How 50 years of Japan’s bullet trains changed the country
Five decades ago the train travel time between Tokyo and Osaka was reduced from seven hours to four. That was the beginning of the transformation of the travel infrastructure of Japan. Since then, the bullet train system (shinkanses, as it is called in Japanese) has grown and maintains a perfect safety record and an on-time record with average delays measured in the seconds.
The researchers were curious about the bullet train’s effects not on regional economies, but at the level of the firm. Using data from a credit-reporting company that covers most of Japan’s economic activity — the figures they used were from nearly one million firms — they were able to more crisply visualize the connections that formed between firms and their suppliers after the introduction of a new rail link in 2004.
What they concluded is that one of the bullet train’s key benefits to companies is its ability to unite firms and suppliers. In Japan, the median distance between a firm and its supplier or customer is about 20 miles and, usually, only the most profitable companies can afford to invest in scouting out suppliers across the country. Fast trains can level out that advantage, allowing even small firms to make deals with faraway suppliers and still be assured of quality. In other words, it might be the difference, at least for a Japanese food company, between sourcing eel from Tokyo’s enormous Tsukiji fish market and getting it from the smaller town of Hamamatsu, where it’s a local specialty.
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Charlie Leocha is the President of Travelers United. He has been working in Washington, DC, for the past ten years with Congress, the Department of Transportation and industry stakeholders on travel issues. He was the consumer representative to the Advisory Committee for Aviation Consumer Protections appointed by the Secretary of Transportation from 2012 through 2018. He also served on the Consumer Advocacy Subcommittee of the Transportation Security Advisory Board.