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Tuesday, April 26, 2005

"Bullet" Trains Kill

Or at least one did in the big Japanese crash the other day. An interesting NYT piece, which some might find borderline inappropriate in the immediate aftermath of such an event, basically blames Japanese society's obsession with being on time.

The article notes that, "In 2004, on the 40th anniversary of the bullet-train, there was much hand-wringing over the fact that a year earlier the trains on that line had registered on average a delay of 6 seconds." It goes on:

Train companies are secretive about delays. But any regular rider notices that they tend to be caused, not by engineering mishaps, but by causes beyond human control, like typhoons and suicides jumping before oncoming trains. So confident is Japan in its trains' safety that there are no restrictions on how close residential buildings can be erected next to tracks: It is not rare to see them only one meter, or three feet, apart.

First, are suicides of people jumping on the tracks really a common occurrence? I think that's a rarity stateside, though if you're in a society that obsesses over six seconds, I can see how you might want to jump. Also, one meter between the tracks and a house? Are you sane?

The backstory is that the young, inexperienced train conductor had recently been reprimanded for overshooting a station platform and causing a delay. He did the same thing the other day, so he was speeding up to make up the lost time, hoping not to get chewed out so badly by his boss again. That boss probably feels crappy right now.