In 7 Minutes : Shinkansen, Bullet Train cleanup

In 2010, Harvard Business School published a case study “The Dabbawala (Tiffin courier service) System: On-Time Delivery, Every Time” an essential service for the office goers in the city of Mumbai, my hometown in India. Consistency, punctuality and less than one mistake in 6 million deliveries it is a marvel…

Japanese service industry is also well known for its punctual, prompt and precision service.The Shinkansen or the bullet train cleaners one such example. Bullet trains shuttle in and out of the platforms at Tokyo station 210 times each day, with average intervals of four minutes. Trains spend only 12 minutes at the station in Tokyo. That includes two minutes for passengers to disembark and three more for the next to get on, leaving only seven minutes for cleaning.

Travelling between Tokyo and Kobe every week for four years, I have witnessed this punctual staff diligently at work and last week took some photos of the same in action.
Shinkansen, bullet trains waiting at Tokyo StationThe first step of passengers on train getting off begins with the cleaning staff already at the doors bowing to the passengers leaving.
Workers bow to the passengers leaving the ShinkansenThe staff enters the train and begin their seven minute window for cleanup.
Seven minute time starts for Shinkansen cleaners at Tokyo StationSome maintenance tasks proceed in parallel. Lines of passengers are already forming to get into the train. The actions are well rehearsed and precision is the name of the game. No time to waste especially with the Shinkansen not known to deviate from planned schedules.
Cleanup starts in Shinkansen bullet train at Tokyo StationThe litter is picked up. Burnable waste, plastic bottles, no time wasted here and passengers who diligently make sure to throw the right garbage in the right disposal outlets is also helpful.
Garbage collection begins for Tokyo Shinkansen bullet trainThe disposal of litter….
Bottles and garbage disposed for Shinkansen bullet trainThe doors are now closed by the staff for further cleanup activity. The activity picks pace once the doors are closed which involves multiple steps of turning seats to face the driving direction, doing the vacuum in the carriage etc.
Door closed for further cleaning in the Shinkansen bullet trainSEATS TURNING BEGINS. I can watch only from outside since doors are closed and no access.
Seats are turned by the staff to orient them to the direction of travel. FASSSTThe white flaps on each seat are arranged and replaced in case of problems. You need to watch it to see the speed at which this is executed. The staff is looking at the next row while working on the current one. Wonder how many years she has been practising this for such flawless execution.
White flaps adjusted at breakneck speedsWith the task done, the staff huddles together, bows and then rushes for the next train!!! They supposedly do more than 120 trains in a day!!!! (that too a normal day, 168 max as per records in a day!!)
Task complete, staff heads on to the next train !!!With the task done, the station attendant, signals for boarding and checks if all the boarding is complete pointing his hand to signal “confirmed” on both ends.
The conductor checks the boarding of peopleConfirmation done, he waves the flag, the “ALL CLEAR” sign for the train to depart
All clear sign for Shinkansen to get goingThe train departs and the station attendant also goes to the adjoining platform, the next one is in ten minutes. A BUSY job… but awesome team work.
Train departs from Tokyo StationThere is also a Youtube video which shows this action in a timelapse format. Here you go.

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