Why Are We Slow Learners?

The Japanese high-speed trains are legendary, as well they should be. They’re very fast, of course, and they also run on time. But they are also spotlessly clean. And why shouldn’t they be with cleaning crews that zoom through the cars of an arriving train, removing every tiny bit of trash, running a portable vacuum over the carpeting, and exiting onto the platform in time to bow in welcome to the boarding passengers.
Modern, clean equipment, that runs almost silently at high speeds with no sway, no bumps, and almost no track noise. Oh, yes … and with an impeccable safety record.
And this just in:
A Japanese railroad, the Metropolitan Intercity Railway Company, recently put up a notice on their web site apologizing for ”the severe inconvenience imposed upon our customers.” Apparently, about a week ago, train #5255, a Tsukuba Express train, arrived at Minami-Nagareyama station exactly on time at 9:43:40 in the morning. The train’s scheduled stop at that station was supposed to be exactly one minute long, but the train pulled out of the station at 9:44:20, a full 20 seconds ahead of schedule.
According to the railroad, no one missed the train because of this gross infraction, but apparently that’s beside the point. “On time” means exactly that, not 20 seconds early. Or late either.
This marvelous system is simply a fact of life in Japan. It’s taken for granted that the trains will be fast, frequent, safe, quiet, comfortable and punctual. Meanwhile, here in the U.S. of A., we’re still arguing about whether or not passenger trains are a good idea. How embarrassing!