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Duties of a Conductor and an Introduction to a Shinkansen’s Facilities

Duties of a Conductor and an Introduction to a Shinkansen’s Facilities

Previously, we looked at the duties of a Shinkansen driver. During this trip, I also got to learn what a Shinkansen conductor does as well. For this article, we will introduce various facilities and seats inside the Shinkansen that support everyone's journey and make it a more fulfilling experience.

 

Customer service is not the only duty

The crew involved in railway operations consists of drivers and conductors. Have you ever seen crew members walking inside the train when you ride a train? Yes, that's the conductor. When necessary, they respond to passenger inquiries and other customer service tasks such as ticket settlements when onboard the train.

 

Additionally, they constantly monitor the conditions onboard, manage the air conditioning, and make announcements or control the playback of multilingual broadcasts using their issued tablets. They maintain order inside the train and take the lead in responding to emergencies onboard.

 

Their main task, of course, is making the train move. While driving the train is primarily the driver's duty, the conductor's duty is to operate the doors for passengers to get on and off the train. Furthermore, as the train departs from or arrives at a station, conductors stick their heads out of the crew cabin for a safety check of the platform, even during rain or snow.

 

Above all, ensuring safety is the primary mission of the crew. If a conductor perceives any danger, such as passengers coming into contact with the train while on the platform, they can manually stop the train. The safe and stable operation of trains, including the Shinkansen, is achieved through the coordination between drivers and conductors working with other station staff.

 

The heart of hospitality by Shinkansen conductors

Now let's talk about the role of Shinkansen conductors. The Shinkansen represents JR East and, above all, Japan's transportation system. Conductors serving on the Tohoku Shinkansen operate from Tokyo to Shin-Aomori, sometimes covering over 2000 kilometres in a single shift. At the core of their detailed service is responding to various inquiries to support passengers' journeys. They also check multiple facilities and conditions inside the train, and ensure the cleanliness and proper functioning of facilities.

 

One example of how they embody Japanese hospitality is through manual control of the cabin temperature. While the Shinkansen's air conditioning system generally has automatic functions, they can adjust in increments of 0.5 degrees Celsius when making their rounds. Subtle temperature differences result from the number of passengers onboard, external temperature, and train configuration. Through observation while on their rounds, conductors ensure passengers' comfort to the highest possible extent.

 

Additionally, their patrols are a battle against time, as the time available for rounds is limited when the distance between stations is short. For example, on sections where it only takes seven minutes to arrive at the next station, they can only cover half the train if they are on a 10-car train like the E5 series. They make up for it by covering the rest plus another round in the following section. Within these time constraints, they also prioritise things like responding to passengers' questions or reporting issues to the control room. Adapting to these new situations on top of their responsibilities like onboard announcements, door operations, and cabin inspections is a requirement.

 

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A conductor on patrol onboard a Shinkansen. (Image credit: JR East)

 

Conductors' training to ensure safety and peace of mind for passengers

Training is essential to operate the Shinkansen train safely, so all conductors must participate in monthly training sessions at their workplaces. These include simulator training, information sharing, and learning from past incidents.

 

Simulators allow conductors to practise basic procedures like handling passengers trying to board at the last second to rare events like malfunctioning platform doors. While conductors already have these procedures committed to memory, executing them in a simulated environment greatly aids their learning process.

 

Another interesting fact is that the simulators for drivers and conductors can be linked together for joint training, to replicate real-world scenarios as closely as possible. While I couldn’t personally witness a conductor simulator training session, it would have been interesting to witness how the driver-conductor team communicated to ensure the normal operations of a Shinkansen train.

 

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A conductor undergoing simulator training. (Image credit: JR East)

 

Introduction to Shinkansen facilities installed to meet various passenger needs

As mentioned in the previous article, the Tohoku Shinkansen is operated by the E5 series, which can travel up to 320km/h. As the conductor makes their way through the whole train, they will pass through the three car types: the Ordinary Car, the Green Car, and the GranClass.

 

The trains feature toilets, multipurpose rooms, and luggage storage spaces. The multipurpose rooms can be used for nursing or when someone falls ill. Moreover, all E5 series trains have four types of toilets installed in each formation: male, female, common use, and multipurpose (some other train models may have only three types). The toilets are equipped with diaper-changing tables, and the multipurpose toilets are spacious enough for wheelchair users and even ostomate-compatible, making them accessible to all passengers. All of these are checked periodically by the conductor.

 

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Onboard facilities such as a diaper changing station (left) and a multi-purpose room (right). (Image credit: JR East)

 

These types of seats and facilities help to make passengers feel comfortable. Onboard, you can enjoy the scenery passing by at a maximum speed of 320km/h, or use the free Wi-Fi to pass the time comfortably. Additionally, onboard sales are available on the Hayabusa, Komachi, and Tsubasa on the Tohoku Shinkansen, so passengers can enjoy Japanese sake, snacks, ice cream, coffee, and local specialties.

 

At Tokyo Station, you may have noticed arriving trains are turned around within 10 minutes and ready for departure, and this is made possible by various staff working together. While in operation, maintenance is carried out through onboard patrols by conductors and security personnel to ensure the train is safe and operational. Passengers also cooperate by disposing of their trash in the onboard trash bins, allowing the cleaning staff to operate more efficiently.

 

GranClass and Green Car

Now, let's look at the different seat classes of the Shinkansen The Shinkansen offers three seat types, with the highest tier being the GranClass. Available only on the Tohoku Shinkansen, Joetsu Shinkansen, and Hokuriku Shinkansen, the GranClass provides a luxurious and dignified interior ambience. Some trains have attendants dedicated to GranClass, offering light snacks and drink services. The seats are arranged in a 1-2 configuration for each row with only 18 seats in a whole car for a quiet journey.

 

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GranClass cabin seats and layout. (Image credit: JR East)

 

GranClass seats are also equipped with ample separate luggage storage spaces. The overhead storage space, like an aircraft, can be closed with a cover, which is unique only to the GranClass.

 

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GranClass overhead storage. (Image credit: JR East)

 

For larger baggage, there are dedicated storage spaces at the end of each car in the GranClass and the Green Car, and this can only be used by passengers with tickets in the respective classes.

 

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Dedicated large-sized luggage storage in the Green Car. (Image credit: JR East)

 

After the GranClass, we have the Green Car. Each Shinkansen train has one Green Car, which features carpeted floors and warm lighting to create a serene atmosphere. The 2-2 seat arrangement provides more space than in the Ordinary Car, offering generous legroom for each passenger.

 

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Green Car cabin seat and layout. (Image credit: JR East)

 

Introduction to Ordinary Seats

Lastly, let's talk about the Ordinary Car. It has a 2-3 seat configuration, and the seats can be rotated manually, making it great for families and friends. The cabin is well-lit, even when the Shinkansen is going through tunnels.

 

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Ordinary seats in standard configuration (left) and after rotation of a set of seats (right). (Image credit: JR East)

 

Above all, the spacious legroom is the number-one recommended feature of the Ordinary Car. With a seat pitch of 1,040mm (wider than older Shinkansen models at 980mm pitch), it offers a generous space, making long-distance travel relaxing and comfortable. You may be surprised to learn that the middle seat in 3-seater sets is slightly wider than the window and aisle seats!

 

In the E5 series trains, luggage storage areas are available in the Ordinary Car (same for the Ordinary Cars of the Joetsu Shinkansen and Hokuriku Shinkansen). After receiving numerous requests from passengers for more luggage space, sections originally designated as seating have been modified and converted into storage areas, which can accommodate suitcases and even ski equipment, and no prior reservations are required.

 

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Luggage storage areas on JR EAST Shinkansen do not need prior reservations. (Image credit: JR East)

 

In addition to the overhead luggage racks and compartments, passengers can use their seat legroom to store their small luggage. There are increasingly more passengers carrying a lot of luggage, so if you have trouble finding space for yours, don’t hesitate to consult the conductor for help.

 

Closing

The Shinkansen is not merely a means of transportation but an embodiment of Japanese hospitality. From the meticulous service by conductors to the comfortable facilities available onboard, every aspect of the Shinkansen experience is designed to ensure passengers have a safe, pleasant, and fulfilling journey. I hope this article has provided valuable insights into the role of Shinkansen conductors and the various facilities available onboard. Whether you're a first-time traveller or a frequent Shinkansen passenger, you are welcome to sit back, relax, and enjoy your journey with JR East.

 

JR EAST PASS

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The JR EAST PASS (Tohoku area). (Image credit: JR East)

 

The JR EAST PASS (Tohoku area) is an affordable pass that offers unlimited train rides on JR East lines, including bullet trains and Joyful Trains, within the valid area for 5 consecutive days. It is only ¥30,000 with 5 consecutive days of unlimited use, making it a great companion for your railway trip. Pass holders can also reserve seats online for up to 1 month in advance for free on the JR-EAST Train Reservation.

 

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The JR EAST PASS (Nagano, Niigata area). (Image credit: JR East)

 

The JR EAST PASS (Nagano, Niigata area) is an affordable pass that offers unlimited train rides on JR East lines, including bullet trains and Joyful Trains, within the valid area for 5 consecutive days. It is only ¥27,000 with 5 consecutive days of unlimited use, making it a great companion for your railway trip. Pass holders can also reserve seats online for up to 1 month in advance for free on the JR-EAST Train Reservation.

 

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The JR-EAST Train Reservation. (Image credit: JR East)

 

The JR EAST PASS (Tohoku area) and JR EAST PASS (Nagano, Niigata area) can be used for automatic ticket gates, and foreign passport holders living in Japan are also eligible to use this pass.

 

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