East Japan Railway Co. is improving its early earthquake detection system to allow shinkansen bullet trains to apply their brakes faster than ever when a temblor hits.

The system, to be installed in March on all 135 Tohoku, Joetsu and Hokuriku shinkansen trains, will shorten the reaction time between detecting an earthquake and operating the emergency brakes from the current average 3.9 seconds to 1.3 seconds, according to a press release.

An emergency brake will be activated when an earthquake is estimated to be magnitude 5.5 or above.

File photo shows the Tokaido Shinkansen N700S in Oiso, Kanagawa Prefecture, on July 1, 2020. (Kyodo)

Under the system, based on joint research with the Railway Technical Research Institute, a shinkansen moving at 320 kilometers per hour will come to a stop in a distance that is around 230 meters shorter than the existing technology.

The railway operator said it will review current calculations used to predict the magnitude of earthquakes through P-waves, or primary waves that travel faster than S-waves, which cause motion on the ground, to forecast the data with higher accuracy.

Shinkansen bullet trains currently stop around 20 times due to earthquake-related reasons each year. With the new system, they are likely to make an additional four emergency stops due to the new system's improved sensitivity.

JR East President Yuji Fukasawa during a press conference called it a "decision that further prioritizes safety."

Shinkansen earthquake safety systems have constantly improved since they were introduced in 1982.

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