New train that can traverse different tracks starts trials in Kumamoto

April 20, 2014


KUMAMOTO--In development for nearly 20 years, a new type of train that can automatically vary the length between wheels on both sides with variable gauge axles depending on the width of the tracks started test runs here on April 20.

The Free Gauge Train (FGT), also called Gauge Change Train, was developed to run on both the wider tracks of the Shinkansen bullet trains and the narrower tracks of standard local trains, thereby saving on railroad construction costs.

Kyushu Railway Co. (JR Kyushu) aims to introduce the train for the Kyushu Shinkansen’s Nagasaki route that connects JR Hakata Station in Fukuoka with Nagasaki.

The company showed the train to the media in its rail yard here on April 19.

The streamlined red-and-gold FGT train, which is now in the testing stage, looks like a conventional bullet train. However, it can run on the 143.5 centimeter-wide tracks of bullet trains and the 106.7 cm-wide tracks of regional local trains.

The development of the train started in fiscal 1997 under government initiative. The one shown to the media was the third of its kind and can reach speeds of up to 270 kilometers per hour.

The Japan Railway Construction, Transport and Technology Agency (JRTT), which was entrusted by the government with the development, started the test runs of the FGT train in Kumamoto Prefecture before dawn on April 20.

The train is scheduled to run a total of 600,000 kilometers in three years to see whether it has sufficient strength to withstand commercial operations and the amount of maintenance costs that can be saved.

FGT trains have already been operating on a commercial basis in Spain. In Japan, however, they have never run with passengers on board.

Their development started in Japan to save on railroad construction costs because existing railroads for local trains can be partly used. The government has already spent nearly 40 billion yen ($390.5 million) on the project.

They also could reduce travel time. For example, if FGT trains run between Hakata and Nagasaki on Shinkansen and local lines, the time between the two stations will be shortened by 28 minutes from the current fastest run of one hour and 48 minutes. However, that would still be slower than if a conventional Shinkansen bullet train could operate the entire distance between the two stations.

It is uncertain whether the FGT trains can be introduced in fiscal 2022 as scheduled. That is because even if the test runs are concluded successfully in three years, an additional five to six years will be required for the design and mass-production of FGT trains for commercial operations.

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A Free Gauge Train is shown to the media in a rail yard in Kumamoto on April 19. (Jun Kaneko)

A Free Gauge Train is shown to the media in a rail yard in Kumamoto on April 19. (Jun Kaneko)

  • A Free Gauge Train is shown to the media in a rail yard in Kumamoto on April 19. (Jun Kaneko)

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