Tokyo’s Train Timetabling Transcendence

Living in big cities means you become accustomed to public transport – something we may actually take for granted. It is also very common for users to continually complain that they cannot get a seat, the bus driver is not very nice, or that their train is always delayed. Southern Railway and London Buses epitomise this – and so I can easily understand others’ frustration when they are late to work or miss the start of their football match.

Whilst this seems to be a universal problem to me everywhere I go, there is one city where this is not the case: Tokyo – a city I have yet to visit. The word delay is not greatly used, nor do those who use trains in Tokyo think of it on a daily basis. If you are standing on platform 1 at Tokyo Station and the departure board says the train is leaving at 14:07, it really does mean 14:07. If you see a train on Platform 1 at 14:05, it will not be the one you want. The same applies to the train on Platform 1 at 14:09. To use a cliché, “It does exactly what it says on the tin”.

Train Departure Board (

Trains travelling from London Victoria to Brighton or East Grinstead tend to arrive at the platform ten minutes before scheduled departure and, on many occasions, it will depart a few minutes late because the train conductor is waiting for a green signal. The stark contrast between the Tokyo and Southern Railway system is staggering, if not frustrating. Why cannot all train services run so smoothly and efficiently?

Reportedly, the average delay per train on the Tokaido Shinkansen train system was just six seconds in 2003. When trying to think of reasons as to why there is such a difference, many reasons spring to mind. Firstly, Southern Railway, for example, faces zero competition. They are the sole provider of rail services between London and the South East of England, whereas Tokyo’s train system has many. If a company has competitors, it not only encourages fairer prices, but it forces a much-improved service, where the users are the primary beneficiaries. Also, the rate of technology advancement in Japan is renowned globally, and Tokyo’s train timetabling has benefitted consequently. Technology that is able to produce the algorithms required for such a complex schedule means that the chance of a delay becomes even more unlikely.


Tokyo Train Map(

If you, like myself, have yet to visit Tokyo, the accuracy of transport times is something that you may not closely associate with one of the greatest cities in the world. However, if for whatever reason you need, or even want, to use a train in Japan’s capital, you can be sure it will arrive and depart exactly when it says!


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