Some thoughts on trains

I just lost this entire update thanks to galeon crashing. My system has been much more unstable lately, it sucks.

on with the post:

A man leapt onto bullet-train tracks at JR Shin-Osaka Station, directly into the path of an oncoming train, but he miraculously escaped with minor injuries after the train passed over a gap he was in, police said.


The train, which was bound for Okayama Station, resumed travel about 40 minutes later after an inspection, causing delays to five bullet trains for a maximum of 34 minutes and affecting about 2,700 passengers.

A man leaps under a train, and causes delays of only 34 minutes?

I live in a country where the fastest trains are late by hours on sunny days, so the Japanese train system is almost magical to me. I’ve often wondered if it would be possible to bring any train system up to Japanese standards if you poured enough money into the project. I think that it’s impossible.

The Japanese, to put on my generalization hat, value the collective good over individual whining. They’ve got guys on the train system that, as far as I can tell, wave lights back and forth at every train. They have computerized station announcements, and a guy that comes on the PA and says the exact same thing again. The Japanese system is regimented, strict, exact. Everybody has their little job, and they don’t stray in the slightest way. When the workers cross train tracks, they gesture in each direction to ensure they don’t get run down.

No American company could justify these jobs, and even given vast amounts of money they still would never do it. Here, I know who’s driving my subway by the voice and the way they announce the tracks. Some drivers are slow, others are fast. The workers could give a shit about someone telling them to point down the tracks. Americans know that everyone is doing just enough of their job to get by. If they don’t think it’s necessary, they won’t do it. Distrust of authority goes hand in hand with swiping office supplies.

Truthfully, pointing down the tracks is probably not necessary, and there’s a lot of other superfluous little things. But someone, somewhere has decided this is the way, and by gum they do it. Even the passengers do their part and behave nicely. Every part works together, and the result is perfect trains.

Here, the small deviations eventually add up. Even if the T had all the money in the world, some kid would hold the door open for a friend. A driver would go a bit too slow (I had a guy who missed the station and had to back up). As a result, trains bunch up, they need to hold them, things slow down.

There’s something to be said for an individuality-based culture like ours, even if it means we can’t get perfect subways. At least we’re not all mindless “sarariman” stepping out of our beautiful trains and hanging ourselves.

It would be interesting to compare how much the Japanese spend on rail versus Americans on highways, and see which is more expensive by population, or per mile, or gross. I think they spend a lot more on all accounts. Given the societal impossibilities it’s all academic anyway, but I can still dream of getting on clean subway car.

3 thoughts on “Trains”

  1. You know, I'm glad you put in that paragraph about the "sarariman" (whatever that is), because for a minute there I thought you were arguing that we should all be mindless automatons, performing our mindless tasks as tiny cogs in a giant, ruthlessly efficient machine. That said, I hate the green line with a passion.

  2. Have you read Murakami's "Underground"? It's about Japanese mentality and subways (and sarin). I know you aren't crazy about reading but it's good, and you don't have to read the whole book to get the idea.

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