Japanese Shinkansen bullet trains are known for their efficiency and punctuality. Foreign tourists rave about them, CNN says. For Japan, bullet trains are both a symbol of national pride and a key part of transportation infrastructure. According to CBS News, train schedules are calculated down to the second.
But this punctuality can come at a price, CNN says.
A perilous bathroom break prompts a formal apology
On May 16, a Japanese Shinkansen bullet train driver left the controls for a brief bathroom break, reports CNN. The problem? The bullet train had 160 passengers aboard and was going 93 miles per hour.
The driver asked the conductor to monitor the controls. Many conductors are licensed to take controls, but this one was not. According to The Guardian, the conductor did not touch anything. Three minutes later, the driver returned and the train continued along the Tokaido line, arriving one minute behind schedule, says CBS News.
- The driver, who has not been named, apologized, saying he was suffering abdominal pain but did not want to cause a delay by stopping the train at the nearest station, CNN and CBS News report.
Railway officials began an investigation when the train arrived one minute late to the station. On Thursday, the officials issued a formal apology condemning the driver’s behavior as “extremely inappropriate,” reported CBS News.
- The company is currently considering disciplinary action for both the driver and conductor, CNN said.
- The driver has received immense sympathy online, CBS News reported.
Previous apologies from the Japanese railway
While this is thought to be the first time a driver left the cab of a train with passengers aboard, this is not the first formal apology from railway officials. Rather, Japanese railways have issued numerous apologies for delays to their clockwork operations.
- In 2018, a train left the station 25 seconds before its scheduled departure because the conductor saw no one on the platform. A later apology called the actions “inexcusable,” and a “great inconvenience,” CNN reported.
- In 2017, a train left 20 seconds early, also prompting an official apology, according to CNN.
This pressure may place efficiency above safety, railway unions have criticized. According to CNN, in 2005, a train pushed its speed limits during rush hour in an effort to arrive on schedule. The train derailed in Hyogo, killing over 100 people, CNN reports.