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JR Tokai designs new bullet train to reign 'supreme' abroad

A rendering of JR Tokai's new N700S train

NAGOYA, Japan -- A lot is riding on Central Japan Railway's next shinkansen bullet train.

The Japanese company known as JR Tokai is preparing to introduce the new N700S -- the "S" stands for "supreme" -- on the Tokaido Shinkansen line that connects Tokyo and Osaka. The rollout is planned for fiscal 2020, when Tokyo will host the Summer Olympics. The last time the capital hosted the games, back in 1964, the very first Tokaido Shinkansen trains were brought into service.

The symbolic timing of the N700S launch, though, is not what makes the train so strategically important. JR Tokai sees the model as the key to the overseas expansion it has been dreaming about for years. 

"The N700S will be a revolutionary train," JR Tokai President Koei Tsuge said. Not only will it be much lighter than previous models, but it will also have a number of upgrades, such as power outlets for mobile devices at all seats.

The company has two target markets in mind: the U.S. state of Texas and Taiwan.

A JR Tokai subsidiary is about to start helping out with a high-speed rail project in Dallas, Texas. The unit, High-Speed-Railway Technology Consulting, is to provide technical support to Texas Central Partners, which aims to open a nearly 400km route to Houston by 2021.

Texas Central Partners CEO Tim Keith has said he wants to adopt JR Tokai's top-class technology, built up over half a century. If everything goes according to plan, the Dallas-Houston route will be the first overseas high-speed rail line built and operated to Japanese standards.

JR Tokai initially planned to use the N700-I Bullet, which is based on the current N700 series, for the Texas project. But the N700S, if it is ready on time, is likely to get the nod.

Light and flexible

The trains that currently run on the Tokaido line all have 16 cars. But the N700S series -- which consists of two front cars and two types of carriages, rather than six types -- allows for, say, eight- or 12-car configurations. This would be ideal for the Texas route, which will not be as busy as the Tokaido line.

At peak times in Japan, more than 10 trains run on the line. The traffic in Texas will be considerably lighter.

Meanwhile, JR Tokai hopes to sell its new train to Taiwan High Speed Rail, which runs a line from Taipei in the north to Kaohsiung in the south. The line currently uses the 700T, a derivative of Japan's soon-to-be-retired 700 series.

JR Tokai's earnings stand to get a big boost if it wins orders to replace Taiwan's trains in 2020 or thereafter.

The N700S is the company's seventh-generation bullet train. It will be the first to weigh less than 700 tons, making it about 300 tons lighter than the original 0 series.

Despite its leaner body, the new train will have to do quite a bit of heavy lifting for JR Tokai.

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