Japan is adding environmental awareness and a bit more comfort in the latest
version of its celebrated bullet train which comes into service in July.
The new N700 model will be gradually rolled out through 2010 on the line between
Tokyo and western Japan, the world's busiest passenger track.
The N700, which cost 260 billion yen (2.1 billion dollars) to develop and build,
travels no faster than current bullet trains, reaching a top speed of 300
kilometres per hour (185 miles per hour).
Instead of trying to beat France's TGV in speed, the N700's joint designers --
private companies Central Japan Railway and West Japan Railway -- have invested
in improving comfort levels and the environmental performance.
The N700 -- which will stop in Kyoto, namesake of the pioneering environmenal
treaty -- will use 19 per cent less electricity than earlier models, the
designers said as they showed the train to the press this week.
"The substantial reduction in power consumpion and CO2 emissions," a statement
said, "contributes significantly to the effort to counter global warming."
The N700 features a first-class section approaching the comfort level of
business class on an airplane, with large chairs that can recline back 120
degrees, adjustable foot-rests and 15-centimetre (six-inch) wide arm-rests.
Knowing the importance of technology for Japanese customers, the train companies
installed an electric plug at every seat -- two in first-class -- along with a
jack to plug in headphones to listen to a music selection.
While the new bullet trains will lack current models' smoking sections, some of
the cars will have sealed, ventilated rooms for passengers to light up in.
Japan inaugurated the bullet trains in 1964, the year of the Tokyo Olympics
which symbolised the nation's rebirth from the ashes of World War II into a
major economic power.
The bullet train debuted 17 years before France started its TGV, which currently
holds the record for the fastest rail service. The latest TGV launched in March
goes at an average 320 kph between Paris and the eastern city of Strasbourg.