Ben Lowry: Last minute people like me can't bear it when trains leave early

A Japanese train company apologised for leaving a station 20 seconds early this week.

Saturday, 18th November 2017, 8:30 pm
Updated Tuesday, 12th December 2017, 12:30 am
Trains never leave the main stations even 10 seconds early but they can make up time en route and leave the mid point stations early by a minute or more

Yes, that’s right – 20 seconds early (at 9:44:20 local time instead of the scheduled 9:44:40).

Their timings are so precise that they have timetabled departures that to the nearest 20 seconds.

No wonder Japan is so efficient that it builds some of the best cars.

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This report from Japan had me grinning, because I have a particular bugbear about buses and trains in Northern Ireland leaving early.

I always believed it was happening occasionally but was only able to prove it when I got a phone that was on the atomic clock: ie, never so much as a second fast or slow.

I get buses and trains a lot now because for months I have been without a car. In many respects it is a relief, because I found it increasingly frustrating to drive – sitting far back in a queue at a traffic light, for example, and sizzling when driver reticence means that only eight of the cars in front instead of 12 get out at a long green light.

On the whole these public transport services are good, and even the Metro buses in a bustling city keep largely to schedule. If you are waiting for a 10.12am bus on a Sunday in the middle of a but route, generally it does come near the due time.

Of course a bus at the mid point in a journey cannot come at the precise time, given traffic variables. My gripe is with a bus that leaves its starting point early, as happens.

This week in Belfast, for example, a bus that I was on was due to leave City Hall at 5.13pm but in fact departed at seconds after 5.12pm.

When I mention this to people, they often think I am being fussy and scold me for not arriving early.

Some very organised people will always turn up for a bus two or three or even five minutes early.

But if you look at any departing bus you will often see a last minute person like me rushing to the doors just as it is leaving.

If the bus is on time, fair enough. But it is fundamentally wrong to depart a minute or even 30 seconds early and cause such inconvenience to someone who has arrived on time, albeit at the last moment.

At least the Japanese (and the Germans, and the Americans, etc) understand this, even if the Japanese take it to extreme levels.

Most Translink drivers do not leave early, but I would say around one in five or ten does so (a bit).

Unlike buses, trains never seem to leave their main stations early, such as Bangor or Belfast Central. But they can make up time en route.

Some of the worst examples I have seen in recent years include a morning express train that I had joined in Bangor leaving Holywood one minute and 15 seconds early.

And a Sunday morning train to Portadown, when I was travelling to our main office, left Moira an incredible two minutes 45 secs early.

I mentioned it to a conductor. Nonplussed, he said they can reach Moira so fast that they leave early.

• Ben Lowry (@BenLowry2) is News Letter deputy editor