Growing pains of digitizing trains in Japan.

The punctuality of trains in Japan is sacred. Thousands of commuters rely on it so much that differences of less than a minute can cause a disruption and result in a company apology. So, when a train racks up a delay of 23 minutes it’s usually a pretty big deal here.

Usually these kinds of longer delays are caused by highly unusual situations like a bird flying inside the train or a cute dog on the tracks that refuses cookies. But this time it was simply the result of one train driver forgetting the password to unlock his tablet.

Last June JR East digitized the timetables issued to train drivers by instead giving them a tablet that displayed the correct arrival and departure times and could be updated automatically. However, when one driver left Koiryama Station at 6:18 p.m. on 20 August and about three minutes into his route he went to his tablet to check the schedule. However, his attempts to unlock it were unsuccessful as his passwords were rejected. 

▼ If this video from seven years ago holds true today, JR East likely issued iPada which would go into increasingly long lockdowns with each failed attempt to unlock

The delay was caused by the driver having to repeatedly check the timetable during stops at stations such as Asakanagamori and Yayagawa along the way to the final destination. The cumulative total of these checks was 23 minutes by the time it reached Mito and some 60 passengers were said to have been affected by the delay. According to reports drivers are given multiple tablets for different tasks, and in this case the driver lost track of the timetable tablet in particular.

This is actually the second time in as many months such a delay occurred. On 8 July at 6:55 p.m. a driver was getting ready to depart from JR Ishinomaki Station in neighboring Miyazaki Prefecture, bound for Sendai. However, just before his departure the driver went to check the schedule on his tablet but couldn’t because he forgot the password.

This driver decided to wait at the station until someone could give him a paper copy of the timetable. However, even this method resulted in a 22-minute delay that affected about 120 people.

A rep from JR Fukushima said that they would provide more guidance to drivers about remembering passwords. A simpler solution would probably be to just disable the lock, since a schedule isn’t exactly classified information that they would have to worry about falling into the wrong hands.

▼ Haha! All their precious data is mine!

Either way, they’ll have to deal with the problem one way or another, because Japanese people simply do not tolerate late trains. Perhaps the only bright side to this story is that no trains were accidentally early, because that really gets people angry.

Source: Asahi Shimbun, Kahoku Shimpo
Top image: Pakutaso
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