Japanese Choo Choos

The train system here in Japan is very impressive. The efficiency makes the Germans seem like bumbling amateurs, and I was always impressed by the German excellence in engineering and precision.

These trains run at about 200 MPH normally (my Bentley’s top speed is rated at 205, but I wouldn’t try that unless I was on a sand flat in Utah). Our 787 landed at about 190 MPH. They pull into the station two minutes prior to departure, and the doors line up exactly where indicated, e.g., car 8 is first class and it stops precisely at platform position 8. I have to check the Acela every time because no knows if first class is in the front or the rear. The Japanese put it in the middle!

There are 16 cars compared to the Acela’s 6. They are quiet and comfortable, with spotless restrooms. In first class, they come through with a cart of food and drink, which require payment. You don’t give the conductor your ticket, instead you use it in a machine to gain access to the station and in another machine to leave the destination station. Your ticket is otherwise never checked.

The announcements are in Japanese and sometimes English, but electronic boards display stations on board in both languages. In the stations the signage is electronic and crystal clear. There are no first class lounges, but the waiting areas are clean and have food stands and news shops. There are employees for every purpose, and one guy who put a ramp down to allow wheelchair access was dressed like a US rear admiral. The station master actually approve the train’s departure from the platform, and he looks like a vice admiral.

I’ve traveled in high speed trains in the UK, France, Italy, Spain, and the US. (The French/English Eurostar service combines the service ethic of both those countries—in other words, the worst in the world.) The Japanese trains are sleek, fast as hell, and extraordinarily efficient. We’re taking one from Kyoto to Tokyo on Sunday. Whoo, whoo!!

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