The high-speed emergency run in the bathroom brings the Japanese “high-speed train” driver into hot water

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Tokyo – A symbol of national pride and an integral part of Japan’s transportation infrastructure famous high speed “bullet train” Regulators drew unwanted attention this month after the driver briefly abandoned his controls to take a toilet break. The futuristic, aerodynamically elongated N700S and its 160 passengers raced over the tracks at a speed of 150 km / h.

“That has never happened before,” Ryumon Hashimoto, PR representative for the Central Japan Railway, told CBS News. He said the 36-year-old driver, with eight years of experience, told managers he didn’t want to stop and slow the train.

The train left Tokyo Station at 7:33 a.m. and headed for Shin-Osaka Station, one of the busiest and most lucrative rail routes in the world. At 8:14 a.m. outside the city of Odawara, southwest of Tokyo, the driver suffered from abdominal pain.

But with the news service call on his mind, rather than stopping the train to go to the bathroom, he told the conductor to occupy the control room for three minutes before he could return to his post.

Japanese Olympic Games in Tokyo
A Shinkansen bullet train passes a poster for the Paralympic Games scheduled for the summer of 2021 in Tokyo on February 24, 2021.

Koji Sasahara / AP


“Many of our conductors are licensed to do the controls,” said Hashimoto. “But it wasn’t this one.”

The high-speed trains, which reach speeds of nearly 200 miles per hour on some routes, are all precisely controlled by central command systems. The driver’s role is essentially to optimize speeds to make the journey easier for passengers – and to speed it up should a system failure occur.

The central control center in Tokyo quickly determined that something was wrong because, in the absence of the driver, sensors along the tracks detected the train, which was a minute behind schedule.

In Japan, making sure trains run on time has long been a mantra. Sharply uniformed drivers are expected to be able to calculate the speed so that their buses slide into the train stations on time – down to the second.

However, indisposed drivers will not be penalized for stopping their trains at the nearest station, Hashimoto said.

At a press conference earlier this week, a Japan Rail Central official apologized and described the incident as “extremely inappropriate”. The officer said the driver was being treated “appropriately” and that he was embarrassed about not reporting that he himself had deviated from the controls.

Virus outbreak Japan everyday
Passengers board a bullet train at Shin Osaka Station in Osaka, western Japan as the driver and a conductor watch on April 20, 2021.

Hiro Komae / AP


While it was the first time a high-speed train carried passengers without a driver through the controls, a similar incident occurred in 2001: An empty train traveling back to the terminal at 15 mph was briefly driverless when the driver exited the controls to scrub the 16-car train for his cap. Going hatless is a unitary violation.

Overwhelming compassion for the driver was expressed online this week.

“He’s a human so he gets a stomach ache,” wrote one commentator. “If he had said he had to stop because of cramps, no one would have held it against him. I’m more afraid of drivers trying to drive through pain – which could be more dangerous.”

Others asked why the national train operator did not ensure that copilots were always on hand to intervene in such emergencies.

Spokesman Hashimoto said such occupation was unnecessary as drivers would be assigned routes of three hours or less with one-hour breaks.

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