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News Navigator: What steps are Japan's railways taking against the novel coronavirus?

Workers are seen disinfecting a railway car on the JR Osaka Loop Line in Osaka's Joto Ward. (Mainichi/Ryoichi Mochizuki)

Although the state of emergency declared in Japan over the spread of the novel coronavirus has been lifted, the outbreak is not yet over. The Mainichi Shimbun answers some common questions readers may have about the safety of riding trains while the viral threat remains.

Question: Now that the state of emergency declaration has been lifted, we're free to go out. But riding trains is still a troubling prospect. Don't they carry the feared "three Cs" of confined spaces, crowded places and close contact with other people?

Answer: Many train cars take in air from outside to then circulate inside, and carriages can be ventilated in as little as three to four minutes. According to the Tokyo-based Railway Technical Research Institute, in cases where train air conditioners do not take in outside air, ventilation can be achieved simply by opening the windows. If a train is running at 70 kilometers per hour, cracking open six windows by 10 centimeters each will ventilate the carriage in five to six minutes. Railway companies have also been disinfecting objects including hanging straps and handrails regularly, and some companies, like West Japan Railway Co. (JR West), and Kintetsu Railway Co., give their handrails and strap handles an anti-viral, anti-bacterial coating.

Q: Isn't it still scary to be among a lot of people?

A: Companies have started providing rush hour information via their homepages or even on special apps. For each train line and time, East Japan Railway Co. (JR East) will tell you if there is space to sit, whereas Osaka Metro Co. will let you know if you'll be able to stand in the train cars with space between you and other people, and Kyushu Railway Co. (JR Kyushu) can inform you if all the hanging straps are in use -- among other useful information. Depending on the company, the data the advice is based on can be several days to several weeks old, but they can be used as a reference.

Q: That's convenient. So should people be excited to ride trains again?

A: Just don't forget that the coronavirus outbreak isn't over yet. According to a survey conducted by the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism (MLIT) in fiscal 2018, the average congestion rate during morning rush hours was 163% of capacity in the Tokyo metropolitan area, 126% in the Osaka metropolitan area, and 132% in the Nagoya metropolitan area.

A congestion rate of 100% is a situation in which all seats and hanging straps are in use. At a congestion rate of 200%, passengers may develop oppressive feelings in the cars, while a rate of 150% refers to a state in which one can just about open and read a newspaper. The widespread use of staggered commute times and teleworking will be key to resolving congestion on trains. A network of railway companies has created guidelines for measures to prevent the three Cs, and in addition to calling on passengers to wear masks, it is asking for them to refrain from talking too much on trains.

(Japanese original by Masaki Takahashi, Osaka City News Department)

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