As Japan‘s population continues to decline, local railways are facing serious issues. An increasing number of stations are transitioning to unmanned operations. Railway companies are making this change to improve their bottom line due to decreasing passenger numbers.
The trend is clearly happening even among the nation’s largest operators. Nearly 60% of the 4,368 stations operated by the six Japan Railways Group passenger companies are now running without staff.
Along with requiring no manual labor, unmanned stations bring their own set of concerns. Not least compromises in convenience and safety.
Passengers are being left with no information in stations. There were minimal remote announcements made to update passengers about the station’s status.
The inconveniences go beyond just emergencies or platform usage.
Travelers are also complaining about how they cannot renew their commuter pass through attendants – now that the counters are closed.
The decision to remove staff from the station was made. This happened even though the station served as a stop for express trains during the morning and evening rush hour. It was also located close to a new residential development.
Staffs were removed even if the station served as a stop for express trains during the morning and evening rush hour.
On JR Kyushu routes, 59% of stations (338 in total) are unmanned, a surge since 2015 when the company aimed to boost revenues. Hokkaido Railway Co. and Shikoku Railway Co. run 71% and 81% of their stations without staff. In contrast, East Japan Railway Co., with stations in urban areas like Tokyo, has the lowest rate at 47%.
Unmanned stations are also causing legal disputes in Japan. Since 2020, wheelchair users and others have filed numerous lawsuits. They claim their constitutionally protected right to freedom of movement is being infringed. Some fatal accidents have also occurred in staffless stations – killing a visually disabled woman. She was killed by a train on the tracks at Tsukumi Station in Oita Prefecture.