JR East resumes Tohoku Shinkansen services fully a month after earthquake derailment

East Japan Railway Co. resumed all Tohoku Shinkansen services on the line connecting Tokyo and Aomori on Thursday for the first time since a powerful earthquake hit the country’s northeast and derailed a bullet train on the line nearly a month ago.

The high-speed trains are now back in service between Fukushima and Sendai stations, the only stretch of the line on which operations had still been suspended. The resumption also enabled trains operating on the Hokkaido and Akita shinkansen lines to reach Tokyo.

However, the company, also known as JR East, said that efforts to restore infrastructure are still underway and that its bullet trains will operate at a reduced speed and on temporary timetables for the time being.

The resumption of services on the entire line came earlier than the initial target of Tuesday because there were no major aftershocks, so the recovery work could be expedited, the operator said.

The magnitude 7.4 quake on March 16 derailed a Tohoku Shinkansen bullet train in Shiroishi, Miyagi Prefecture, causing suspension of services in areas stretching from Tochigi Prefecture to Iwate Prefecture. JR East has gradually restored its services in the affected areas since then.

The suspension was the longest since the magnitude 9.0 earthquake hit the northeastern region on March 11, 2011, when it had taken about a month and half for the company to resume operations on the entire line.

In the incident last month, sixteen of the train’s 17 cars derailed. Six out of 78 people on board were injured, marking the first time passengers were hurt in a Shinkansen derailment.

Tohoku Shinkansen trains will run at reduced speeds of up to 160 kilometers per hour — half their normal maximum speed — between Koriyama Station in Fukushima Prefecture and Ichinoseki Station in Iwate Prefecture, with the number of trains reduced to 80% to 90% of that during normal operations.

Under the curbed operations, it will take about 30 minutes longer to travel from Tokyo to Sendai, the capital of Miyagi Prefecture, and about one hour longer from Tokyo to Morioka, the capital of Iwate Prefecture.

The timetables are expected to return to normal after the Golden Week holidays in early May, the company said.

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