"The subway is an integral part of everyday life in Tokyo. This level of safety and punctuality is expected by our passengers," said Shogo Kuwamura, a spokesman for Tokyo Metro. The city actually has two public subway operators: Tokyo Metro and Toei Subway. Between them they carry nearly 10 million passengers daily.
Both systems operate in coordination with above-ground trains, which themselves link several hundred stations and ferry 26 million people around all corners of the sprawling megalopolis of Greater Tokyo, home to around 35 million people and the largest conurbation on Earth.
These layers of interconnecting rail systems make punctuality all the more important -- a minor delay on one train can have a knock-on effect on another service, which in turn throws several more out of kilter, each one of them setting off its own ripple effect. But when delays do occur -- even as little as a minute -- they are repeatedly announced to passengers along with humble apologies until normal service resumes.
Subway trains are increasingly operated by computers and monitored by the central command centre to minimise the risk of human error, Hagita said. Drivers sit in the cockpit essentially to provide human eyes to monitor the on-deck computers and to take action in emergency situations, he said. In the event of an earthquake warning, all trains automatically stop.
If a subway line is delayed, other trains in the affected area drop their speed slightly, to keep them in line and maintain the flow of passengers from station to station. The method prevents waiting passengers overcrowding platforms and jamming into delayed trains when they arrive.
A dream job drivers and platform attendants perform elaborate rituals at each station to demonstrate they are paying attention to subway safety. In their cockpit, white-gloved drivers chant to themselves as they acknowledge and drive by safety signs in tunnels and to confirm readings on various onboard gauges. Before signalling "safe to start" to drivers, conductors must raise their arms and point a finger to the closed doors, loudly demonstrating to onlookers they have checked the doors are safely shut. For Japanese boys, the train driver sits alongside footballer, doctor and policeman as a dream job.
The culture of extreme punctuality might be difficult to export, but Tokyo Metro has shared its know-how with foreign counterparts who are trying to improve their systems at home. A Chinese delegation came recently to learn how to minimise train noise through better maintenance work. An Egyptian firm asked about efficient methods to stock repair parts.
For Tokyo Metro, trains typically consist of up to 10 carriages that are designed to carry about 150 passengers each. During rush hour, train operators literally push nearly 300 people into a single carriage, with briefcases and handbags squeezed in as doors slide shut.
While violent crimes are extremely rare -- most drunkards are asleep -- young women on packed trains complain about being groped. Subways and many other commuter trains have designated women-only carriages during the busiest hours in the morning to give them an environment free of potential perverts. Signs requesting mobile phones be silenced are adhered to, and train rides can be tranquil experiences in Tokyo -- if you can find a seat. "We are always considering ways to improve our system," said Kuwamura.
(AFP via Globalpost)