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Why is the Chuo Sobu line always late?

The Chuo Sobu line

I hate waiting for the train

“Waiting for the Train” – photo from Creative Commons by romainguy

If you don’t know why it’s called the Chuo Sobu line

Okay, I hate when websites explain things that are super basic to people who probably already understand them just to get better SEO for their pages, but seriously – as I am writing this article, I realize that a little explanation might be necessary about what the Chuo Sobu line is exactly.

The Chuo line is western the part of the Chuo Sobu line that goes to the west of Tokyo Station (all the way to Takao Station).

Above is a map of the Chuo side of the Chuo Sobu line – Tokyo station is on the far right, Takao station at the far left. Photo from Wikepedia Commons by RailRider.

The Sobu line runs to the east of Tokyo Station (all the way to Chiba).

This is the best image I could find that shows where the Sobu side of the train runs, but you can see Tokyo at the far left and some city in Chiba prefecture at the far right. Photo by Lincun at Japanese Wikipedia.

It feels like the same line (and so is called the Chuo Sobu line) because you can take it from the Chuo side to the Sobu side.

It started out fine?

Ever since I came to Tokyo – a few years ago – the Chuo Sobu line was always the closest train to me. I thought of it as very convenient, and I didn’t mind that the train was occasionally late. It seemed to me very occasional.

I would take it to school, and then work, and I was probably more forgiving about the lateness of the train because I had less commitments at the time. I was still in my Japan honeymoon period (you know, when everything is fresh and amazing). Whenever the train was late, I just thought there must be a good reason. I mean, in Japan trains are always on time, right? That’s what friends said… they lied.

Lowering my expectations

As time has gone on, I’ve started noticing something about the Chuo Sobu line. It’s getting more and more common for the train to be late. I mean, it’s gotten to the point that it’s almost daily (and sometimes it IS daily… and even many times in a single day). Don’t believe me? Search twitter in Japanese for the Chuo or Sobu line being late – lots of tweets.

And why do I care if the train is late, you might ask? Well, obviously no one wants things to be late, but I have better reasons, too. For example, sometimes – no, often – I am connecting to another train via the Chuo Sobu line. For example, if I have to transfer trains in Shinjuku, and my Chuo Sobu train was late, I am likely going to miss that transfer. Ultimately, this could make me late for work or an appointment.

I leave my home earlier now than I ever did before to make up for this, which ends up being a supreme waste of my time. I mean, I already leave my house early to get somewhere well before my appointments or job starts, so now I’m having to leave up to 15 minutes earlier than that! To me this is just wasted time that’s a result of the unreliability of the train these days.

So why is the Chuo Sobu line late so much now?

The reason it’s late so much now? Well, there are apparently many reasons, but I’m not sure the official ones from JR East (Japan Rail East) are always 100% legit. Like, I’ve never seen the reason be “the train driver woke up late” or “the train driver was distracted and talking with someone.” I mean, of course you won’t see that, but I think simple human behavior could also be to blame for some of this lateness.

Officially, you can sometimes get an answer from the JR East website or on a display in the train itself, but most of the time the explanations for the lateness are vague (or nonexistent). Reasons you may see for the Chuo Sobu line being late include:

  • unexplained noise – seems pretty straight forward – some noise on the train they have to check out – also, an easy one to make up if you don’t have a better reason
  • human incident – this is the darkest one – people trying to kill themselves or just being stupid and walking on the tracks – possibly if a person gets something stuck in the door, too?
  • customer support – this one is so vague that there’s a whole article on it by the Japan Times – but it includes everything from customers fighting to a molester (chikan!) on the train
  • nursing for a suddenly ill person – someone obviously needed emergency health care
  • door problems – something is wrong with a door on the train that has to be fixed
  • natural disasters – earthquakes, etc
  • and many more – but I can’t find a real official and relialbe list

In conclusion

I still take the Chuo Sobu line ALL the time. I even have a commuter pass. However, it’s getting pretty damn annoying that I have to wait so long and miss connecting trains because of this occasional (and getting much more common) lateness. I don’t know what’s causing it, but I have noticed the difference. Is it just me? Let me know your thoughts.

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