• Kyodo

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East Japan Railway Co. said Wednesday it will bring forward last train departure times on 17 lines in the Tokyo metropolitan area from next spring due to the declining trend of late-night passengers amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The biggest schedule change is planned for the Takasaki and Ome lines, which will have their last trains brought forward by 37 minutes. Busier lines will also see a change including the Yamanote loop line as well as the Chuo, Sobu and Keihin Tohoku lines, but shinkansen bullet train and limited express services will not be affected.

It marks the first time the company has brought forward last train departure times across almost all lines in the Tokyo metropolitan area at the same time, according to JR East.

The railway operator, which will also start first train departures up to 17 minutes later on five lines, said it plans to increase the service frequency before the last train on some lines to prevent congestion.

Based on figures from September, around 20,000 passengers are expected to be affected by the schedule changes to last trains on weekdays, it said. Details of the plans will be announced in December.

The company has cited the dwindling number of passengers traveling late at night in recent years — a trend which has been further accelerated by the novel coronavirus outbreak — and a need to improve conditions for maintenance workers who work overnight after train services conclude, as reasons for its decision.

JR East President Yuji Fukasawa announced at a news conference last month that the railway operator would bring forward the last trains on almost all of its lines operated within a 100-kilometer radius of Tokyo Station.

"Demand for the services will not return (to pre-coronavirus levels) even after the pandemic ends," he said at the time.

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