Indian Railways News

Now onus on States to ensure Land Transfer for Rail Projects: CRB Ashwani Lohani

With nearly 500 projects worth Rs 4 lakh crore delayed, the railways has decided that no new project will be taken up from now on until states give written commitments regarding transfer of land. Delay in land acquisition is one of the major causes for new rail projects not taking off.

The decision was taken by Railway Board Chairman Ashwani Lohani following internal deliberations. The board has issued policy guidelines to all zonal headquarters authorising general managers (GMs) to invite tenders only if they are reasonably certain of the possibility of land acquisition within a reasonable time-frame.

“In suppression of all earlier instructions, Railway Board has decided that issue of tenders or commencement of physical work for New Line projects shall be taken up only after completion of land acquisition subject,” said the policy document issued on October 30.

The document says that GMs can also consider seeking a written assurance from the state governments in this regard. The idea is to put the onus on state governments for smooth transfer of land for railway projects.

“The problem of land acquisition comes in new line projects, majority of which are recommended by states. So, the new guidelines put the onus on states to provide the land if they want new projects to be sanctioned,” said a senior railway board officer.

According to official statistics, there are about 491 projects – new lines, gauge conversion and doubling — pending completion. Of these, 171 are new railway line projects worth Rs 2 lakh crore.

“For the purpose of execution, large projects can be divided into phases by GMs… after ensuring that each phase, on completion, yields commercial return for Railways,” the policy document added.

It has been decided that the policy will be followed not just in cases of new projects but also old ones where tenders have not yet been finalised. Under the earlier policy, tenders could be issued if 70 per cent of land was available for the projects. But according to railway sources, it was hardly followed.

The guidelines have been sent to all states so that they can initiate the procedures for facilitating land acquisition for railway projects.

With growing cases of derailment in the past few months, the South Eastern Railway (SER), in a move to increase capacity and ensure the safer running of trains, has replaced the route relay interlocking (RRI) system at Kharagpur with Asia’s largest solid state interlocking (SSI) system. This technology that is set to come into effect from Sunday will allow station masters at Kharagpur to set 800 different routes for trains in a matter of a few clicks. This is in stark contrast to the vintage RRI system which only allowed operators to set a mere 423 routes. Principal Chief Operations Manager of SER, Suchitto Kumar Das said, “This will be Asia’s largest SSI system. The RRI system is of pre-1980 vintage and has crossed its codal-life.” The cost of installing the new system is a whopping Rs 39 crore. This new technology will allow the path of a train to be set in a way that it has to cross several tracks. The prime benefit of the interlocking system is that it ensures no cross movement takes place during the crossings, to avoid disastrous collisions. “The SSI system is much more dependable than the older ones. We have been carrying out tests on this system for the last 7-8 months,” said Das. The project that was kick-started at the Kharagpur yard on November 4 will continue its work, till Sunday. It is likely, that passengers may face severe disruptions in the suburban rail services from Friday, once the SER begins to switch over to the SSI system from its current RRI system. During the work, the SER will make platform numbers 7 and 8 at Kharagpur operational. To increase capacity, it will also link a third line from Howrah and a second line from Midnapore to the Kharagpur yard by Sunday. As per SER’s Chief passenger transportation manager, Soumitra Majumdar, over 116 pairs of trains originate, terminate or pass through Kharagpur every day. With the dawn of the new technology in place, three signal cabins will become inessential, and the requirement for cabin masters will decrease. “We’ll require more station masters to operate the system. Some trains may be delayed, but we don’t anticipate any major trouble after Sunday,” he told.

With growing cases of derailment in the past few months, the South Eastern Railway (SER), in a move to increase capacity and ensure the safer running of trains, has replaced the route relay interlocking (RRI) system at Kharagpur with Asia’s largest solid state interlocking (SSI) system. This technology that is set to come into effect from Sunday will allow station masters at Kharagpur to set 800 different routes for trains in a matter of a few clicks.

This is in stark contrast to the vintage RRI system which only allowed operators to set a mere 423 routes.

Principal Chief Operations Manager of SER, Suchitto Kumar Das said, “This will be Asia’s largest SSI system. The RRI system is of pre-1980 vintage and has crossed its codal-life.”

The cost of installing the new system is a whopping Rs 39 crore. This new technology will allow the path of a train to be set in a way that it has to cross several tracks.

The prime benefit of the interlocking system is that it ensures no cross movement takes place during the crossings, to avoid disastrous collisions.

“The SSI system is much more dependable than the older ones. We have been carrying out tests on this system for the last 7-8 months,” said Das.

The project that was kick-started at the Kharagpur yard on November 4 will continue its work, till Sunday. It is likely, that passengers may face severe disruptions in the suburban rail services from Friday, once the SER begins to switch over to the SSI system from its current RRI system.

During the work, the SER will make platform numbers 7 and 8 at Kharagpur operational. To increase capacity, it will also link a third line from Howrah and a second line from Midnapore to the Kharagpur yard by Sunday.

As per SER’s Chief passenger transportation manager, Soumitra Majumdar, over 116 pairs of trains originate, terminate or pass through Kharagpur every day.

With the dawn of the new technology in place, three signal cabins will become inessential, and the requirement for cabin masters will decrease.

“We’ll require more station masters to operate the system. Some trains may be delayed, but we don’t anticipate any major trouble after Sunday,” he told.

Court Threatens To Stop Salary Of Mumbai Civic Body, Railway Staff For Failing To Construct A Bridge

The Bombay High Court today threatened to halt the disbursement of salaries of the staff concerned of the BMC and the Central Railways over their failure to construct a new foot overbridge (FOB) in place of the now demolished Hancock Bridge.

A bench of Chief Justice Manjula Chellur and Justice M S Sonak said it was surprised that even though thousands of pedestrians risked their lives every day by crossing over the railway tracks in the absence of an alternative, the authorities chose to “turn a blind eye” to the problem.

 The bench came down heavily on the authorities concerned for ignoring the plight of the common man.

“How can you be blind and deaf to the plight of the common man? You cannot just come to court and tell us that it is impossible to construct a new bridge at the spot.

“Your job is not just to identify the problem, it is also to come up with solutions,” the bench observed. “If you fail to act now, this court will be forced to pass an order to stop your salaries. Then, even if you go
challenge my order, at least you will realise how serious this court is about the issue,” it said.

The observations came while the high court was hearing a public interest litigation (PIL) petition filed by a city resident, highlighting the rise in the instances of accidents and deaths of pedestrians and the plight of rail passengers, who were forced to walk across the tracks at Sandhurst Road in the absence of an alternate bridge.

As per the plea, ever since the Hancock Bridge was demolished in November 2015, pedestrians and suburban rail commuters have had no option but cross the tracks between the Sandhurst Road and Byculla stations to reach either side.

The 136-year-old bridge was demolished as its height restricted the speed of the trains passing under it.

Earlier this year, following a site inspection and joint meeting between the railways and the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), the former had submitted that it was not feasible to construct a new bridge at the proposed spot because a water pipeline ran very close to it.

The court, however, had insisted that the authorities sought a second opinion and took the help of experts for making a last attempt to come up with a feasible plan.

The BMC had then told the high court that while it was ready to fund the construction of a new FoB and provide the land for the same, the railways was still reluctant to take up the construction work.

The railways, in turn, had said constructing a bridge at the site was not possible since an adequate landing space was not available for the same.

The bench, however, dismissed the submission and said the authorities must put their heads together and come up with a solution by November 22, the next date of hearing.

It said the authorities could not let the thousands of school-going children and senior citizens, who cross over the tracks in the area every day, to continue risking their lives.

“Imagine that it is your own child or your own parent who has to cross over the tracks to reach from one side to another. And then think of a solution,” the bench said to the BMC and railways officials.

RRC, Central Railway Recruitment Begins, Check Details Here

Railway Recruitment Cell (RRC), Central Railway Mumbai will recruit candidates under Sports and Guides quota. Online application process, which has begun on 16 November 2017 will continue till 30 November 2017 (5.00 pm). Recruitment will be held for filling 12 vacancies . ‘The posts are open to all regardless of Community and there is no reservation for any community. Further, only the candidates qualified in the Written Test shall be called for Scouting Skill Assessment,’ reads the official notification released at rrccr.com.

For level 1 post (10 vacancies), candidate must have qualified 12th pass exam and should not have secured less than 50% marks or must have completed Act Apprenticeship course or else should have passed matriculation plus ITI approved by NCVT/ SCVT.

For level 2 post, applicants must be 10th pass or ITI or NAC granted by NCVT or 10th passed plus National Apprenticeship Certificate (NAC) granted by NCVT or 10th passed plus ITI. Candidates should also note that,’ Persons if appointed to the category of Clerk-cum-Typist should acquire Typing proficiency of 30 w.p.m. in English or 25 w.p.m. in Hindi within a period of two years from the date of appointment and till such time their appointment to this category will be provisional.’

Candidates should also go through the Scouts and Guides eligibility as well, before applying.

Candidates must be age group of 18-28 years for level 2 post and must be in the age group of 18-31 years for level 1 post.

Candidates will be selected on the basis of written test and scouting skill assessment. The written test will be held on 4 February 2018.

Indian Railways plans to issue 30 times larger Electrification Tenders

For the first time, the Indian Railways is planning to give out tenders as large as 1,500 km, up from the present average of 30-40 km, for railway electrification in order to meet its full electrification target by 2021.

The tenders issued under the engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) model is expected to significantly cut down electrification costs which is now Rs 1-2 crore per km.

The railways has plans to issue tender packages ranging from 400 km to 1,500 km under the EPC contracts. Along with speeding up the electrification process, this move will be a point of departure after which all contracts would be in EPC mode, a senior railway ministry official told the newspaper on condition of anonymity.

Last month, Railway minister Piyush Goyal had said that the ministry were to issue larger electrification tender to speed up the process. He said that instead of the railways issuing tenders for only 30-40 km, it would start giving tenders for minimum of 500 km of track, according to another report.

Additionally, the railways has uploaded a model EPC Agreement, model request for qualification (RFQ) and model request for proposal (RFP) and opened it for public feedback till November 16. This initiative was taken for the advancement of the electrification initiatives.

As per the Mint report, the railways plans to electrify 24,400 km of railway tracks within 2021 while incurring a total cost of Rs 35,000 crore. Several companies, including the public sector Bharat Heavy Electricals (BHEL), are eyeing the electrification contracts that are on the card.

A second railway official confirmed the development to the newspaper and said that the railways has only completed electrifying 40 percent of its existing 66,000 km till now and falling behind schedule.

He also said that big tenders are likely to attract bigger players as contractors who would be better equipped to finish the work faster and with more efficiency. He added that the EPC contracts would also be open for global companies.

Indian Railways to use GPS-enabled Safety Devices to help guide Trains through fog

Fogs in northern India are known for bringing cities and towns to a standstill when winter seeps in. This is also the time when the railway loco pilots have to be extra alert while navigating through clouded visibility.

In order to avoid delay owing to fogs and ensure trains stick to their timetable during winters, the Indian Railways is planning to incorporate GPS-enabled fog safety devices in trains to keep the pilots alert about approaching signals.

According to a railway official, over 2,400 devices have already been supplied by the national transporter in northern regions that are worst hit by extreme fogs during winter. Around 900 devices have been provided to the Delhi zone alone.

The Railways also intend to employ ‘fogmen’ who will fix detonators on tracks which will alert loco pilots about approaching signals.

Additionally, intensive night footplate inspection and track patrolling will be undertaken by railway authorities to detect cases of rail fracture, which is one of the major causes of derailment during winter.

The Railways also plan to provide sufficient walkie-talkie sets to the crew and station staff, convert the auto-signalling system to a semi-automatic mode, and impose speed restrictions when faced with intense fog situations.

Signal indication booklets are to be provided to loco pilots, who will be given special counselling sessions on working during fog.

With the onslaught of winter, the national transporter has to grapple with crises like slower mobility, shortage of crew due to longer working hours on a train, complete mishmash of timetable, non-availability of track maintenance slots and heavy crowding of waiting passengers.

With the implementation of the GPS-enabled devices, the Railways will be able to keep up with their schedule and avert accidents owing to fogs.

How ISRO is helping Indian Railways to curb accidents at Unmanned Level-crossings

A satellite-based system will now alert road users at unmanned level crossings about approaching trains and also help in tracking train movement on a real-time basis.

The space technology, adopted with the help of Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), will warn road users through hooters once a train approaches an unmanned level crossing. The railways is installing ISRO-developed integrated circuit (IC) chips on 10,000 locomotives of trains.

About 500 metres before the level crossings, the hooter will be activated through a signal from the IC chip, warning road users as well as the train drivers near the crossing.

The hooter will become louder as the level crossing nears, and will fall silent after the train has passed.

On a pilot basis, two level crossing gates in Sonepur division on the Delhi-Guwahati Rajdhani route are to be equipped with the ISRO system, to be followed by a few gates on the Delhi-Mumbai route shortly.

Trials would be conducted on these two busy rail corridors and, according to the plan, all level crossings will be equipped with the ISRO system in phases, said a senior Railway Ministry official who did not want to be named.

Besides alerting road users, the satellite-based system will also be used for tracking trains for disseminating information about their movement on a real-time basis. At present, train movement related information is maintained manually, leaving scope for inaccuracies.

The trial for real-time train information system is already being carried out on Mumbai Rajdhani and Guwahati Rajdhani services, said the official.

Safety at unmanned level crossings is a cause of serious concern for railways as these crossings witness maximum mishaps. The public transporter had explored various ways to address the issue before settling for the ISRO system.

A few locos are being equipped with the device and installation of hooters at unmanned level crossings gates on Delhi-Mumbai and Delhi-Guwahati routes is being carried out gradually.

There are about 7,254 unmanned railway crossings in the country which account for around 40 per cent of accidents involving the railways. There are about 18,000 manned level crossings.

While the Railways had eliminated 1,148 unmanned crossings in 2014-15 and 1,253 in 2015-16, it has scaled up its target and now plans to eliminate all such crossings in the next two to three years.

Once all unmanned level crossings are eliminated, the hooter system would be shifted to manned level crossings as per the plan.

The satellite-based system will also help railways in mapping the area and the technology will come in handy at the time of accidents when it can be used to ascertain the exact location of trains and topography.

Coal India in talks with Railways to hike Rake Loading

Coal India is talking to the Railways to increase rake loading from an average of 216 so far since April to 250 by the end of the fiscal year, as it seeks to meet increased demand with both power and non-power sectors facing a short-supply of the dry fuel.

At present, the state-run monopoly has been focusing on supplying coal to the power sector, which is struggling with dwindling stocks and falling generation at many plants.

“The effort to increase rakes has started to show result. This month, average loading of coal on rakes for power has been 214 (238 including to non-power sectors) while last November, 199 (235 in total) rakes were being sent to the power sector,” a senior CIL executive said on Tuesday.

“In fact, on Monday, we managed to achieve loading on 249 rakes, close to the target. Of these, 224 went to the power sector,” he said. “However, we need to achieve loading on 250 rakes on a regular basis so that demand from both the power and non-power sector can be handled.”

Over the past few months, reduction in generation from non-thermal sources like hydel and wind resulted in increased demand for thermal power.

This led thermal power generators, which were witnessing damp demand during April and May, to ask for additional coal since they were using up stocks at a faster pace.

“Supplies could not be increased overnight as Coal India faces logistics constraints. This resulted in falling coal stocks and generation. In fact, a few generation units had to shut. In order to make sure the situation is not repeated in the future, Coal India is working hand in hand with the railways to increase rake loading to 250 on a daily basis,” the executive said.

At present, coal stocks at power plants are good for six days and 22 plants have critical stocks. Total stocks at power plants is about 8 million tonnes, compared with 18 million tonnes a year earlier when only 4 plants had critical stocks.

We do need to proactively liberalise fuel supply. Now that we have a policy on commercial mining, captive coal miners need to be encouraged to expand supply to more than one customer. It would boost economies of scale in mining and evacuation, and make sense nationally. We do need forward-looking policy so that the more efficient producers can readily seek custom.

NMDC Ltd spending Rs.50.36 Crore for Railway Track doubling works

NMDC Ltd is making expenditure of Rs 50.37 crore to enable facilities towards doubling of railway line between Kirandul and Jagdalpur and Jagdalpur and Ambagaon required for augmentation of iron ore evacuation capacity of Bailadila sector in Bastar region of Chhattisgarh.

The company is also making efforts to increase iron ore evacuation capacity through doubling of Kirandul-Kothavalasa (KK) railway line, officials informed.

Notably, the company is also participating in the Rowghat-Jagdalpur Rail line project as a major stake holder with 43 per cent share along with SAIL, IRCON & Govt. of Chhattisgarh being other stake holders with 21per cent, 26per cent & 10per cent respectively.

On the other hand, Chhattisgarh government would be earmarking suitable land banks in the vicinity of Dallirajahara-Rowghat-Jagdalpur Rail Corridor for setting up of small industrial units, officials informed.

Notably, the  Steel Authority of India Ltd (SAIL) is co-ordinating the  construction of Railay line from DaIlirajhara to Rowghat covering a distance of 95 km with Indian Railways in Chhattisgarh.

The project for doubling of Railway line between Kirandul and Jagdalpurin Chhatisgarh’s insurgency ridden  Bastar region is expected to be complete by January 2019, official sources informed.

Notably, NMDC Ltd had also signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Union Ministry of Railways on December 21, 2012 and the aforesaid project would be helpful in significantly augmenting evacuation capacity of NMDC’s Bailadila Sector mines by rail from the existing 28 MTPA to 40 MTPA of iron ore.

NMDC had deposited an amount of Rs  150 crores with East Coast Railway and the expenditure incurred as on March 31, 2015 was Rs  132.00 crore, sources informed.

For execution of the project, the Railways has divided the 150 km length of doubling work into three Sections namely, Jagdalpur to Silakjori 45.50 km, Kirandul to Gidam 52.23 km and Silakjori to Gidam 52.73 km.

Notably, the Rs 2000 crore Rowghat to Jagdalpur railway line would also pass through heavily insurgency infested Kondagaon and Narayanpur districts of Bastar division in Chhattisgarh, officials stated.

The project is a joint venture between Chhattisgarh government, NMDC, SAIL and IRCON.The initial stretch of the first phase of the ambitious 235-km-long Dallirajhara-Rowghat-Jagdalpur Railway line project in Bastar division of Chhattisgarh has been completed, officials stated.

In all, 17 km Rail track has been completed in the first phase and Chief Minister Raman Singh has expressed happiness over the achievement, they stated.

A successful trial run of a Railway diesel engine was also carried out earlier between Dallirajhara till Gudum village at the speed of 20 km per hour.

Notably, the development of two key Rail corridors in mineral-rich Chhattisgarh is now set to expand the Railway line network by 45 per cent in the State, officials stated.

The completion of Dallirajhara-Rowghat-Jagdalpur, East and East-WestRail corridor projects will comprise a total of 535 kilometers Railway-line during the next two to four years, they stated.

The East West Rail Corridor project is expected to get completed in 2018-19.

The corridor is to facilitate movement of about 60 million tonnes of coal to various parts of the country apart from providing passenger train facility for the local populace of the region.

The length of the rail track would be 135.30 kms.The Chhattisgarh East West Railway Ltd is the implementing agency for the project.

Notably, Coal India Ltd (CIL) is putting all its resources together to ensure its flagship subsidiary South Eastern Coalfields Ltd (SECL) is able to transport more coal easily to its customers, officials informed.

Notably, the East West Corridor project from Gevra to Pendra in Chhattisgarh with a length of about 122 kms is being executed by Chhattisgarh East West Rail Ltd (CEWRL) .

CEWRL is a joint venture company formed by South Eastern Coalfields Ltd (SECL), IRCON and Chhattisgarh government.

The project had been undertaken for evacuation of coal from SECL’s Gevra-Korba coalfields.

The Union Ministry of Coal has ensured Coal India Ltd (CIL) for getting Mand-Raigarh railway line project expedited to facilitate growth in offtake of coal from mines under South Eastern Coalfields Ltd (SECL) in Chhattisgarh.

Notably, the  coal requirement for the proposed Super Thermal Plant of NTPC Ltd at Lara would be met from Talaipalli Coal Block of Mand in Raigarh Coalfields, officials stated.NMDC Ltd is making an expenditure of Rs 41.16 crore for enabling facilities needed for doubling of railway line between Kirandul and Jagdalpur and Jagdalpur-Ambagaon section for augmentation of iron ore evacuation from Bailadila mines in Baster region of Chhattisgarh.

The company is also going for enhancement of production capacity enhancement of iron ore from 4.2 MTPA to 6 MTPA at its Bailadila Deposit no 10 in Dantewada district of South Bastar region in Chhattisgarh, officials informed.

It has already commenced work for setting up the 2.0 MTPA Pellet Plant at Nagarnar near Jagdalpur in Bastar region of Chhattisgarh, officials informed.

Notably, the company has made a capital expenditure of Rs 4.76 crore as on September 2016 for development of its Bailadila iron ore mines in Bastar region of Chhattisgarh during the last financial year, officials informed.

The company is now going for construction of the 5th iron ore screening line at its existing screening plant number 2 at Bailadila Iron Ore Mine at Kirandul complex in Dantewada district of Bastar region.

It may also be recalled that NMDC has proposed to use its mine lease area at Deposit number 4 located at Bailadila range of hills at Bhansi near Bacheli in South Bastar’s Dantewada district in Chhattisgarh for meeting the raw material requirement ‘exclusively’ for its upcoming 3 MTPA Integrated Steel Plant at Nagarnar, officials informed.

The remaining iron ore quantity after meeting the requirement of integrated steel plant at Nagarnar from  Deposit 4 will be sold to domestic customers in Chhattisgarh, they informed.

The Deposit – 4 iron ore mine will be developed as a ‘standalone project’ with an estimated investment of Rs 1899.74 crores. Notably, NMDC proposes for mining the Deposit number 4 iron ore mine with a production capacity of 7.0 MTPA in the mine lease area of 646.596 hectares.

Notably, NMDC’s iron ore requirement for the steel plant would be 5 MTPA. The exploration work was done at Bailadila Deposit No. 4 by NMDC in the year back in 1972-74. The ore reserves were proved by detailed exploration activities.

The Deposit 4 has a production capacity of 7.0 MTPA and spread in a mining lease area of 646.596 hectares.

In addition to the mining lease area, 95.13 hectares forest land is identified for development of infrastructure such as downhill conveyor, screening plant, loading plant and approach road etc.

Further, 50 hectares of non-forest land is also required for installation of railway stock yard, administrative building, loading plant (part), tailing dam, STP and township etc.

The existing iron ore production from other Bailadila mines is catering to requirements of large steel plants and also to local sponge iron / pelletplants in Chhattisgarh.

Mining plan along with progressive mine closure plan has been approved by Indian Bureau of Mines (IBM), for production capacity of 7.0 MTPA vide their letter no: No 314(3)/2012-MCCM (CZ)/MP-19 dated July 26, 2013, officials informed.

NMDC is operating iron ore mines at Bailadila Complex in South Bastar Dantewada District Chhattisgarh and is having long terms commitment for supply of iron ore to major steel plants across the country. Hence, J.V. Company between NMDC and Chhattisgarh Mineral Development Corporation (CMDC)  i.e NMDC-CMDC (NCL) was formed for development of a new deposit in the already prospected areas i.e Bailadila Deposit-4 with a production capacity of 7 MTPA for meeting the iron ore requirement of Steel plant of NMDC at Nagarnar, near Jagdalpur.

It is doing a complete Energy Audit for Bailadila Iron Ore Mine at Deposit 14 and 11C at Kirandul complex and Deposit 5, 10 and 11A at Bacheli Complex in Bastar region of Chhattisgarh.

The company is also planning to construct a ‘rapid iron ore loading system’ with a capacity of 14 million tonnes per annum (MTPA) at its Kirandul complex in Bastar, officials informed.

Adding yet another feather to its cap, NMDC’s Bailadila Iron ore Mine at Bacheli Complex in Bastar region of Chhattisgarh has bagged the prestigious ‘FIMI Golden Jubilee Award for Excellence’.

On the basis of best practices adopted, improvement over the last 10 years, excellence in environment management, social awareness, health and safety, overall mine performance and exemplary Reclamation & Rehabilitation (R&R) efforts by Bailadila Iron Ore Mine at Bacheli Complex, the Federation of Indian Mineral Industry (FIMI) has awarded NMDC’s flagship mine for this One Time Special Award, a company press release informed.

After Train Departs 20 Seconds Early, Japan Railway Issues ‘Deep Apology’

A Japanese railway operator has issued a deep apology for the “tremendous nuisance” caused by a train departing 20 seconds early, surprising even a nation renowned for both punctuality and politeness.

The Tsukuba Express train linking Tokyo and the capital’s northern suburbs pulled out of Minami Nagareyama Station at 9:44:20 instead of 9:44:40.
“We deeply apologise for causing tremendous nuisance to customers,” said the Tsukuba Express company.

“There was no complaint from customers over this incident,” said the firm, which added that no one missed the train due to the premature departure.

Japanese railway services, including shinkansen bullet trains, are famous for their world-beating punctuality. Even the slightest delay prompts an effusive apology from the train guard, which often lasts longer than the hold-up itself.

With trains running the same route every few minutes to cope with huge numbers of passengers, even brief delays can back up the whole network causing overcrowding.

Stations in Toyko employs dozens of staff — with their famous white gloves — to ensure the prompt departure of trains and to manage the crush during rush hour.

The bullet trains in Japan are also famed for their customer service, with one offering passengers an onboard footbath to soothe their travelling woes.

The train firm said it was “surprised” by the attention the story was getting, saying: “We have issued similar apologies for trains that departed earlier than scheduled before.”

A spokesman told AFP the apology was issued because strict safety procedures were not followed.

“What matters is not the 20 seconds… The point is that our formal procedure should be this: A sound rings 15 seconds before the departure, followed by an announcement asking for caution due to the closing doors, and then the doors shut,” he said.

Lax management could cause safety problems in the future, the spokesman said. “There are sometimes passengers who try to jump on the train… they could be caught in doors” if the doors shut without warning, he said.

But the apology had several social media users scratching their heads.

“This is surprising even to Japanese,” said one user with the handle @takamin_.

“A weird country in which a 20-second difference prompts a sincere apology while faking quality data on aluminium and steel products or misconduct on car check-ups are done just like that,” another tweet read.

This was a reference to a recent string of corporate scandals that has floored the reputation of Japan Inc.

Car giants Nissan and Subaru have admitted that uncertified staff had inspected vehicles while Kobe Steel has been embroiled in a quality data-faking scandal.

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