He was only found out after an inquiry was launched by bosses after the train arrived one minute late at its destination.
The conductor, who is also facing disciplinary action, sat on a jump seat in the cockpit, but did not touch any controls during the incident, the Central Japan Railway Company said.
At a hearing, the driver told the operator – better known as JR Central – that he couldn’t recall what had happened, but said that he had been experiencing stomach pains.
He reportedly added that he didn’t stop the train at the nearest station because he wanted to avoid causing a delay.
Japan’s public transport system is famous for its efficiency and punctuality, putting drivers under immense pressure to deliver their passengers on time.
But under JR Central rules, drivers who become unwell during a journey should report the matter to the operations centre and either stop the train at the nearest station or leave it in the care of a conductor who is licensed to drive it.
After investigating, JR Central reported the driver’s temporary absence to the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism who described the incident as “regrettable”.
The company also expressed their regret, with a senior official, Masahiro Hayatsu, telling a press conference: “It was an extremely inappropriate act. We apologise.”
JR Central added that it is the first time a bullet-train driver has abandoned his post with passengers on board on their Tokaido Shinkansen Line service.
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