The Iconic 0 Series Shinkansen

The 0 Series Shinkansen were the original train sets introduced on the commencement of the Tokaido Shinkansen in October of 1964. They were built by various firms, such as Hitachi, Kawasaki Sharyo, Kinki Sharyo, Kisha, Nippon Sharyo, and Tokyu Car Company. 

Introduced in 1964, the 0 Series Shinkansen train sets were the first high speed trains in the world, and became a benchmark for future high speed trains throughout other countries. The series served until 2008, racking up over 40 years of reliable high speed service on various Shinkansen lines.


The Shinkansen was implemented to stimulate economic growth between the capital of Japan, Tokyo, and other less populated areas of the country. Service was first implemented on the Tokaido Shinkansen line between Tokyo and Osaka, with a few intermediary stops. Connecting these two metropolises revolutionized the way people traveled throughout the country.

Upon its implementation into service in 1964, the 0 Series Shinkansen effectively became the world’s very first high speed train, entering service operating at speeds of up to 130 mph (200kp/h), between Tokyo and Osaka, on the Tokaido Line. Upon its introduction, the term “bullet train” was derived from the 0 Series, due to their pointed nose and high speeds.

Upon their implementation, the 0 Series operated on both the Hikari and Kodama Shinkansens throughout the entire length of the line. The Hikari and Kodama services, initially only served the Tokaido line, however, service was expanded to Hakata after the opening of the San’yo Shinkansen in 1972. The Hikari service was the premier service during the time, making fewer stops than the slower Kodama service.

The introduction of the Tokaido Shinkansen and the 0 Series ushered in a new era in how railways would be built in Japan, as the 0 Series was one of the first standard gauge (4 ft 8 1/2 in.) in use in the country. The standard gauge became commonplace on all subsequent Shinkansen lines, even after privatization in the late 1980s.

The 0 Series Shinkansen worked for decades on both the Hikari and Kodama services, however, their time on Hikari services came to an end in 1999. During their final years of service, the 0 Series could be seen operating Kodama services on the San’yo line, in four car sets, before finally being retired in 2008.


The 0 Series Shinkansen was state-of-the-art for its time. It collected its power from 25 kV AC, 60 Hz overhead catenary, collected via pantograph, and operated via DC traction motors, putting out 248 hp each. Upon delivery in 1968, the sets had a max speed of 130 mph (210 kp/h), however, were later upgraded to operated at 137 mph (220 kp/h).

Upon their introduction, the sets were owned by JR Railway Company, and operated on the Toakido line. However, after falling into financial turmoil, JR Railways was privatized, giving rise to various companies throughout the country, including JR West and JR Central, who received the 0 series trains after privatization.

BuildersHitachi, Kawasaki Sharyo, Kinki Sharyo, Kisha, Nippon Sharyo, Tokyu Car Corporation.
Build Date1964,1986
Number Built3,216, (including end cars)
LengthIntermediate Cars: 82 ft (25,000 mm)
End Car: 82 ft 6 in (25,150 mm)
Width11 ft 1.2 in (3,383 mm)
Height14 ft 9 in. (4,490 mm)
Max Speed130 mph (210 kp/h)
137 mph (220 kp/h)
Traction MotorsDC (248 hp each) 185 kW
Horsepower15,880 hp
Electric System25 kV 60 Hz Catenary.
Collection MethodPS 200 Pantograph

The 0 Series were delivered in various sets until the end of production in 1986. When originally delivered, the series consisted of 12 car sets, and later expanded to sixteen throughout the beginning of the seventies.

As Delivered 12 Car Sets

Delivered in 1964 for use on the Hikari and Kodama services, the 0 Series was operated in twelve car sets between Tokyo and Osaka. In total, thirty twelve car sets were delivered in various assortments, designated by letters and numbers, and were each manufactured by different companies.

H1-H6 sets, six sets built by Hitachi and delivered between April and August 1964, six sets, K1-K6, built between July and September 1964 by Kisha, another six sets manufactured by Nippon Sharyo between March and September 1964, and designated N1-N6. A further six sets built by Kawasaki Sharyo between July and September 1964, and designated R1-R6, and finally, six sets built by Kinki Sharyo, designated S1-S6 between April and August 1964. After the commencement of service, 10 additional train sets were manufactured in twelve car sets, and delivered between 1964-1966.

These sets were later expanded to sixteen cars between 1969-1970, due to the increase in ridership on the Hikari services. When the San’yo Shinkansen expanded to Hakata between 1973-74, restaurant cars were added for the Hikari services between Tokyo and Hakata.

Kodama “T” Sets

Due to the popularity of the Kodama service, additional sets were ordered between 1967-1969 designed specifically for Kodama services. These were twelve car sets built by the Tokyu Car Corporation, and included one “green” car, or first class car, which was customary for the service. These sets were also expanded to sixteen cars between 1972-73.

 NH Hikari Sets

Further 0 Series sets were delivered between 1977-1980, for use on the Hikari services on both the Tokaido and San’yo Hikari services. These sets included two “green” or first class cars, a restaurant car, and a buffet car. These sets were removed from service in 1999, as the newer sets, such as the 300 and 500 Series were becoming increasingly commonplace.

YK sets

These sets were similar to the other sets, however, what made these sets unique is that they included the seats seen in the then recently introduced 100 Series trains. These trains operated on Kodama services until their withdrawal in 1999, in favor of newer stock.

SK sets

These sets were unique, as they introduced standard class to 2+2 seating, and included a cinema car on select train sets. These were operated by JR West on Hikari services between Osaka and Hakata, and included the thin blue strip that stretched throughout the entire train, emulating the newer 100 Series trains. Furthermore, these sets had logos on the side depicting “West”, declaring its ownership. In 2000, these sets were converted to “R” sets, and assigned to the Kodama services on JR West.

Q Sets

Q sets are interesting, as they are shorter, consisting of just four cars, with no first class car. These sets were only utilized in short services, most notably on shuttle services between Hakata and nearby Hiroshima, and could occasionally be found working the Hakata-Minami line, connecting Fukuoka and Kasuga.

R Sets

The R sets were quite different from other 0 Series sets, as they lacked both a green car and a buffet car, instead, the buffet car was transformed into an area for children to play. These trains were marketed to the public as the “Family Hikari”, especially around certain holidays.

These sets underwent an extensive refurbishment in 1997, including new interior elements, such as seats and wash room facilities. These refurbished sets included a JR West decal on the doors, and were eventually painted into the new Kodama livery, which consisted of a black and green strip stretching throughout the entire length of each car. However, they were later repainted into their original blue stripe livery. These were some of the last 0 Series sets to remain in service, as they were officially retired in 2008.

Hugh Llewelyn

Legacy and Preservation

The 0 Series Shinkansen leaves behind a legacy of innovation, as it was effectively the first modern high speed train to operate on a dedicated track. With speeds of up to 130 mph, the 0 Series was the fastest train in the world, and the envy of any other rail system. The economic prosperity and efficiency the 0 Series provided Japan is unmatched, and brought the various cities of Japan closer together.

In addition to economic prosperity in Japan, the 0 Series, and the Shinkansen system as a whole, encouraged innovation in other countries. After the commencement of Shinkansen operations, and the success and prosperity it encompassed, other parts of the world soon wanted their version of a high speed train. The most notable implication of this was the introduction of the French TGV, the first high speed train in Europe.

With its over forty years of efficient, reliable, and fast service, the 0 Series has been sought after by various railway museums throughout Japan, and the rest of the world. In addition to preservation in Japan, 0 Series sets have been preserved in Taiwan, and most notably, the United Kingdom, which is the only example in preservation in the western world.

Although the 0 Series is retired, its legacy lives on in the form of the various high speed rail networks throughout the world. The 0 Series revolutionized transportation in both Japan and the world, and created a second rail “boom”, as the comfort, convenience and speed of a high speed train was unmatched by any other modern mode of transport. Although the 0 Series is now a museum piece, the preserved examples will impress and inspire future generations to come.


Lifelong Rail Enthusiast and Owner of Worldwide Rails

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