Train cancellations and delays surged in Japan over last 30 years, transports ministry data shows


Cases of train service disruptions have substantially increased in Japan over the past 30 years, transport ministry data shows.

On Monday a power failure paralyzed services on sections of the Chuo and Sobu lines, operated by East Japan Railway Co. (JR East), in the Tokyo area during morning rush hour. The incident lead to cancellations of 177 trains and delays of 91 trains, with the number of affected travelers reaching about 280,000. The incident also forced a delay in the start of the day’s entrance examinations at some universities.

In fiscal 2017, which ended in March 2018, the number of cases of train service disruptions such as cancellations and delays of 30 minutes or longer rose by 603 from fiscal 2016 to reach 5,934 — about 3.2 times more than the fiscal 1988 level of 1,883, according to the ministry data.

Of the total, 2,455 cases, or 41.4 percent, were caused by external factors, such as humans or animals entering the railway tracks or fires breaking out along the tracks, up by more than sixfold from fiscal 1988. Natural disasters, including typhoons, snow and earthquakes, caused 2,022 cases — up more than threefold.

The remaining 1,457 cases occurred due to factors on the part of railway operators, such as problems with trains and facilities, rising about 50 percent from fiscal 2016.

The share of such cases was relatively small, at about 25 percent, but some of them had serious impacts on passengers.

In October 2017, damage to the overhead wire system at Higashi-Washinomiya Station on JR East’s Tohoku Main Line caused a short circuit, leading to large-scale train cancellations and delays that affected some 280,000 people.

In the following month, around 126,000 people were affected by train cancellations on Tokyu Corp.’s Den-en-toshi Line, which links Tokyo and neighboring Kanagawa Prefecture. The incident was blamed on overhead line damage caused by faulty connection work.

Major disruption cases that have occurred in the current fiscal 2018 include one in which more than 90 trains were canceled last November, after a railway signal about 5 meters tall and weighing about 220 kilograms fell on the tracks at Shin-Sapporo Station on the Chitose Line operated by Hokkaido Railway Co. in Hokkaido Prefecture.

Last December some 400,000 people were affected by train cancellations on the Toei Asakusa Line, a subway line run by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, and those of Keikyu Corp., which links one of its lines to the subway, due to a glitch during work to replace equipment at the train control center of Keisei Electric Railway Co., which also connects a line to the subway.

“In the Tokyo metropolitan area, in particular, a problem at a train line operated by one company tends to easily affect services of others in the current situation whereby multiple railway operators share their tracks to mutually allow direct train services,” a transport ministry official said.