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Shinkansen literally means new trunk line, referring to the tracks, but the name is widely used inside and outside Japan to refer to the trains as well as the system as a whole. The name Superexpress (超特急 chō-tokkyū?), initially used for Hikari trains, was retired in 1972 but is still used in English-language announcements and signage.
The Tōkaidō Shinkansen is the world's busiest high-speed rail line. Carrying 151 million passengers a year (March 2008), it has transported more passengers (over 4 billion, network over 6 billion) than any other high speed line in the world. Between Tokyo and Osaka, the two largest metropolises in Japan, up to thirteen trains per hour with sixteen cars each (1,323 seats capacity) run in each direction with a minimum headway of three minutes between trains. Though largely a long-distance transport system, the Shinkansen also serves commuters who travel to work in metropolitan areas from outlying cities.