The Red List of Trains in Japan

500 series Bullet Train

Data (as of 31 Mar 2024)

Status:  Endangered 
Constructed in: 1996-98
Number built: 144
Registered: 36


The 500 series was developed by JR West for Nozomi (the fastest service), to win the competition with flights. Its maximum speed is 300 km/h (187mph), and it was the fastest train in the world until 2001 along with TGV in France. However, the 500 series was so expensive that JR West introduced only nine 16-carriage units, while JR Central did not order any of it as the capacity was smaller than other rolling stock. The 500 series has been popular for its speed and sharp design, but it was not necessarily a comfortable train due to small space inside the carriage.

Since the 500 series was completely different from other bullet trains at that time, JR West tested the train for over a year to make sure that it would not cause any trouble. The first train entered service in 1997, and it was capable of running at 320 km/h (200 mph), but all passenger services ran at slightly lower speed. The introduction of this train made the journey time between Tokyo and Hakata less than five hours. Though the 500 series was mostly successful, there was a serious problem: its seat arrangement was different from other bullet trains. Thus, both JR Central and JR West had to strictly designate which services should be provided by the 500 series.

Following the introduction of N700 series, all existing 500 series units were taken out of Nozomi services on Tokaido and Sanyo Shinkansen, and shortened to eight coaches in 2008-10. Even so, the series is one of the most popular high-speed train in the world.

A unit was covered with Neon Genesis EVANGELION pictures in 2015 commemorating the 20th anniversary of the anime series. It was repainted pink in 2018 with Hello Kitty illustrations and it promotes nine prefectures in Kansai and Chugoku regions and Fukuoka prefecture (most of which are served by Sanyo Shinkansen).

Current Operations & Future Prospects

The 500 series are now operated on Kodama stopping services on Sanyo Shinkansen in accordance with fixed timetable. Schedules of Hello Kitty Shinkansen are available on the official website. JR West is going to replace the 500 series with shortened-N700 series, and four out of six units will retire by March 2027. The company has not referred to the fate of the other two, but they are unlikely to survive either.


Hello Kitty Shinkansen.

(Updated: 31 Mar 2024)

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