But sometimes that punctuality comes at a price – especially if you’re a rail operator caught up in Japan’s efficient transportation network.
Take the case of a Shinkansen bullet train conductor who left the cockpit to go to the bathroom on May 16. It’s not your typical break from work – it did so as the train was traveling at 150 kilometers per hour (90 mph) with some 160 passengers on board.
The 36-year-old driver only exited the cockpit of Hikari train 633 for about three minutes. He asked a conductor, who was not authorized to drive the train, to take care of it in his absence around 8:15 a.m. local Japanese time, as the train sailed between Atami station and the station. from Mishima in Shizuoka Prefecture, Central Japan Railway Co. (JR Central), told CNN Travel.
Train drivers take care of getting people on and off trains and other tasks, but they don’t actually drive. As a result, the two employees are in trouble.
The driver later apologized, saying his prolonged restroom break was the result of abdominal pain. He added that he didn’t stop the train at the nearest station because he didn’t want to cause a delay.
JR Central issued an official apology and reported the incident to the Ministry of Lands, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism. The company added that it will strengthen the rules and awareness of best practices among its employees and that it is considering disciplining the driver and driver.
According to JR Central, which operates the public Tokaido Shinkansen line connecting Tokyo and Shin-Osaka, this is the first time a high-speed train driver has left the cockpit of a moving train while there are passengers. on board.
Apologies of this nature are not new to Japan.
In 2018, a train left a station for 25 seconds before its scheduled departure time, after its driver could not spot anyone on the platform, according to local media. This dishonest action prompted the Japanese National Railways to condemn the driver’s actions as “inexcusable” and to apologize for causing “great inconvenience”.
A year before that, a Tsukuba Express driver triggered a similar apology after leaving 20 seconds earlier, prompting scratchings and comparisons of rail networks around the world from perplexed commuters.
So why the need for plentiful excuses? Because Japan, a country proud of its discipline and its order, puts the same pressure to be punctual on the staff of the trains.
And this has advantages: the average annual delay of the high-speed train on the Tokaido line is less than 60 seconds. These high standards have even inspired other countries to look to the country to see if they can apply Japan’s lessons to their rail networks.
But there are rare instances when things can go wrong.
In 2005, a rush-hour shuttle train derailed in Hyogo Prefecture after pushing its speed limits to arrive on schedule. The fatal accident claimed the lives of more than 100 people and prompted a leader of a railway union to claim that train drivers in Japan whose mistakes cause delays of as little as a minute are being punished in various ways, like being forced to write meaningless reports. – in a movement that places efficiency before safety.
Such unspoken pressures reveal that functioning like a clock can also, on certain occasions, prove to be fatal.