Innovation That Matters

Using the bullet train to carry freight has been mooted for years | Photo source Fikri Rasyid on Unsplash

Japanese bullet trains to carry freight in response to COVID-19

Mobility & Transport

Delivery company Sagawa Express is teaming up with Hokkaido Railway to use empty seats on the trains for packages

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Spotted: Japan’s high-speed rail, the shinkansen, opened in 1964. Up to now, the bullet trains have only carried passengers; while using the trains for freight has long been mooted, the extra costs involved in setting up dedicated freight carriages and cargo terminals has meant that the plans never took off. Now, however, the possibility of using trains to send packages is being seriously considered.

Related: Tracking Innovations Resulting From the Coronavirus Pandemic

The idea has gained new urgency as the nation struggles to find enough long-distance truck drivers amid the chronic nationwide shortage, due to the coronavirus crisis. Delivery company Sagawa Express is teaming up with Hokkaido Railway, a Japan Railways group company, to use empty seats on the trains for packages.

Home delivery has been growing rapidly in Japan, as delivery by courier services reached 4.3 billion packages in 2018. At the same time, there are three truck driving jobs for every applicant, which is hampering the growth of the industry. Sagawa, which currently uses ferries to transport packages between Honshu and Hokkaido, hopes that using the bullet train will allow faster delivery times and increase capacity.

Kyushu Railway, which serves the southernmost island of Kyushu, also hopes to launch a shinkansen freight service.  The service, planned for 2021, will use one car of every train to transport freight during off-peak times when there are fewer passengers.

As people order more goods for home delivery, logistics companies have had to adapt rapidly in order to keep growing. Springwise has recently seen a number of innovations in this space, which aim to improve logistics to allow more rapid delivery and greater volume. These innovations include using AI to optimise ship navigation and reusable packaging containers.

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