Japan’s Empty Bullet Trains


Staff Content Writer

July 28, 2021 • 2 minutes read

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The Japan Railways Group (JR Group), provides rail services as both passenger freight operators across Japan. One of the services that have exclusively carried passengers since its opening in 1964 is Japan’s bullet trains on the high-speed rail, the “shinkansen”. However, with COVID-19 running rampant throughout the globe, the amount of train passengers has decreased significantly, and the JR Group has taken a massive hit to their profits. According to The Sankei News, in May of 2020, the number of passengers on the shinkansen and other long-distance express trains had actually decreased by 90% from the same month in previous years. The monetary losses and empty train seats caused by the pandemic have forced JR companies to look at other means of revenue, one of them is to repurpose bullet train carriages for freight transportation. The idea gained more traction as the nation started to also suffer from a shortage of long-distance truck drivers. Adaptation has been a slow process, but more and more JR companies have decided to use the high-speed rail as a transportation device for freight. While using bullet trains for freight is more expensive than regular truck freight, it has the advantage of being less affected by unpredictable weather, and the fast delivery has allowed a new market of super-speed delivery services to emerge. This prompted JR companies to start transporting perishable food, like fish and vegetables on the shinkansen, to improve transportation efficiency. As reported by Nikkei News, a usual cargo delivery that would take about 13-15 hours by truck can be shortened by 6-8 hours with the integration of bullet trains. Other goods that may need fast delivery include medical supplies and parts for repairing home appliances.  Freight transportation as a new source of revenue may prove to be indispensable to Japan’s train industry, and Asahi News supports that idea. JR group companies have also expressed their doubts that traveller transportation and shinkansen profits will return to pre-COVID-19 levels, even after the pandemic calms down. With working from home and attending online meetings being the new normal, the use of bullet trains for purely business-related trips may not be able to bounce back.  Are traveller transportation services in your country suffering financial losses from the pandemic? Are any of them turning to freight delivery or other means for financial recovery? What do you think about the new operating model for bullet trains in a post-pandemic era? Share your thoughts with us on Facebook or LinkedIn, we’d love to hear them!  

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