HIDEO SHIMA The Bul­let Train

The Borneo Post - Good English - - Short Story Section -

ENGLISH­MEN had in­vented mod­ern rail­ways, but it was the Ja­panese that brought them near to per­fec­tion. True, there are now some classy rail­ways in Europe, but Hideo Shima’s shinkansen, the bul­let train, still re­tains the pride of the pioneer. Peo­ple go to Ja­pan sim­ply to ride in the train, to ad­mire it for its mar­vel­lous re­li­a­bil­ity, and of course its speed.

How fast can an or­di­nary sort of per­son travel with­out get­ting alarmed? In 1830 Ge­orge Stephen­son’s “Rocket” man­aged 36 miles per hour, and most peo­ple thought that quite fast enough.

When Shima bent his mind to con­struct­ing a fast line be­tween Tokyo and the great in­dus­trial city of Osaka, the speed of ex­press trains in Europe had crept up in re­as­sur­ing stages to about 90mph. It was thought that 100mph or so would be the limit for com­fort. Shima aimed for much more.

Shima had joined the Min­istry of Rail­ways (Ja­panese Gov­ern­ment Rail­ways) in 1925, where, as a rolling­stock en­gi­neer, he de­signed steam lo­co­mo­tives. Us­ing new tech­niques to bal­ance the driv­ing wheels and new valve gear de­signs, he helped de­sign Ja­pan’s first 3cylin­der lo­co­mo­tive - the Class C53, which was based on the Class C52 im­ported from the United States.

Shima also par­tic­i­pated in the de­sign and fab­ri­ca­tion of a stan­dard ve­hi­cle which was mass-pro­duced when World War II broke out. This ex­pe­ri­ence helped in the rapid growth of the Ja­panese car in­dus­try af­ter the war.

The Hachiko Line de­rail­ment in 1947 was a turn­ing point in his ca­reer. JGR used the op­por­tu­nity to ob­tain per­mis­sion from SCAP to mod­ify all wooden pas­sen­ger cars (about 3,000 were in use then) to a steel con­struc­tion within a few years.

Shima was also in­volved in the de­sign and de­vel­op­ment of the Class C62 and Class D62 steam lo­co­mo­tives for ex­press pas­sen­ger trains and heavy-duty freight trains, re­spec­tively.[3] It was dur­ing these years that he came up with an in­no­va­tion that would later be em­ployed in the bul­let trains—the use of trains driven by elec­tric mo­tors in the in­di­vid­ual rail cars, rather than by an en­gine at the front (“dis­trib­uted-power mul­ti­ple-unit con­trol sys­tems”).

As Shima’s ca­reer pro­gressed, he be­came the head of the na­tional rail­way’s rolling stock depart­ment in 1948. But, af­ter the es­tab­lish­ment of Ja­panese Na­tional Rail­ways in 1949, a train fire at a sta­tion in Yokohama that killed more than 100 peo­ple in 1951 led him to re­sign in the Ja­panese tra­di­tion of tak­ing re­spon­si­bil­ity. He worked briefly for Su­mit­omo Me­tal In­dus­tries, but was asked by Shinji Sogo, the pres­i­dent of JNR, to come back and over­see the build­ing of the first Shinkansen line, in 1955.

In ad­di­tion to its in­no­va­tive propul­sion sys­tem, the shinkansen also in­tro­duced fea­tures like air sus­pen­sion and air-con­di­tion­ing. Shima’s team de­signed the sleek cone-shaped front from which the bul­let train got its name. The cost of the first Shinkansen line also cost Shima his job.The build­ing of the first line, which needed 3,000 bridges and 67 tun­nels to al­low a clear and largely straight path, led to such huge cost over­runs that he re­signed in 1963, along with the pres­i­dent, Shinji Sogo, who had backed Shima’s ideas, even though the line proved to be pop­u­lar and well-used.

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