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Next-gen shinkansen prototype train pulls into Hokkaido for harsh winter tests

The 22-meter long nose on the front car of the ALFA-X prototype shinkansen train is seen at JR Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto Station in Hokuto, Hokkaido, on the early morning of Feb. 12, 2020. (Mainichi)

HAKODATE, Hokkaido -- A lucky group was given a fast look at a Feb. 12 predawn test run of East Japan Railway Co.'s long-nosed next-generation shinkansen bullet train, set to be introduced to the northernmost prefecture of Hokkaido.

The train, known as the ALFA-X and which pulled in at JR Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto Station in the Hokkaido city of Hokuto, is the first test train to be deployed in the prefecture. It will complete multiple trials before the end of the month. Data from the runs will be used for train cars to be introduced for the shinkansen extension to the prefectural capital of Sapporo expected in fiscal 2030.

Among the technologies included on the 10-car train are a system to stop the train quickly in the event of an earthquake; a nose at its front measuring some 22 meters that is designed to suppress pressure waves created when entering tunnels; and an underfloor design meant to prevent snow accretion.

Following the train's completion in May 2019, it has been on test runs in areas such as the northeastern Japan Tohoku Shinkansen tracks between Sendai and Shin-Aomori stations.

The current round of tests is intended to see how the train's brakes function in the cold mid-winter, and how they respond to changes in temperature when traveling through the Seikan Tunnel that links the island of Honshu to Hokkaido. It will run at a top speed of 260 kilometers per hour, and 160 km per hour in the tunnel.

The prototype ALFA-X arrived at JR Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto Station from Sendai Station at just past 1:30 a.m. on Feb. 12. It then went on to the shinkansen depot in the nearby town of Nanae.

Tomoaki Kito, deputy leader of the Hokkaido Railway Co.'s carriage department, said, "We want to provide customers with our expertise from working with conventional trains in the harsh wintery condition of Hokkaido."

(Japanese original by Yasuo Yamada, Hokkaido News Department Hakodate)

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