Rail transport in Japan is an important mode of transport for commuters, especially for mass and high-speed travel between major cities and for commuter transport in urban areas. It is relatively little used for the transport of goods, representing only 0.84% of the movement of goods. The privatized network is very efficient, requires few subsidies and operates with extreme punctuality.
Railways are the primary means of passenger transport in Japan, maintaining this status since the late 19th century. Government policy has promoted the railways as an efficient transportation system for a nation that lacks fossil fuels and depends almost entirely on imports.
Railways in Japan date back 140 years. During this period, an impressive know-how has been accumulated to ensure the smooth operation of the railways. This led to the design of a system that is today considered one of the best in the world.
Japanese trains are the most punctual
The Japanese rail system is legendary for its punctuality. Although crowded at peak times, the rail networks of the country’s three largest metropolitan areas – Tokyo, Nagoya and Osaka – are perhaps the most efficient in the world. Japan’s flagship high-speed line, the Tokaido Shinkansen, has operated for nearly half a century without a single derailment or collision. In 2007, its average start delay was just 18 seconds over its 320-mile course.
In Japan, the average bullet train arrives at its last stop just 54 seconds late, including delays caused by uncontrollable factors like natural disasters. If a Japanese train is five minutes or more late, its passengers receive a certificate. Passengers can show this to their boss or teacher as an excuse for being late, according to a BBC report.
Safest rail systems
Japan’s Shinkansen network is one of the safest rail systems in the world, with no passenger fatalities since high-speed trains began operating in 1964, and accidents of any kind are reassuringly rare.
According to the Central Japan Railway Company’s 2017 annual report, an average of 365 trains run on the line every day. This means that trains running at some of the highest speeds in the world run every three to six minutes, which is the same operational rate as passenger trains in the capital Tokyo. They carry an average of around 452,000 passengers. Despite the frequency of trains and the volume of passengers, the line has not experienced any passenger fatalities from accidents such as collisions, derailments or fires in its entire history.
Synchronized team of efficient cleaners
Not only are Japanese trains renowned for their punctuality and reliability, but they are also guaranteed to be quiet and incredibly clean.
It takes just seven minutes for a highly synchronized team of ultra-efficient cleaners to clean each train. The teams are positioned on the platform when the train arrives so as not to lose a second. No corners are cut as they clean and wipe down every car with incredible speed and efficiency.
Every day, at Tokyo Station’s four platforms, more than 300 “Shinkansens” (bullet trains) arrive and depart, with average intervals of about four minutes. “TESSEI”, a subsidiary of Japan Railway, is in charge of cleaning these high-speed trains, making them meticulously clean and ready for the next passengers. Achieving the task of cleaning these 17-car high-speed trains in less than 7 minutes, TESSEI has repeatedly attracted international media attention.
The busiest station in the world
An endless maze of shopping streets, underground tunnels and seas of moving bodies, Shinjuku Station is where seasoned locals regularly get lost. The reason is that it is the busiest station in the world. Serving nearly 3.6 million passengers a day, the station is so busy that in 2016 East Japan Railway launched a new app specifically designed for getting around this unique station.
Once the inhabitants of Shinjuku’s madness, they witness the busiest railway network. However, there are several other busy stations located across the country. Of the 51 busiest stations in the world, Japan is home to 45, proving once again that it is a country that travels by train. The five main stations are Shinjuku, Shibuya, Ikebukuro, Umeda (in Osaka) and Yokohama.
Longest upside down train
From a Japanese trip website, about an hour from Tokyo, one will find Chiba, a seaside prefecture often overlooked by people, but filled with fascinating attractions. It is also home to Chiba’s urban monorail system, both retro and futuristic. Here, the train hangs from the rails and travels a track of 15.2 kilometers (9.4 miles), making it the most extensive suspended rail system in the world. It’s almost impossible to pass under this train without feeling like it’s about to fall on top of you.
Women-only cars on the metro
When you have trains and stations as crowded as those in Japan, there will always be opportunistic individuals who will take advantage of the proximity to achieve their unwanted goals. In order to avoid disbelievers on crowded trains, the subway system implemented women-only cars during peak hours (morning and evening during working days).
Automatic earthquake brake
It’s no secret that Japan is one of the most earthquake-prone countries in the world. But thanks to its ingenious design and the country’s meticulous attention to detail, it’s also one of the most earthquake-proof places? The houses are built on special mobile bases, while the railway network has been equipped with a unique security mechanism. As the Shinkansens cross the country at breathtaking speeds, the central system that connects them all can freeze any of them in their tracks at the first sign of an earthquake.
The longest railway bridge in the world
Known as the Seto Ohashi Bridge, this structure is a chain of connected bridges that connect Okayama Prefecture on Honshu to Kagawa Prefecture on Shikoku Island. Stretching 9,368 meters (5.8 miles) long, the bridge is mainly used for cars and has space for a Shinkansen track.