When you got to go then you got to go but not while leaving a bullet train that’s speeding over 150kph without its driver. Even an absence of one minute of the driver of a bullet train could lead to horrific results. It undermines the safety of the passengers and also violates the rules. The driver of a Shinkansen bullet train left the cockpit to use the bathroom while the train was running at 150kph.
The train had around 160 passengers at the time, running in central Japan. According to the Central Japan Railway Co., The driver was 36 years old and just left the Hikari No. 633 train’s cockpit for almost 3 minutes. However, those 3 minutes could have proven fatal to all the passengers on board. The driver left a conductor in charge of the train controls in the meantime. This happened around 8:15 am on Sunday.
Operator JR central revealed that the train was traveling between Atami Station and Mishima station in the Shizuoka Prefecture. The conductor wasn’t even licensed to drive the bullet train which means that in case of an emergency the absence of the driver could have proven to be detrimental to the passengers’ safety. JR Central reported the incident to the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport, and Tourism, saying it was a violation of the ministry’s ordinance.
JR central expressed their apologies as well in a press conference saying that “It was an extremely inappropriate act. We apologize”. The press conference was lead by a senior official, Masahiro Hayatsu. JR Central is now considering taking disciplinary measures against both the driver and the conductor. One for leaving the cockpit and the other for letting him leave while assuming control of the bullet train without a license.
A similar case happened back in 2001 when a driver also left the cockpit of a bullet train. However, the train was empty and out of service in that case. The transport ministry also apologized to the public saying that it was “regrettable that government rules were not fully observed”. They also emphasized that safety should have been the priority since the bullet train carries people’s lives.
JR central also revealed the reason why the driver felt the need to leave a bullet train running at those speeds. They said that the driver felt abdominal pains so he left while leaving the conductor on a jump seat in the cockpit during his absence. When questioned in the hearing, the driver said that he did not recall what happened due to the pain but an image confirmed that he wasn’t in the cockpit. According to the company, the driver said that “I wanted to avoid delaying the train by stopping it (at the nearest station)”.
Ironically being late is the reason why the incident came to light. The company noticed a delay on the route. The company noticed that the bullet train bound for Shin-Osaka passed by the Mishima station about one minute behind schedule.