Friday, 9 March 2007

If only the trains were 20 minutes late in England...

One of the nicest things about living in Japan is the puntuality, cleanliness and efficency of Japanese trains. I look forward to long journeys and even quite enjoy the packed Namboku-line commute to work because everything works so well. Air-conditioning, if strained a little in the height of summer, is close to spot on; nothing like the scorching or freezing extremes you find on British trains.

Today, as always, I squeezed myself into the 8.30 Metro and arrived at my target destination--Nagato-cho. But today the vibe was beyond the usual morning rush of caffeinated workaholics; there was an whiff of hysteria about the station. It seemed pandemonium had broken loose. The train I had stepped off had been running--wait for it--twenty minutes late. Panic was clearly in the air; many were looking flustered (including myself; it was infectious) because their finely tuned and precisely planned schedules had been put out. Most made a bee-line for one of the lurking station attendants, demanding a late-note to explain their tardiness to irate employers (see photo above). Responsiblity for lateness was successfully shifted to the Tokyo Metro Co., and a perfect record kept perfect, like 100% of their co-workers.

I have got used to planning my journeys to the minute. Walking, train and transfer times can all be factored into an exact morning itinerary. If only the same could be said for the UK.

Trains in Britain are a game of chance. Turn up early and the train will be late; turn up on time and the train will have left early. Planning is an entirely theoretical exercise. Prices, too, have their own peculiar brand of black magic and oscillate wildly according to no apparent pattern. If it snows, rains, or there is fog; or if it's too hot or too cold, services are frequently "temporarily suspended". An hour's delay (or more) is not at all uncommon. The British have learnt to accept that trains will be late, and most leave extra-early just in case. Late trains are no excuse for lateness because they are the norm, not the exception.

R J F Villar

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