Japan’s trains always on time? Report highlights frequency of rush-hour delays in Tokyo

by

Staff Writer

Japan’s railway system is well-known globally for its punctuality, but a recently released transport ministry report points to frequent delays during Tokyo’s rush hour.

The Railway Bureau of the Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry published a report on Dec. 22 about train delays in Tokyo. The report came in response to recommended improvements to the railway network published by the Council of Transport Policy.

The report — the first of its kind by the ministry — provides statistics on the frequency of delays, a breakdown of the causes and countermeasures adopted by each train company.

Figures show that East Japan Railway Co. lines performed the worst on the list, with delays occurring on the Chuo-Sobu Line an average of 19.1 business days a month in fiscal 2017.

The report only included delays that occurred within a 50 kilometer radius of central Tokyo for which train companies issued delay certificates. Although the conditions for which certificates are issued differ depending on the train company, the general trend is for certificates to be issued only during the morning rush.

Most minor delays of less than 10 minutes were caused by passengers, with 47.2 percent attributed to those trying to get on trains past departure times, 16 percent caused by the reopening of train doors and 12.6 percent caused by people in need of medical assistance.

Among causes of major delays lasting more than 30 minutes, suicides accounted for 43.6 percent, while 21.8 percent were attributed to trespassing on tracks and other behavior that obstructed operations.

Although Japan’s railway system is renowned for its punctuality — the recent story of a train operator apologizing for allowing a seconds-early departure made global headlines — congestion around central Tokyo during the morning rush can cause frequent delays, said Jun Umehara, a journalist who specializes in trains and railways.

“There hadn’t been much momentum in the transport ministry to reduce delays” in central Tokyo, he said. For example, until recently, incidents caused by suicides were not tracked by the transport ministry as they were considered external factors that weren’t caused by the train companies themselves.

But the ministry has taken train efficiency in central Tokyo more seriously of late, setting up a working group specializing in improving punctuality. The group published its research results in 2016.

“It’s taken some time, but the ministry is now finally looking into the figures and analyzing what is causing train delays. This is a first step for the ministry,” Umehara said.

Speaking to The Japan Times, a Railway Bureau representative who asked not to be identified said the ministry was providing funding and support to train companies, but that concrete countermeasures are currently being carried out by individual firms. The representative said this is because the reasons for delays tend to differ by train operator.

“We will continue to conduct annual studies and release reports,” the representative said. “We hope that releasing these figures will help increase awareness (of what is causing train delays) among passengers and reduce the number of delays.”