In Depth

Japanese rail operator ‘deeply sorry’ as train leaves 20 seconds early

Tsukuba Express apologises for ‘severe inconvenience’, prompting comparisons on Twitter

What’s the most severe rail inconvenience you’ve faced? From delays and reroutings to cancellations and replacement bus services, the UK train network can often leave commuters and travellers in a foul mood. In Japan, however, things appear to be a little different.

Yesterday morning, a train on the Tsukuba Express line between Tokyo and the city of Tsukuba departed Minami Nagareyama station 20 seconds earlier than scheduled, prompting a full-blown apology from the Tsukuba Express management team.

The rail operator said they “sincerely apologise for the inconvenience”, and that the mistake came about as “the crew did not sufficiently check the departure time and performed the departure operation”.

The company added that the train had been scheduled to leave at 9:44:40 local time but left at 9:44:20.

Predictably, in countries where an early train is deemed a miracle rather than something to apologise for, the statement prompted some comparisons.

The furore over a mistimed train stems from Japan's famously efficient rail network, in which even a few seconds’ discrepancy in an arrival or departure can have a knock-on effect, harming schedules for the rest of the day.

Trains in Australia, by contrast, are defined as being “on time” if the train leaves within five minutes of its scheduled departure, writes ABC News.

For the UK, it’s more complicated due to the extensive privatisation of the rail network, and the rules are often bent to save face. For example, in 2015, the worst-performing rail company in the UK was CrossCountry Trains, according to independent rail industry figures. However, the company itself claimed that 89 percent of its trains arrived on time during that year, as its services are only recorded as late if they arrive more than ten minutes after the scheduled time.

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