With things like the shinkansen (bullet train) network and in-station AI drink-vending kiosks, it’s easy to fall into the assumption that every part of Japan’s rail network is high-tech. That image fades the further into the countryside you go, and in many rural areas you’ll find stations without a single employee at them.
That’s the situation at Shizu Station in Ibaraki Prefecture, on the Suigun Line. The small-town stop doesn’t see enough passengers on a daily basis to warrant a full-time attendant, so instead conductors have to pull double duty, hopping off the train while it’s stopped to take care of any necessary fare adjustments, passenger inquiries, or any other issues, then getting back on the train and heading to the next stop on the line.
At least that’s how the system is supposed to work. Last Sunday, though, things didn’t go so smoothly. At about 4:40 in the afternoon, a southbound train pulled into Shizu. The two-car train had two conductors, with the one riding at the back responsible for getting off and taking care of customers on the platform. When he’s done with that, he gives a signal to the driver at the front of the train, via the station’s speaker system that he’s reboarded the train and it can depart. On Sunday, though, for some reason the driver didn’t wait for the signal and just pulled out of the station at the scheduled time, leaving the rear conductor standing on the platform. It wasn’t until the train got to the next station, Urizura, and the rear conductor didn’t appear on the platform that the front conductor realized he’d left his coworker behind.
As you can probably guess, if you’re so far in the countryside that the stations are unmanned, trains don’t come by very often either. The next train wasn’t due to arrive until nearly 50 minutes later, so rather than wait for it, the abandoned conductor did the only other thing he could: he walked to Urizura Station.
▼ The road from Shizu to Urizura, complete with a train speeding away, like the conductor would have seen
The train waited at Urizura while the conductor completed the 1.4-kilometer journey on foot. After arriving, he got right back to work, and after an 18-minute delay, the train was on the move again, presumably after the driver made extra sure his coworker was ready to depart.
East Japan Railway Company, which operates the Suigun Line, says it has no record of anything like this happening before, and issued an apology to the passengers who suffered delays. Twitter commenters reacted with a mix of laughter at the bizarre mistake, and also sympathy for the unplanned legwork.
“I shouldn’t laugh…but I can’t help laughing.”
“I always thought it’d be funny if something like this happened.”
“Didn’t something like this happen in Thomas the Tank Engine?”
“He was lucky it was a walkable distance.”
“Definitely something to be thankful for.”
Regarding the last two comments, the 1.4-kilometer gap between Shizu and Urizura is one of the shortest on the Suigun Line. For example, had the conductor gotten left behind one station earlier, at Hitachi-Omiya Station, and had to walk to Shizu, he would have been looking at a trek almost four times as long, so at least his partner’s departure timing wasn’t quite as bad as it could have been.
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