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JR East launches bullet train ‘office cars’ amid telework demand


In an effort to meet the growing demand for new work styles amid the pandemic, on Monday East Japan Railway Co. launched onboard “office cars” for certain shinkansen bullet train lines that connect Tokyo with the country’s northern and central regions.

For no additional charge and only on weekdays, passengers on the No. 8 cars of the Tohoku, Joetsu, and Hokuriku lines can now talk on the phone and participate in online meetings from their seats — activities that are discouraged on the rest of the train.

“We want to support a new way of working that is not bound by time and place,” said an official from the railway operator known as JR East, which finally began the service in earnest after successful trial runs.

Media were granted access inside a running Hokuriku bullet train on Monday, where a sticker saying “office car” had been placed on a door of the No. 8 car and leaflets explaining the service were placed on the seats.

A member of JR East’s staff demonstrated to the media how she works remotely, using noise-canceling headphones.

Passengers will also be able to borrow “smart glasses” which project the content of their laptop screens into specialized lenses worn on the face. On bullet trains on the Tohoku line, passengers will also be able to use small dividers to put around their seats and table free of charge. A similar measure is being considered for the Hokuriku and Joetsu lines.

The remote work spaces onboard the shinkasen are also available on a different railway operator’s shinkansen line in Hokkaido, which connects directly to the Tohoku line.

JR East hopes the new service will help encourage “workation” trips — where people combine working online with travel — while also stimulating demand for business trips, which decreased dramatically during the COVID-19 pandemic.

To avoid congestion, the work spaces will not be available on weekends, public holidays and during the New Year holiday period, among other times.

For the time being, the look and design of the office cars and seats will not change, but JR East has said that they would consider remodeling them in the future.

Central Japan Railway Co. and West Japan Railway Co. have also been trialing the introduction of onboard work spaces since October on the Nozomi superexpress trains on the Sanyo Shinkansen and Tokaido Shinkansen lines that run through major Japanese cities such as Tokyo, Nagoya, Osaka and Fukuoka.

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