How Japan’s Shinkansen Survive from Disaster

As we know, Japan is located along Pacific Ring of Fire, Japan’s specific location in this “ring”, causes frequent earthquakes as well as many volcanoes and hot springs across the country. In addition, the Japanese region is also often hit by tropical storms. Where in the 1990-2004, about 51.1% of the disaster that hit Japan is a tropical storm, 17.6% is an earthquake, and the rest natural disaster are floods, landslides, vocanic activity, and extreme temperature.

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Although the earthquake only 17.6% of the total disaster that occurred, but earthquake disaster is the most deadly disaster, where 91.1% of victims who died from disasters in Japan in the period 1990-2014 caused by earthquake and causes economic losses of $ 32 million per year. Therefore, the Japanese government is very serious in applying early warning of earthquake disaster, including in their leading transportation, Shinkansen.

Japan’s Shinkansen high‐speed bullet trains are a great example of how other countries are thinking about natural disasters when designing public transit systems. Seismometers are installed along rail lines, and trains are connected to an earthquake early warning system, which detects the fast-moving preliminary waves (p-waves) that travel from an earthquake’s epicenter before the slow-moving, damage-causing secondary waves (s-waves) arrive. The trains respond to the p-waves, leaving time to stop the trains before the s-waves hit.

Early Warning System for Shinkansen

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The system proved itself in 2011, during the 9.0-magnitude Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami which devastated vast areas of the country. Electricity was cut on the Shinkansen lines and emergency brakes were activated on the trains, which can reach speeds of 200 m.p.h. No trains derailed, and no passengers were injured.

Earthquake early warning systems are most effective for areas far away from the epicenter of the quake. In 2004, eight out of 10 cars on a Shinkansen train derailed during the Chūetsu earthquake in Niigata Prefecture. That train was too close to the epicenter to stop before the shaking begun. Still, the 154 passengers onboard were not injured. So, to prevent this situation, some parts of the shinkansen track use a double rail system. It prevents trains from wrecking due to an unexpected earthquake.

Double Track System to Prevent Derailment

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In addition, Shinkansen is also equipped with a sprinkler system used to melt snow that accumulates on the rail when winter is come.  Snow Depth Meter also equipped to detect the thickness of snow that accumulate on the rails and Anemometers also installed at specific locations measure the speed of wind, and alerts are sent to Shinkansen stations if high wind speeds are detected.

Protection From Snow Damage of Infrastructure and Train

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Author The 15th CENS UI

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