World's Busiest

Series 1 - Train Station

Train Station

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Tokyo is perhaps the world's most crowded city, with 36 million residents, as well as commuters and visitors, all jostling for space. Every 24 hours, three million people pass through Shinjuku Station, where a train arrives every three seconds on one of 35 platforms.

25,000 trains roll through Shinjuku every day, which, were they placed end to end, would stretch from London to New York. With both overground and underground platforms, it is 15 times busier than London Waterloo, the busiest station in Britain.

As well as the daily pressure of rush hour, the station must be prepared for the constant threat of earthquakes, typhoons and even terrorists. This programme follows 24 hours in the life of Shinjuku – the world's busiest train station.

"Tokyo doesn't really sleep, it just pauses for repairs," says social anthropologist Michael Fisch. Shinjuku's day begins after the last train leaves, just before 2am, when the cleaners have less than three hours to get the place, which is the size of sixty football pitches, spotless – disposing of nine tons of rubbish daily.

Hundreds of staff sleep at the station in pods that have inflatable mattress covers. These automatically inflate, lifting the sleeper's head, when the alarm goes off, ensuring that all staff are on time when the doors are opened at 4am.

Among the human cogs in this vast machine are four station guards per platform, who ensure that everyone sticks to the timetable. If passengers are slow to board, this can lead to delays. A delay of two minutes can cause the cancellation of a train, which could lead to dangerous numbers of people congregating on the platforms.

The guards have 30 seconds to get four thousand people off a train and another four thousand back on in order to keep everything on schedule. To do so they employ brute force to push passengers into the carriages, squeezing in double the number of people the rolling stock was designed to take.

"It's an experience like no other," says Michael. "People faint. People's arms have been crushed and broken. You just wait for the next station when the doors open and the pressure unleashes... it's really like nowhere else."

Behind closed doors, Shinjuku's employees remind themselves of their dedication to their profession by reciting the railway's philosophy. "Rigorous clarification and thorough communication are vital to ensuring safety. Ensuring safety requires one to surpass one's line of duty and work in unity. Self awareness and teamwork come together to build a safe and trustworthy Shinjuku station," they chant.

Situated where the business and entertainment districts converge, Shinjuku experiences five rush hours per day. After the salary men comes the first wave of tourists, and after the professionals head home, those in search of the night life arrive. But the last rush hour is the most problematic – when the drunk and disorderly try to stagger on to their final train home.

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