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MISAWA, Japan — Japan’s fastest locomotive is coming to Hokkaido. But it won’t be making the undersea trip any time soon.

Construction began May 22 on the bullet train line that will eventually connect Aomori city, north of Misawa, to Hakodate, at the southern end of Hokkaido.

The work, however, isn’t expected to finish until March 2016, according to a Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport spokesman.

The high-speed line will reach the northern island via the 34-mile Seikan undersea tunnel spanning the Tsugaru Channel between Hokkaido and Japan’s mainland Honshu.

Although a slower rail already passes through the tunnel, it’s not earthquake-resistant, the ministry official said, and there are no plans to make it so.

The existing track in the tunnel needs to be modified for the bullet train and the electrical systems require upgrading. According to the Japan Times, sections of track will be built from scratch on parts of the route.

Japan’s bullet train, or shinkansen, currently extends as far north as Hachinohe, about 30 minutes by car south of Misawa. The line between Hachinohe and Aomori is scheduled to be built by 2010.

Once the line is complete as far as Hakodate, shinkansen travel from Tokyo to Hokkaido will take about three hours, 40 minutes, instead of the current five hours, 58 minutes.

Though the next step is to extend the bullet train tracks to Sapporo, the capital city of Hokkaido, that construction schedule has not been set, government officials said.

The bullet train would whisk passengers from Tokyo to Sapporo in an estimated four hours, 23 minutes; the trip by regular train currently takes about nine hours, 46 minutes.

The total construction bill is expected to be about $4.4 billion. The national government is covering two-thirds of the bill, with local governments chipping in for the remainder, according to the Japan Times.

The new line between Aomori and Hakodate is about 92 miles.

Hana Kusumoto contributed to this report.

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Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.
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