Saturday, August 12, 2006


I'm sitting on a Shinkansen about to leave Nagano, bound for Tokyo, gobsmacked at how efficiently a well-run train system can work.

Obviously, we survived our holiday - about which more later - and indeed had a great time with fabulous weather, only slightly spoilt by thunderstorms and heavy rain on the final descent to the bus stop. We got a convenient connection on an express train home...or so we thought. But the heavy rain has apparently caused a blockage on the line somewhere.

If this was the UK, we'd now be sitting outside some one-horse station in the middle of nowhere (with apologies to people from Peterborough, or perhaps that should be apologies to people from one-horse stations in the middle of nowhere), more in hope than in expectation of someone arranging some alternative transport for the assembled hordes. Oh, and the station staff would all have conveniently vanished, totally overwhelmed by the situation.

But this is Japan. So they stopped the train at a fairly major terminus (Matsumoto), and told us to get the next cross-country express train across to Nagano from where there are regular Shinkansen trains to Tokyo. Staff were on hand to confirm what we had picked up from the loudspeaker announcements.

One thing we weren't sure about is whether we would have to buy a Shinkansen ticket. They are quite a bit more expensive than a standard express, and run on separate lines with their own ticket barriers. As the horde of displaced passengers rushed towards the ticket barriers at Nagano, with a single ticket window beside them...the staff simply opened the ticket barriers for us, and we found a train sitting waiting on the platform. So here we are. We'll be late home, but at least we'll get home (and never had any doubt about that)! The news had also travelled on to Tokyo, where they let the ticketless passengers out smoothly too.

Of course there are always going to be occasional disruptions, such as the fire at Kings' Cross, or the flooding (or whatever) here. What matters is how people respond to it...

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