Japanese Railways

14 March 2006
Japanese People Pushers

If, for some reason, you can’t or don’t want to watch this video it shows some railway staff pushing passengers on to a train in Japan.

I was rather surprised by this.

Yes.  Although many of us have heard tales of passenger pushers (and a colour supplement photo of them from 20 years or so years ago remains seared into my conciousness) I have, despite moderately enthusiastic efforts, never actually seen them in action.  Nor have I heard people pushing described by a reasonably reliable commentator as an on-going practice.  I had started to think that it was something that had died out since privatisation, once again demonstrating the superiority of the free market both in general and on the railways.  But, no.  Worse still, the train is a Keio train.  Keio has never been state-owned.

So, on the railways, state=good; private=bad, then?
Well, not quite.  It may be a privately-owned train but that does not necessarily mean that it is on a privately-owned line.  And, anyway, I still have a couple of fall back positions should the need arise.

Keio (along with several other private railways) runs trains through the state-owned Tokyo subways.  However, the train’s livery looks a bit odd (to me) which tends to suggest it is not the sort of train that would end up on one of Tokyo’s subways (I know what those ones look like).

Subways with an “s”?
Yes, there are two of them (networks not lines).  One, Teito, owned by the Japanese Government and another, Toei, owned by the Government of Tokyo.  Don’t ask me why, I don’t know.  Mind you, for the best part of a hundred years the Waterloo and City line was not part of the London Underground, so the situation is not entirely without precedent.

So, your fall-back positions...

  1. It’s possible that the Japanese don’t mind being packed in a crowded train as much as we Westerners do - though I doubt it.
  2. But if they do, the chances are that it’s all down to fare control, which I am against

So, why did you think passenger pushing had died out?

  • Despite looking for it I didn’t see it on either occasion I was there (in 2002 and 2005)
  • JR have clearly made efforts to create more space on their trains
  • The Yamanote Line seemed less crowded than it did before

Seat folded out of use

Who are JR and what efforts have they made?
JR East, to give it it’s full name, was one of the companies created when Japan’s national railway was privatised (properly) in 1987.  Since then it has introduced 6-door carriages and carriages in which the seats are folded out of use at peak times.

What do you mean by “properly”?
I am trying to distinguish between the sort of privatisation in which you create a free(-ish) market and the sort of privatisation eg British rail privatisation, where most things end up contracted out.  Contracting out and the free market are not the same thing.

So, how do 6-door carriages help increase passenger space?
They are quicker to load.  That means less hanging around at stations which, in turn, means that journeys times can be cut which means that more trains can be slotted into the timetable.

Yamanote Line in the peak

What made you think the Yamanote Line was less crowded?
Compare a report I wrote in 2002 with the photo (right) I took in 2005.  Mind you a (Japanese) railwayman friend was rather surprised when I told him what I’d seen.

What makes you think there is fare control in Japan?
See here