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Transportation

Bullet trains combat snow delays with cameras and heaters

Japanese railway looks to keep service punctual with busier schedule

A Tokaido Shinkansen segment between Nagoya and Kyoto is particularly snow-prone. (Photo courtesy of Central Japan Railway)

NAGOYA, Japan -- Central Japan Railway has equipped bullet trains on Japan's busiest line with cameras to track weather in real time and snow-melting heaters, aiming to keep service running safely and on schedule even in poor conditions.

JR Central installed cameras in December on 50 trains -- a third of its fleet -- on the Tokaido Shinkansen line between Tokyo and Osaka. The images provide dispatchers with information on the speed and depth of snow accumulation. Four trains have additional cameras underneath and heaters to melt snow that collects on the undercarriage.

JR Central plans to run two more of its fastest trains per hour in high-demand periods starting Saturday, bringing the total to 12, and hopes to eliminate significant weather delays to maintain this packed schedule.

Snow presents a particular challenge. The Maibara-Sekigahara segment between Nagoya and Kyoto is prone to heavy snowfall, which can slow trains capable of speeds up to 285 kph to as little as 70 kph.

JR Central had used snowplows and sprinklers to clear snow, but trains are still delayed by nearly an hour at times.

"Monitoring snow conditions in real time will enable us to minimize train delays," the head of JR Central's shinkansen business department said.

Data from the cameras will also help JR Central respond promptly to weather-related problems after winter is over, including high winds in early spring, sudden downpours in June, and typhoons in August and September.

The shinkansen business chief likened dealing with such challenges to a "puzzle that tests our agility and judgment."

Ridership on the Tokaido line plunged a record 56% on the year for the first nine days of March as the coronavirus outbreak disrupted travel.

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