East Japan Railway Co. on Monday launched onboard "office cars" on certain shinkansen bullet trains on lines connecting Tokyo and the country's northern and central parts to meet growing demand for a new work style amid the coronavirus pandemic.
For no additional charge and only on weekdays, passengers on the No. 8 cars on 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 of 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 put on a door of the No. 8 car and leaflets explaining the service were placed at the seats.
A JR East staff demonstrated to the media how she works remotely, using a noise-canceling headphone.
Passengers will also be able to borrow "smart glasses" that project the content of their laptop screens before their eyes. On bullet trains on the Tohoku line, they will also be able to use free of charge small dividers to put around their seat tables, with a similar measure 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 people go on "workation" trips in which they combine working online with travel, while also stimulating demand for business trips, which has decreased due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
To avoid congestion, the work spaces will not be available on weekends, public holidays and in the New Year holiday period, among others.
For the time being, the exterior appearance of the office cars and seats will not change, although JR East 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 Sanyo Shinkansen and Tokaido Shinkansen lines that run through the major Japanese cities of Tokyo, Nagoya, Osaka and Fukuoka.