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TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan is set to launch at the weekend its next-generation high-speed train, featuring sleek green and silver cars with pink stripes and named for the peregrine falcon.
The "Hayabusa," the first upgrade of Japan's bullet train fleet in 14 years, has sparked such excitement among railway buffs that one ticket for Saturday, when it debuts, sold for thousands of dollars on the internet, media said.
The train clocks in at a top speed of 300 km (180 miles) an hour, making it the fastest train in Japan -- and just short of China's Harmony Express, a cross-continental rapid transit line that hits a high of 350 km an hour.
"It is indeed a bullet train that represents the high level of our company and Japan's technology," said Tomoyuki Endo, manager of the Shinkansen Group at East Japan Railway Company.
"Not only with its speed but also with its eco-friendly, speedy, reliable and comfortable mechanical performance as well as its fine passenger service."
The train offers "GranClass" service with genuine leather seats, personal reading lights and leg rests, along with free and unlimited alcoholic drinks in glassware and light meals -- at an extra charge of 9,490 yen ($116) depending on destination.
Travellers on the 714 km (444 mile) trip between Tokyo and Aomori, a city on the northern tip of Japan's largest main island of Honshu, will save up to 10 minutes when Hayabusa takes flight, with a surcharge of only 500 yen over current prices for the same trip on older trains.
Every launch of a new bullet train model, each more aerodynamic than the one before, sets off a frenzy among Japanese train aficionados and the media, who crowd station platforms for ceremonies marking the debut departures. "GranClass" tickets for all Hayabusa trains on Saturday sold out in 20 seconds.
There were 139 bids for one such ticket in an online auction and it finally sold for 385,000 yen ($4,705), the Yomiuri Shimbun daily said.
Japan's first bullet train went into operation on Oct 1, 1964, and for nearly two decades was the fastest passenger train in the world. Throughout its 46-year history it has not had a single fatal accident, despite its speed and Japan's frequent natural disasters such as earthquakes and typhoons.
Reporting by Reuters Television; editing by Elaine Lies