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October 2007 Informatics on Railways

This month's topic is railways. October 14 has been established as Railway Day in commemoration of the opening of Japan’s first railway, which connected Tokyo (Shinbashi) and Yokohama (Sakuragicho Station) on October 14, 1872.

Until then, traveling between Tokyo and Yokohama took a whole day on foot. The trip was shortened to one hour or so, and so was the speed of information transmission.Prior to the telephone service which started in 1890, the railway network covering the whole nation played a major role in the field of communication.

On the other hand, the first electric train was run by the Kyoto Electric Railway (later Kyoto Tram) opened in Kyoto in 1895. From the Taisho period to the early Showa period, the private railway network developed mainly in metropolitan areas.As the lifestyle of commuting from suburban homes by train was established in the metropolitan areas of Japan, the connection between the railway and the Japanese people grew.

The connection between railways system and information processing became larger when the National Railway introduced the ticket issuance.Introduction of the system for booking reserved seats for limited express trains nationwide was a glorious outcome of information processing technology.

Once issuing tickets came into practice, the possibility of processing tickets on entering (=checking) and exiting (collecting) the station was in people’s mind.Since the introduction of automatic ticket gates at Kita-Senri Station of Keihanshin Kyuko Railway (current Hankyu Corporation) in 1967, the number of installations has steadily increased, and they were installed extensively in the Tokyo metropolitan area though the 1990s. The automatic ticket gate became an ordinary device of daily life.In fact, something like a prototype for the current SUICA was contemplated upon for the automatic ticket gates in the Tokyo metropolitan a prototype from the beginning.The details is going to be skipped here, but, at the end, JR and private railway companies in the Kansai /Tokyo Metropolitan areas have become the providers of electronic money services.It can be said that the latest information technology has been introduced into railways.In October of this year, there were several incidents in which the automatic ticket gates in Tokyo metropolitan area did not work due to the communication failure with the server. Those incidents revealed the fact that the automatic ticket gate has become a part of our railway infrastructure rather than a mere ticket checking/collecting machine.

Now let's look at the transfer guidance system.At the beginning of 1990, the transfer guide only showed the route map, but now in our time, cell phones provide the timetable and even subway exits.This is also thanks to the development of information and communication technology.Passengers even learn ahead of time that they will miss the connecting train by 1-2 minutes delay, which makes them 20 minutes late at the final destination.We should keep it in mind that this is one of the reasons why the passengers make complaints to the railway companies for 1-2 minutes delay.We should keep it in mind that this is one of the reasons why the passengers make complaints to the railway companies for 1-2 minutes delay.

Let's now focus on the topic of the trains.Modern trains are equipped with a liquid crystal display in the cars, so that not only information can be quickly provided about each stopping stations but also information on accidents.Of course, there is also a simple breaking news service.

Finally, I would like to talk about railway control.Railway control consists of vehicle motor control and advanced signal systems, and more than half of the Shinkansen operation is automated.Autonomous subway systems are also available in some cities.In this way, it has become possible to control railways by the power of computers.

The current railway is a treasure trove of information and communication technology.

Keiji Emi

Inside JR East train (Chuo Line)
Inside the JR East train.Accident information