The Shinkansen (新幹線?, new trunk line), also known as the "Bullet Train", is a network of high-speed railway lines in Japan operated by four Japan Railways Group companies. Starting with the Tōkaidō Shinkansen (515.4km) in 1964, the network has expanded to currently consist of 2,387.7 km (1,483.6 mi) of lines with maximum speeds of 240–320 km/h (149–199 mph), 283.5 km (176.2 mi) of Mini-shinkansen lines with a maximum speed of 130 km/h (81 mph), and 10.3 km (6.4 mi) of spur lines with Shinkansen services. The network presently links most major cities on the islands of Honshu and Kyushu, with construction of a link to the northern island of Hokkaido underway.
The maximum operating speed is 320 km/h (200 mph) (on a 387.5 km section of the Tōhoku Shinkansen as of 16 March 2013). Test runs have reached 443 km/h (275 mph) for conventional rail in 1996, and up to a world record 581 km/h (361 mph) for maglev trainsets in 2003.
Shinkansen literally means new trunk line, referring to the tracks, but the name is widely used inside and outside Japan to refer to the trains as well as the system as a whole. The name Superexpress (超特急, chō-tokkyū?), initially used for Hikari trains, was retired in 1972 but is still used in English-language announcements and signage.
Motive power is provided by a separate locomotive or individual motors in self-propelled multiple units. Although historically steam propulsion dominated, the most common modern forms are diesel and electric locomotives, the latter supplied by overhead wires or additional rails. Other energy sources include horses, rope or wire, gravity, pneumatics, batteries, and gas turbines.
The word 'train' comes from the Old French trahiner, from the Latin trahere 'pull, draw'.
There are various types of trains that are designed for particular purposes. A train can consist of a combination of one or more locomotives and attached railroad cars, or a self-propelled multiple unit (or occasionally a single or articulated powered coach, called a railcar). Trains can also be hauled by horses, pulled by a cable, or run downhill by gravity.