Japan’s high speed train’s impeccable safety and punctuality record is due to its trained and dedicated staff
ONE of the most amazing experiences in Japan is riding its bullet train, Shinkansen. What’s awe inspiring is not just the high speed that cuts down travel time but the smoothness of the journey, all the way from buying the tickets to waiting at the platforms to the flawless ride.
Whilst the high speed railway network utilises the most sophisticated technology in maintaining its systems, the Shinkansen’s secret to its success lies in its dedicated and disciplined workforce.
At every railway station, the staff is knowledgable and professional. They are so well prepared that even a tourist who cannot speak or read Japanese would be able to use the Shinkansen. For instance, at some stations, the staff will give out instructions written in English to tourists so they will be able to buy their tickets at the vending machines with ease.
At the railway platforms, passengers queue in orderly lines and conductors keep a vigilant eye on the goings-on. The trains will arrive and depart on time, according to the schedule on the signboards.
Osamu Onodera is a Shinkansen traffic controller with many years of experience in the railway business. The 51-year-old Onodera has vast knowledge of the Shinkansen operations because he has worked as a conductor and a train driver. He has also worked in train maintenance and at the operations’ control centre.
“My job is to manage the smooth operation of the Shinkansen and my position as a Traffic Controller allows me to understand the entire railway system. In addition, this is a suitable job for my career development,” said Onodera who graduated with a Masters in material science.
The Shinkansen is renowned for its punctuality, and trains almost always arrive and depart to the minute of its scheduled time. Slight delays are not unexpected when commuters take public transportation, but the Shinkansen does not tolerate tardiness.
The Shinkansen’s punctuality record is excellent and delays are calculated in seconds. In 2014, its average delay time was 54 seconds, including delays caused by natural disasters like blizzards and earthquakes. Its best record was in 1997, when the delay time was 18 seconds.
One of Onodera’s most important daily task is to monitor the train’s punctuality. His job is to ensure that the railway network operates according to schedule.
“I monitor if the Shinkansen is running on schedule based on the input on the computer,” said Onodera who works 24-hour shifts which include nine hours’ rest.
But Onodera said his most important task is to ensure commuters’ safety.
“I support safety management and customer service based on feedback from the stations and staff.
“Passenger safety is our first priority, so we need to be able to make good judgement calls whenever something happens,” said Onodera.
When he notices potentially risky situations, Onodera will stop the Shinkansen operations.
“When I realise there are dangers, I will stop the Shinkansen operations.
Safety comes first. We operate the Shinkansen only when all the conditions for the high speed rail operation are met,” he stressed.
He is most proud that there has never been a fatal accident on the Shinkansen since it began operations in 1964.
“There have not been any fatal accidents over the past 53 years since the Shinkansen began operating in 1964. I thank our luck and support from all the passengers,” said Onodera who also monitors the maintenance of the rolling stock and equipment.
In the event of an accident, Onodera is tasked with the responsibility of ensuring that the smooth-running of the Shinkansen is back on-track.
He and his colleagues are able to maintain the Shinkansen’s high standards of safety and punctuality because they never stop learning on the job.
“We train daily on simulators to prepare us for urgent situations that may arise at the traffic control centre. We also have regular training with on-site staff by using simulators and rolling stock,” said Onodera.
He also likes his job as a traffic controller because he is able to learn about the entire railway operating systems and its holistic flow.
“I am very delighted that our job results in customers’ smiles,” shared Onodera. “We work as a team to support each other. Work-life balance is ensured, because our work is based on a rotation system.”