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Transportation

JR East to bring forward last train departures in Tokyo come spring

Fewer late night passengers due to pandemic and labor shortages cited as reasons

East Japan Railway will move up departure times for last trains in the Tokyo metropolitan area by some 30 minutes from the spring of next year as measures to stop the spread of the coronavirus have prompted passengers to return home earlier than before.

TOKYO - Japanese train operator East Japan Railway is moving up departure times for its final trains in the Tokyo area from next spring, as late night train rider numbers have significantly dropped due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Final departure times will be moved up by about 30 minutes so that trains arrive at their last stops around 1 a.m. The company also plans to make other revisions such as moving departure times for first trains of the day to later times in some areas in the spring of 2021, the company announced on Thursday.

The scheduling revision comes as the coronavirus has had a big impact on transportation needs as restrictions aimed at curtailing the spread of infections led to shortened hours for restaurants and increased remote working by employees at numerous companies and businesses.

"Remote working and e-commerce would continue to be widely accepted by society even after the infection situation calms down, and we believe customers' work styles and behavior would not return [to pre-coronavirus levels]," JR East said in a statement.

Passenger traffic on central Tokyo's Yamanote line between Ueno and Okachimachi stations, for example, recently dropped by 66% compared to before the coronavirus, according to the railway operator.

The revision was also motivated by difficulties in meeting an increasing construction and repair workload and securing workers as Japan's population continues to shrink. Due to demand for new facilities and updating old ones, construction demands have increased by 10% in the last 10 years, according to JR East. There are also pressing needs to implement barrier free and safety measures at stations.

Moving up last train departures enables the company more leeway for such necessary construction work, thus increasing overall efficiency.

The railway operator took net losses of 155.3 billion yen ($1.4 billion) in the April-June quarter, a big reversal from a 91.5 billion yen profit in the year-earlier period.

West Japan Railway, another JR group company, has announced that its last trains will be leaving major stations, including those in Osaka, earlier.

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