Today JR East and JR Hokkaido announced that Saturday, March 26, 2016, will be the opening date of the country’s newest bullet train line, the Hokkaido Shinkansen. It will extend almost 150 km north of Shin-Aomori, the current northern terminal of the bullet train system, through the Seikan Tunnel to the outskirts of Hakodate in Hokkaido. A total of 26 runs will be made through the tunnel using the bullet train every day (13 in each direction), though speeds through the tunnel will be limited to 140 km/h – much slower than the 320 km/h that will operate on most of the route from Tokyo.
As part of the the preparations to bring full-time bullet train service through the Seikan Tunnel, there will be two periods when conventional train travel between Hokkaido and mainland Japan will be shut down. This affects trains operating from Aomori station to Hakodate station:
- January 1, 2016: Daily and overnight limited express services through the Seikan Tunnel will be shut down for one day for inspections.
- March 21, 2016: This will be the final day that conventional trains operate through the Seikan Tunnel.
- March 22-25, 2016: The Seikan Tunnel will be closed for final track alignment and checks.
- March 26, 2016: The Hokkaido Shinkansen between Shin-Aomori and Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto stations will begin full operation.
Keep these dates in mind if you will be in Japan, as there will be no rail access from mainland Japan to Hokkaido on the days when the Seikan Tunnel is closed.