Japan’s Experimental Bullet Train ALFA-X Reaches 237 MPH in First Test Ride

The ALFA-X high-speed train had a successful test run on Tuesday for journalists.
Fabienne Lang
ALFA-X shinkansenJR East

An experimental shinkansen, or bullet train, in Japan was tested on Tuesday by the East Japan Railway Co. (JR East). This was ALFA-X's, as the shinkansen is called, first test ride since it was done in May 2019, per the Japan Times.

The Advanced Labs for Frontline Activity in rail eXperimentation, or ALFA-X, can reach a maximum speed of 248 mph (400 km/h), and on Tuesday it hit 237 mph (382 km/h).

Tuesday's successful test run happened on JR East's Tohoku Shinkansen line, which links Tokyo and Aomori Prefecture. It went from Sendai and Morioka stations in around 40 minutes, a trip that usually takes an hour and 15 minutes.


Data-collecting train

Since May last year, ALFA-X hasn't just been sitting idle. Tuesday marked the first test ride, which saw journalists attend the event, but the 10-car shinkansen has been carrying out test runs at speeds of 223 mph (360 kph), without any passengers, so as to collect data for the development of Japan's next-gen bullet trains.

Regular speeds on the Tohoku Shinkansen line currently reach 198 mph (320 km/h).

One of the main differences with this new-gen shinkansen is its two specifically-shaped front and end carriages. These are specially shaped so as to measure the difference in wind pressure. When the train travels north, it uses a 72-foot (22-meter) nose carriage, a solid 22.9-foot (7-meter) longer than other E5 series carriages. And when it travels south, it uses a 52-foot (16-meter) nose carriage. 

Moreover, the braking system of the ALFA-X sits atop its roof. Along with a new electromagnetic resistance system, the entire braking system has improved. 

To keep passengers of the shinkansen comfortable throughout their fast-speed ride, an improved damper has been installed, which minimizes horizontal and vertical vibrations.

During Tuesday's test, the Japan Times reported that little to no noise could be heard when the shinkansen reached 198 mph (320 km/h), vibrations and some noise could be felt and heard at 223 mph (360 km/h), and when it went up to 235 mph (380 km/h), wind and engine noise could also be heard.

"After 1½ years of test runs, the ALFA-X can now run with a certain level of stability," Koji Asano, head of JR East’s Advanced Railway System Development Center, said.

"We aim to put into service a shinkansen that travels at 223 mph (360 km/h) so that our customers can spend meaningful time when riding the train," he added.

message circleSHOW COMMENT (1)chevron