škoda 2024

Hokuriku Shinkansen extension to Tsuruga inaugurated

posted on 16th Mar 2024 05:00

On 13 March 2024, a new section of the Hokuriku Shinkansen between Kanazawa and Tsuruga became operational. The new line is located along the north-west coast of Honshu Island. The term Hokuriku in Japanese means northern lands.

The new section of the high-speed line is 125 km long and is connected to the original line, opened in 2015, about 11 km southwest of the existing Kanazawa terminus. These 11 km of the original line were previously used only for access to the Hakusan depot and maintenance facility. This brings the total length of the Tokyo-Tsuruga leg to 579 km.

Hokuriku Shinkansen

The Hokuriku high-speed line, which makes a northwest arch along the coast of the Sea of Japan between Tokyo and Kyoto, was included in the plans for the future Shinkansen lines in 1972. Construction began in 1989 on the section between Takasaki (where it separates from the Joetsu Shinkansen) and Kurizawa stations. The first section to Nagano was opened in 1997 (a year before the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano).

Another extension of the high-speed line from Nagano to Kanazawa (454 km from Tokyo Station) was opened on 14 March 2015. Hokuriku Shinkansen, runs through very challenging mountainous terrain with extreme snowfall. The interesting fact about it is that it crosses the frequency boundary of the Japanese power network several times (in Japan east uses 50 Hz, west 60 Hz).

It is also the first Shinkansen line on which the operating territories of the different JR companies meet (between Tokyo and about 50 km beyond Nagano it is JR East area and further on JR West territory). The service is thus operated by both mentioned companies using technically almost identical EMUs: E7s operated by JR East and W7s operated by JR West. The maximum speed on the line is 260 km/h.

New Kanazawa - Tsuruga section

The construction of the 125 km long section, approved in 2004, began at the end of the original line close to the depot and the aforementioned JR West maintenance centre in Hakusan, started in 2012 and was expected to be completed in 2026. The building length is 114.6 km, and some structures have already been built in advance, such as the new elevated station in Fukui, which was rebuilt between 2005 and 2008, and which was subsequently connected to the high-speed line viaduct passing through the city.

There are in total five stations on the new section: Komatsu, Kaga-Onsen, Awara-Onsen, Fukui (a city of about 260,000 inhabitants), Echizen Takefu and Tsuruga (a city of about 64,000 inhabitants). All the stations are located on a viaduct of different heights, the highest being Tsuruga, where the platform of the 1,064 mm gauge main line Hokuriku honsen is at ground level, the Shinkansen station at the highest, and the passenger facilities on the mezzanine level.

The new depot on the western edge of Tsuruga provides seven roof-sheltered staging tracks (the roofing is there to protect against snow accumulation), two service tracks in the hall and one more track for removing accumulated snow from trains. All tracks are sized for 12-car EMUs (302 m long). Measures against snow are also taken on the track itself, where the track is significantly elevated above the foundation plate, and water jets are used to combat snow accumulation by spraying the lower part of the train sides with a stream of water and the bottom of the train with hot water jets.

In terms of civil structures, the majority of the line's length is on civil structures, with only 1.7 km (1 %) of its length at ground level. 59.2 km (52 %) is on an elevated viaduct and 15.3 km (13 %) on bridges, the longest of which is 558 m long. Notable is the bridge over the Kuzuryu River near Fukui, which combines a 12 m wide structure for the high speed line, while on its sides are two 8 m road bridges of the prefectural road No 416 with 3 m pedestrian walkways. This is the first combined Shinkansen and road structure in Japan, and as a result of sharing part of the work, the construction cost has been reduced by approximately 250 million JPY. The remainder of the line consists of 12 tunnels with a total length of 38.4 km (34 %); the longest, the Shin-Hokuriku tunnel, is 19.8 km long.

Construction of the ballastless track started in 2019. Test runs on the new section of the Hokuriku Shinkansen began on 5 September 2023, initially at a speed of 30 km/h gradually increasing to a maximum line speed of 260 km/h. Both the JR West’s W7 units and the JR East’s East-i diagnostic train were used. Regular runs for staff training with W7 and E7 EMUs were then made on the line from December 2023 until the section became operational.

Hokuriku_Shinkansen_route_map EN (Kawasemi556 a bk)

Map: Bohuslav Kotál (based on Kawasemi556 work)


Commercial service on the new section of the Hokuriku Shinkansen started on 16 March 2024. The new timetable offers 14 pairs of direct services between Tokyo and Tsuruga in the categories Kagayaki (express with a limited number of stops - on the new line these are: Fukui and Tsuruga) and Hakutaka (stopping at all stations). These services are operated jointly by JR West (W7 units) and JR East (E7 units). Journey times between Tokyo and Tsuruga are 3 h 08 min, whereas the former journey time with a change at Kanazawa was 3 h 58 min.

In addition, there will be 25 pairs of Tsurugi services stopping at all stations in the Hokuriku area, i. e. between Toyama, Kanazawa and Tsuruga stations. These services operate exclusively in JR West "territory" and are therefore operated solely by W7s.

At Tsuruga station, there is a connection to Thunderbird expresses to and from Osaka (25 train pairs) and Shirasagi in the direction of Maibara (7 train pairs) and further on to Nagoya (another 8 train pairs).

The base fare between Tokyo and Tsuruga is 15,830 JPY without seat reservation, 16,360 JPY with reservation and 24,210 JPY in green class (first class denomination). Seats are also offered in the luxury Gran Class in two categories, A for 32,590 JPY and B for 28,410 JPY. A regional trip from Kanazawa to Tsuruga costs 4,950 JPY without a seat reservation, 5,480 JPY with a reservation, 7,750 JPY in Green Class and 12,990 JPY or 10,990 JPY will be spent if, to taste the luxury of Gran Class for this distance.

The extension of the line to the Kanazawa - Tsuruga section is expected to increase passenger numbers not only for trips from Tokyo but also for inter-prefectural trips. For example, within the Hokuriku region, between Fukui and Toyama prefectures, an increase of 1.2 times from 5,300 passengers/day to 6,300 passengers/day is expected. In addition, travel to the Hokuriku area from Osaka (i. e. from the direction where the HSL has yet to be built) is expected to increase 1.1 times from 14,800 passengers/day to 16,200 passengers/day.

JR is leaving the Hokuriku honsen

Also on 16 March 2024, the section of the Hokuriku honsen main line between Kanazwa and Tsurugi, formerly operated by JR West, was handed over to a private third sector company. The line is now renamed Hapi-line and operated by Hapi-line-Fukui Joint Stock Company, established in 2019. It currently has about 280 employees, 100 of its own and 170 dispatched by JR West and others from Fukui Prefecture. The Class 521 electric units previously owned by JR West have also been transferred to the railway.

The new operator will operate services on the original main line, stopping at all stations at approximately one-hour intervals, with a half-hour split between Fukui and Takefu. Even as part of the project preparation, the termination of Thunderbird expresses between Osaka and Kanazawa and Shirasagi expresses between Nagoya and Kanazawa on the section of the new HSL and a forced change at Tsuruga Station were foreseen, which necessitated a number of objections and negotiations to maintain the direct services, but eventually the originally foreseen situation came about. The last direct trains from Osaka and Nagoya to Kanazawa ran on 15 March 2024.

It may be noted as a fact of interest that the longest tunnel in Japan, serving a 1,067 mm gauge, is located on the original Hokuriku honsen main line east of Tsuruga, with a length of 13,870 m. It also witnessed a serious disaster when the dining car of the Kitaguni express from Osaka to Aomori caught fire on 6 November 1972, killing 30 people. Consequently, measures were put in place to prevent the trains from stopping in the tunnel.

Further extension from Tsuruga to Kyoto and Ósaka

The route further southwest from Tsuruga Station has been the subject of lengthy discussions and several routes have been explored:

  • a relatively short route (about 40 km in a straight line) running to the eastern end of Lake Biwa (Biwako in Japanese) to Maibara, where it could connect to the Tōkaidō Shinkansen. The main problem with this route is that the Tōkaidō Shinkansen is at the very limit of capacity with 16-car trains running at peak intervals of up to 5 minutes, so adding another line was not an option.
  • the route along the western edge of Lake Biwa to Kyoto along the Kosei line.
  • a completely new western route first around the coast of the Sea of Japan via the cities of Obama and eventually Maizuru and then south through the mountains of the inland to Kyoto. This route is the longest, most expensive and most challenging as it runs almost entirely through mountains with no lowlands.

For the second option mentioned, the use of FGTs (Free Gauge Trains) with variable gauge was considered, a technology that was also explored for the West-Kyushu Shinkansen to Nagasaki on Kyushu. If implemented, it would allow the Shinkansen trains to run on 1,064 mm gauge lines. The progress of the test runs at Kyushu was closely monitored, with the added difference that an investigation of the effect of winter operation in wet snow on the reliability had to be incorporated. On the basis of an examination of the test results and evaluations for the Shinkansen to Nagasaki, this idea, like that for the Shinkansen to Nagasaki, was eventually discarded.

On 20 December 2016, the Tsuruga-Obama-Kyoto route was adopted at the government level. The rest of the route between Kyoto and Shin-Osaka stations (served for 60 years by the Tōkaidō Shinkansen) was studied for longer, but on 15 March 2017 the southern route was officially adopted with a station near Matsuiyamate station (in Kyōtanabe, about 20 km south of Kyoto station) on the JR Katamachi line. In 2022, the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport decided to explore the possibility of establishing a station near Nantan. The procedure to examine the environmental impact of the route is currently underway.

Thus, the last section of the Hokuriku Shinkansen will again be a standard high-speed line with a 1,435 mm gauge and a larger loading-gauge Shinkansen. Construction of this section, which will be 80 % in tunnels, should start in 2025 and is scheduled to be operational in 2046.

Related news