Japan's bullet trains battle airlines with first class seats, lounges

By David Flynn , March 30 2016
Japan's bullet trains battle airlines with first class seats, lounges

Japan's high-speed trains are gearing up with high-speed luxe in an renewed attempt to fight domestic airlines on the most profitable routes.

This weekend saw the opening of the newest line in Japan's bullet train network, linking Tokyo for the first time by high-speed rail to the northern island of Hokkaido, which is home to some of the country’s best ski resorts.

To woo snow-bound travellers away from the likes of ANA and JAL, Japan Rail's JR Hokkaido arm will offer a first-class equivalent carriage on the futuristic, needle-nosed Hayabusa E5 Shinkansen train which will make the 825km trek from Tokyo to Hokkaido's southern port city of Hakodate in just over four hours.

With its plush leather Recaro recliners and upscale interior design, GranClass is a clear cut above the usual Green Class premium carriages.

Review: Japan's Shinkansen 'Green Car' first class: Hiroshima-Osaka

There are only six rows of 1-2 seating in GranClass, making it look and feel more like the railway's version of a private jet.

JR Hokkaido is also keen to promote that its GranClass seats are 2cm wider than ANA's domestic business class equivalents, and with 3cm more legroom. (And, naturally, every seat has its own AC and USB power ports.)

Like their high-flying counterparts, GranClass passengers enjoy access to an airport station lounge....

... and can tuck into 'gourmet' bento boxes, sake, beer and wine as the bullet train rides the rails at speeds up to 260km/h.

Also on hand are amenities including a blanket, slippers and eye masks, plus a dedicated GranClass cabin attendant.

Initial fares on the Tokyo-Hakodate bullet train ran at A$450 one-way, some $50 less than the equivalent business class fare, although the flight itself is an hour shorter.

"Considering the time it takes on the train, we don’t think that airline passengers will be lured away anytime soon" suggests ANA President Osamu Shinobe.

The Hokkaido line will be extended to Sapporo, Hokkaido’s capital and Japan’s fifth largest city, by 2030, further bolstering competition between Japan's trains and planes.

Also read: To catch the plane or the bullet train in Japan? and The JR rail pass for business travellers

Follow Australian Business Traveller on Twitter: we're @AusBT

David

David Flynn is the Editor-in-Chief of Executive Traveller and a bit of a travel tragic with a weakness for good coffee, shopping and lychee martinis.

30 Aug 2013

Total posts 448

Are those distances and times correct David? Thats barely 200km/h. I can't see people choosing the train when it takes longer than a plane and is more expensive?!

30 Jul 2015

Total posts 123

acutally that particular train can travel at speeds just over 300km/h, its just the tunnel where it cannot go that fast 

31 Mar 2016

Total posts 644

I believe David is likely correct.

In order to cover 825km tracks in about 4hrs, the train must operate @ 250km+ top speed during unrestricted cruise to account for: A) lower speed limit in Seikan tunnel(Longer than the Chunnel). B) @ least 4 intermedate stops between Tokyo and Hakodate terminus (London-Paris Eurostar hv no such stops) for the fastest express service available.  C) Time spent on accelerations & deccelerations.

sgb
sgb

Emirates Airlines - Skywards

30 Nov 2015

Total posts 745

200kph is slow by Japanese standards, German IC trains do that in somewhat conventional carraiges and engines, the ICE's have two lines that they get up to 330kph.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

21 Mar 2013

Total posts 137

It's a shame the Tohoku Shinkansen hasn't had the same money injected into it as the more populous lines. Otherwise it would've extended to Sapporo in the 80s! Trains still operate impeccably on time though. Not my experience on ICE services. (More like SBB in Switzerland)

31 Mar 2016

Total posts 644

Apple vs orange comparison.

"200kph is slow by Japanese..."

Here U refer to the avg speed of the entire journey with stops, not the top speed in operation of that system(The railway industry norm in categorizing a high-speed rail system).

"ICE's have two lines that they get up to 330kph."

Here mysteriosuly, U refer back to the top speed of a system, not the avg speed of the entire journey with stops(If any).

It's always easy to judge when the yardstick is switched back & forth to fit an argument.

30 Jul 2015

Total posts 123

And in 2030 one of the stations that will be part of the extension to Sapporo is the town of kutchan, which is right next to Niseko!!!! we are going to see a lot of skiers using that train when that extension opens. 

QFF

12 Apr 2013

Total posts 1446

825k in just over 4 hours? Honestly not that fast, just above 200km/hr. I think London – Paris going faster like 350 or so except when in tunnel.

31 Mar 2016

Total posts 644

Speed limit inside Seikan tunnel is only 140kmh.  Moreover unlike most other bullet train lines in Japan, this one shares track space  with much much slower freight trains in a diff track gauge but inside the same tunnel.  Worst of all, freight trains do travel in opposite direction of a bullet train in close proximity inside the tunnel....just imagine the kinda of air pressure gradient change in there if a bullet train is @ 260kmh(instead of 140kmh) passing a freight train traveling below say 90kmh in the opposite direction.....derailment?

QFF

12 Apr 2013

Total posts 1446

May be – I do not know technical details. However 200km/hr is not “bullet fast” by modern standards. And BTW London-Paris train also uses “ordinary” tracks on very starts and very end of its journey. Worth to notice that “ordinary” trains in France running at about 200 km/hr.

4 hr is little longish and I do not think that it worth plane replacing in domestic run. It would be different story with international though (i.e. London – Paris) when one need not only get to and from airport, but also have to arrive earlier at departure airport for passport/custom and wait for baggage and passport control at arrival. While with train one get into it in the centre of the city and get out and walk away as soon as train stops.

I do not believe that they will do serious competition to aviation on 800km for 4 hr. I would not use such train in my trip from Melbourne to Sydney it is for sure. However I would seriously consider train if it would run overnight with sleeping service like 9pm departure and 7am arrival, though it must be as least as cheap as economy on plane and it never happens.

21 Oct 2015

Total posts 27

The flight itself might be shorter, but you have to get to/from airport and through security, rather than being centrally located already when you step off the train in Tokyo.

Haneda isn't that far from city, but it's still ~22mins from downtown + airport hassles. I'd much rather take the train.

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards Plantium

19 Jun 2013

Total posts 120

Agree - I recently went from London to Manchester via Virgin Train.  Travel time was about an hour long (train ride 2 hours, flight about an hour), however was actually quicker due to location of airports vs train station, security and must say was a very enjoyable trip. Hell of a lot more relaxing than flying.  Can now see why Sheldon Cooper loves trains lol

31 Mar 2016

Total posts 644

Absolutely.  If it's purely about time on the train vs time on the plane, train always lose.....even if it's a MAGLEV vs a Q400 /ATR72 turboprop.   But that's not the point.  Many folks here who claim this bullet train is not competitive against airplane seem to hv totally forgotten about:

1) How long does it take fm your origin address in town to reach the gate & pushback time of that faster airplane in the 1st place?

2) How long does it take to reach your destination address in town after the faster airplane is parked @ the gate?

3) A winter blizzard will easily mess up the schedule of the entire Hokkaido airport system....how else do we think Niseko gets such fluffy powder in winter?

On a bullet train, it's downtown core to downtown core.....and on-schedule even in extremely heavy snow.

QF

19 Feb 2013

Total posts 26

Tokyo to Aomori on the northern tip of the main island of Kyushu is up to 300km per hour. It's the undersea tunnel that connects Aomori and Hakodate on Hokkaido that has speed limitations for now due to passing (non-shinkansen) traffic that would be blasted apart from the boom of the passing, much faster shinkansen. That will change in time when the JR Hokkaido company upgrades the line further. Check out the JR Hokkaido website for details.

I have travelled so many times on the Shinkansen and absolutely love it and recommend it to anyone travelling in Japan.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

21 Mar 2013

Total posts 137

Some of the regional services are really comfy and modern too. The Thunderbird down the West Coast and ICs to Matsumoto were impressive and would've been at least as fast as our Vlocity services. Sadly may not last as more Shinkansen lines roll out. 

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

26 May 2014

Total posts 447

The average speed for the journey is reduced by stops, about 8 of them.  We used the new HAKUTAKA Shinkansen in January and found the standard reserved seating very comfortable. 

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

02 Jul 2011

Total posts 1390

With big white seats and bento boxes it looks very similar to JAL First.

Will be great when it extends to Niseko

31 Mar 2016

Total posts 644

That's the 1st thing I noticed when I saw the photo.....striking resemblence to JL domestic F seat even down to the colour scheme.

May be the same seat developer /manufacturer?

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

18 Jun 2013

Total posts 26

Just got back from Japan , and whilst I didnt do Gran Class , this Class is also available on Kagayaki services on the Hokurika shinkansen line from Tokyo to Kanazawa via Nagano. Looks great . 

06 Feb 2014

Total posts 119

The Nomzomi super express (the fastest of the Shinkansens will very rarely hit 300km/hr).  It's dependent on many factors like weather etc. My experiences (lived in Japan for several years) have seen top speeds ~280km/hr.  The key word being top, as these super express trains still make many stops.  For example from Tokyo to Osaka you'd stop at Shinagawa, Yokahama, Nagoya; Kobe etc.  So your average speed is much slower than the max speed.  But the benefits as pointed out of being dropped off inthe centre of the city, avoiding airport security etc are valuable.  My rule of thumb was the Shinkansen beats air travel in a 600km radius of Tokyo.  So, the Sapporo trip is for the train lovers or those not in a rush!  That said those seats do look comfy!

31 Mar 2016

Total posts 644

"My rule of thumb was the Shinkanse beats air travel in a 600km radius of Tokyo."

Mostly agree provided "air travel" from Tokyo specifically(And only) refers to origin airport being HND.  If origin airport is NRT(Where almost all LCC flights to Hokkaido operate fm but require @ least 1 hour ground travel fm Tokyo core), I believe Shinkansen is competitive upto 800-850km radius of Tokyo or 200-250km further(i.e. About 1 more hour of Shinkansen ride).

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

21 Mar 2013

Total posts 137

A shame for Hokkaido that this wasn't completed when initially planned. The politics of Shinkansen rollout are fascinating!


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