet train on 30th March 1963. Once testing had finished this experimental length of the new railway in fact became part of what is now the classic and first generation Shinkansen route between Tokyo and Osaka.
The Super Dream Express
The Yume no Chōtokkyū – or the ‘Super Dream Express’ was on the way! The two prototype units were being built and these would soon be found on the test track at Kamomiya, near Odawara. Its prototypes were soon under construction. Unit A was numbered 1001-002 and built by Automobile Manufacturing and Nippon Sharyo. The other prototype train, Unit B, was built by Hitachi, Kawasaki & Kinki and 1003-006. They had almost the same exact body design with just small variations. it shows that by late 1962 the look of the new trains had already been concluded. However the equipment varied somewhat on these units.
The original styling of the new trains was very clearly based on the famous Kodama express trains, however the first prototype units had a very different look and that was no doubt due to the need to streamline the front area further and reduce any noise and air drag.
One stipulation of the loan given by the World Bank was that the Shinkansen was not to be used for experimentation, which is probably why no great variation in overall train design was used or any substantial changes made to their design once the prototypes had been built. The early Shinkasen designers such as Tadanao Miki evidently saw the need to try and get the design of the new train finalised much as it could be before it went out on the test track. Thus the prototypes varied little from the actual production high speed trains.
Testing was of course allowed and having two different units enabled the railway engineers to see which of the components performed better – such as the types of high speed bogies, the motors, suspension and so on. In due course very minor cosmetic changes were made to the trains’ design – especially around the front fairings. These were to better protect the train from any possible obstructions also to clear snow from the rails themselves.
A view of one of the new prototype trains under construction – the bodywork having been smoothed out a little more compared to earlier pictures of it being assembled in the factory! Source: Twitter
The prototypes were two units, A and B, and built specially for testing along a 37km of Shinkansen track laid early for the purpose. Both units were delivered by JNR’s narrow gauge steam locomotives. In fact it was common for the Shinkansen’s trains to be delivered by the narrow gauge system using special bogies. This practice continued until the late 1990s and ended with the early 700 series trains. Movements after that would be by road or by ship. The main factory where the new trains are built is also the same facility which now has an area for scrapping retired stock, now has direct rail connections and famously includes a level crossing – popular with train enthusiasts hoping for a glimpse of a new train emerging from the works (or an old one being retired) trundling across this crossing!
The time honoured tradition of delivering Japan’s new high speed trains on specially adapted narrow gauge bogies ended with the original Series 700 stock being the last to be dispatched from the factory via the narrow gauge system. Source: Facebook
The Kamomiya test track under construction. It would soon be ready to receive the prototype Shinkansen trains. 1962. Source: Twitter
Railway executives on board a works train in 1962 inspecting progress of the test track’s construction – this was more popularly known as the ‘Model Line.’ Source: Chubu-Geo
The Kamomiya testing facility was opened to great fanfare on 20th April 1962. However actual testing had to wait until June 1962 when 10km of track became available for the prototype trains to begin their testing.
Unit A being delivered by a 3’6 in gauge steam locomotive to Kamomiya in 1962. One of JNR’s famous Kodama fast express trains is about to pass on the main line. Source: Twitter
今から55年も前— めんちゃか🍜🔫 (@menchaka_dc2) June 7, 2018
Prototype two car Super Dream Express, Unit A is unveiled to the press in 1962. Note the dual gauge track and the illuminated front dome. There’s more on this unusual aspect of the new trains in a later part of this series! Source: Ministry of Foreign Affairs Japan.
Unit A was numbered 1001-002, whilst the other prototype train, Unit B, was built by Hitachi, Kawasaki & Kinki and became numbered 1003-006. In 1963 Unit B achieved a speed of 256kmh.
The prototype Super Dream Express at the Kamonomiya test centre. Source: Railway in Memory
The test centre in Kamomiya. 1962. This is about 50 km south west of Yokohama, 84 km from Tokyo, and 3km from Odawara Shinkansen station. A Kodama express is passing on the main line. Source: City of Odawara
The A unit by the Shin-Sakagawa Railway Bridge in early days. Notice the dual gauge present at the time. This was used to deliver the new trains as well as bring construction materials to the site. Source: Japanspecialista
The two car A unit on an early trial run at Kamomiya in 1962. Source: Pinterest
The B unit in colour. Source: Twitter
Aerial view of Kamomiya about 1962 showing the two Sakagawa railway bridges. Here’s a modern Google Streets view of the bridge across the river.
The ‘A’ unit after a test run. Source: Facebook
The four car ‘B’ unit seen on a run along the Kamomiya test line. Mount Fuji is in the background. Source: Twitter
The eastern end of the 37 km test track at Ayase City. The two car prototype is seen here with the original ‘Doctor Yellow’ – this was a specially built diesel locomotive known officially as the Shinkansen Test Track Vehicle. Upon cessation of the trials in 1964, it was relegated to shunting duties at Torikai depot. This picture is possibly taken prior to a test run westwards. Source: King-Azu
A good view of Number 4001 – the original ‘Doctor Yellow’ – at the Kamomiya depot in 1962. Source: Maipenrai
The name Doctor Yellow lives on to this day and continues to be used for the Shinaksnen’s celebrated specialist high speed units – also painted in a bright yellow colour – which monitor the railway’s tracks, OHLE, and other systems on a regular basis.
JNR chairman Shinji Sogō waving from the B unit. 26 June 1962. Source: Sankei
Shinji Sogō leaving the train on the same date in 1962. Hideo Shima (with trilby hat) and Shigenari Oishi are walking behind. These two were featured in the first two posts on the New Tokaido Line. Source: Coqtez Blog
Astronaut John Glenn rode the prototype test train on 23 May 1963. The picture of him apparently on the test train might possibly have been on the Kodama express he took to the test site.
America’s first man in space, John Glenn, visited the Shinkansen test facility on 21st May 1963. The trip lasted just 30 minutes. Glenn said of his experience:
“It’s the fastest I’ve ever gone at this altitude! I haven’t ridden many trains lately, but you feel speed more in a train like this or even driving a car down the street than in an orbiting spacecraft.” (Quote from Internet Archive.)
There are a number of pictures claiming they are shots of John Glenn riding the bullet train. They are however of him when he took the narrow gauge Kodama express train from Tokyo to the test centre! Actual pictures of him on the bullet train are quite rare.
Inside the workshops, August 1963 with the A unit visible. Source: SL Taki Blog
Kamomiya is officially seen as the birthplace of the Shinkansen. There is a monument outside the entrance to the narrow gauge station (since there’s none on the Shinkansen itself) and it can be seen on Google Streets. The monument is about half a kilometre from the site of the actual depot where the prototype trains were kept.
The test track facility ceased use on 15th February 1964 when its rails were connected to the remainder of the newly built Shinkansen line. The test centre staff continued to be employed until April 1964 decommissioning the site.
One of the defining moments of the trail running was the setting up of a new speed record. It wasn’t as fast as that earlier established by the French but it was a huge step forward…
The Shinkansen’s line speed record
This was set on 30th March 1963. At the time it was an exemplary world record (though not as great as that achieved by the French nearly a decade earlier.) Of course today’s high speed trains easily attain somewhat faster speeds than the 256kmh (or 159mph) in 1963. Generally these days its 300kmh or thereabout however Japan’s new ALFA-X high speed train, currently in prototype testing stage, will pave the way for 360kmh (220mph) speeds.
It was the B unit that set the record speed in 1963. The driver of the test train was Hiroyuki Kirimura. Below he is seen at the controls of the test train during the high speed run.
Hiroyuki Kirimura at the controls of the B unit. Source: Twitter
Hiroyuki Kirimura (at the age of 84) with a replica plaque for the high speed run in 1964. This picture was taken during the Shinkansen 50th anniversary celebrations in 2014. Source: Twitter
This short video shows the trial runs during 1963 and includes some rearward cab ride views showing how the brand new high speed line looked in its very early days. There’s clearly still a lot of work to do to complete it too!
The Shinkansen test centre and its prototype trains in 1963. Source: You Tube
The speed record showed the line, in spite of the curves it had, could take some pretty impressive speeds. Ideally fewer curves would have been better but much of the route was difficult because it negotiated mountains and went through cities, thus a certain amount of mitigation had to be made.
It does however mean the New Tokaido Line, as built with a considerable amount of fairly tight curves that were ideal for the speeds used in the 1960s, nowadays presents difficulties for the faster generation of Shinkansen trains. The answer to that has been the use of titling technology to enable those higher speeds (284kmh) – now commonplace across the much more modern sections of the Shinkansen network – to be attained on the original high speed line.
Other posts in the series:
The last three (never published) are focused on specific aspects of the Tōkaidō Shinkansen: