Bullet trains in Japan are known worldwide for their punctuality, but this week an incident brought unwanted publicity to the country's vital transport system. The driver of the N700S high-speed train left the cockpit “unattended" for a bathroom break while it was hurtling at 150 km per hour with 160 passengers in the coaches. The driver with an upset stomach handed over the controls to the conductor while he attended nature's call. Many conductors in Japan are licensed to drive trains, but unfortunately, this one did not have such authority. However, no accident took place and all the passengers safely reached their destination.
According to CBS News, the high-speed train left Tokyo Station at 7:33 am for Shin-Osaka. At 8:14, the 36-year-old driver with eight years of experience felt the need to relieve himself. Despite having the option to stop the train at a nearby station, the driver, embarrassed about his situation, called in the conductor to occupy the cockpit for a few minutes in his absence.
As the driver did not inform his seniors about the situation, the incident came to light after the central control centre in Tokyo noticed that the train was running one minute late than the scheduled time.
According to local media, the Japanese railway authorities called the incident "extremely inappropriate" and have initiated a disciplinary enquiry against the driver. The officials also apologised on the driver's behalf, saying such an instance has taken place for the first time.
Running trains on time has almost become a culture in Japan. Though the high-speed Shinkansen do not require drivers to actually operate them as they are precision-controlled by the central command systems. The drivers occupy the cockpits to make minor tweaks to ensure timely arrival, or manage the situation in case of a system failure. These high-speed trains can achieve a maximum speed of 360 km per hour on some routes.