Inches

In Japan the trains run on time. With rare exceptions -- like tsunamis, typhoons, and earthquakes. Not only that but the trains fly into stations and come to a remarkably smooth stop right on the dot. Every time. Well, mostly every time. In 24 months of riding these things every day, I've only had train operators miss their marks a few times. But here's what gets me. Check this out. You are on a packed train with hundreds of people (quietly sleeping, watching TV on their cell phones, or reading). You dart into the station and stop. But the doors don't open. On the speaker you hear something like, "sorry, just a moment please," and then you wait. No one says a word. No one moves. Then the train moves backwards. An inch. The doors don't open, though. Then you get another announcement. Then the train moves forward. A hair. Then the doors open out you go like nothing happened. So, here's my problem. I can see if the guy missed the platform by 20 feet or something and we all step out to our deaths on the track. But these platforms are several hundred feet long. What's an inch or two either way? I know, I know it's safety thing. Jon recently explained this to me, which also explains all the human-mechanized movements you see in and around Japanese trains. But still. It's an inch. An inch. Lucky these guys rarely miss their mark. This would drive me nuts if it happened every day.
Comments:

I don't actually think he missed by inches, more like centimeters.

Posted by Thommy M. on July 19, 2008 at 04:00 PM JST #

I tried to find you some papers on 'Safety Ergonomics', but i don't think this stuff is recent research in Japan, and it's therefore not really online. There is some interesting reading out there on combating 'cognitive disengagement' in repetitive tasks, which is mostly what this stuff is all about.

Despite the odd high profile failure (Osaka springs to mind) the safety record for the railways, as a whole, is actually improving. They've made big improvements in operational safety, and are now looking to improve interactions with systems that interface with the railway (crossings, etc).

Fun way to spend a Sunday morning, thinking about train safety!

Posted by Jon Ellis on July 20, 2008 at 02:30 AM JST #

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