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East Japan Railway to Introduce Driverless Bullet Trains by Mid-2030s

Updated: Jan 4

JR East Plans to Achieve Grade of Automation 3 (GoA3) for Trains between Tokyo and Niigata.

Japan Railway
Credits: Konosuke Urata

East Japan Railway (JR East) announced plans on Tuesday to introduce largely automated bullet trains by the mid-2030s, becoming the first company in Japan to implement this labor-saving measure.

The company aims to achieve Grade of Automation 3 (GoA3), meaning the train can drive itself with a human operator managing the doors and taking over in case of emergencies.

The driverless trains will initially operate on the Joetsu Shinkansen line between Tokyo and Niigata, a central Japanese city. JR East is also considering expanding the use of these trains to the Hokuriku line. However, before the technology can be deployed commercially, the company intends to conduct a trial of GoA4 or fully unattended trains, on runs without passengers between the Niigata end of the Joetsu line and the nearby rolling stock center.

Late in 2021, JR East tested an automatic train operation system on this stretch of the track. In April, the company signed a memorandum of understanding with West Japan Railway to collaborate on bullet train automation and develop the necessary systems while minimizing costs.

  • East Japan Railway plans to introduce largely automated bullet trains by the mid-2030s, with Grade of Automation 3 (GoA3).

  • The company will first operate driverless trains on the Joetsu Shinkansen line between Tokyo and Niigata, with potential expansion to the Hokuriku line.

  • Before commercial deployment, JR East intends to conduct a trial of fully unattended trains on runs without passengers.

  • The company has collaborated with West Japan Railway to reduce costs and develop necessary systems.

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