Yamanote line
Photo: ちゃんこちゃんこ/PhotoACRegular, manually operated trains on the Yamanote line

JR Yamanote line will trial automated trains with passengers

Test runs with riders aboard will be going for about two months starting this autumn

Kaila Imada
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Kaila Imada
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Tokyo’s train system may seem daunting at first glance, but it’s one of the most efficient transport systems in the entire world. While it takes a hefty crew to operate the complex lines that run on a daily basis, the JR Yamanote line is gearing up to test automated trains with manual drivers only required in emergency cases.

As reported by Kyodo News, the move to automated trains is due to the potential shortage of drivers caused by Japan's shrinking population. JR East has already been testing out the automated system on out-of-service trains, but will now start testing them with passengers starting this October. After thorough test runs, JR East plans to implement the automated train system sometime around 2028.

They’re not fully autonomous – drivers are still onboard and can have the automated trains depart with just a push of a button. These trains will also automatically slow down as they near a station. Data will be collected from the test runs before the system is expected to reach its final stages of development in spring 2023.

Local train services on JR East's Joban line started operating on the automated system in 2021. The Yamanote line will use an improved version of this existing programme that has been designed to accelerate and decelerate just like an experienced driver.

If all goes well, JR East could move on to developing an even more complex system by the 2030s.

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