Big Read – In-depth look into the bright future of transit in the GTA

Japanese safety technique Shisa Kanko coming to GO Trains

How an ancient Japanese practice is ultimately making the GO system even safer.

Mar 15, 2021

Mother always said it was impolite to point.

And don’t get her started on speaking loudly.

But in this case, taking a page out of lessons originally learned on Japan’s transit network, dramatic hand gestures and loud calls are signs of refinement – and added safety.

GO trains are now pulling into stations and opening their doors with the customer service ambassadors – the CSAs who are stationed in the accessibility coach – pointing at certain indicators and calling out their status loudly to themselves. These instructions are not for customers and are only for the CSAs.

It’s called ‘Shisa Kanko’ – a pointing and calling safety practice used on Japanese railways for almost a century.

Big Read – In-depth look into the bright future of transit in the GTA

Katelyn Drysdale is seen here identifying a ‘good spot’ as well as pointing and calling ‘clear right, clear left’ before opening the remaining doors of the train for passengers. (Nitish Bissonauth Photo)

“The practice engages the operator’s brain, eyes, hands, mouth, and ears to have increased awareness of what they are doing” explained Bilal Quadri, the manager of Customer Service at Alstom.

Alstom, the company formerly known as Bombardier, provides the crews that operate GO Transit’s train fleet.

“By pointing and calling out actions, an operator’s focus is heightened during key moments.”

According to Quadri, some of the CSAs work and operate 60 to 70 stops a day and with so many platforms, it’s easy to fall into a routine and create an automatic habit.

The same can be said about anyone who drives or walks to and from the same destination or constantly does the same action repeatedly. Most of us have driven to a regular destination, and then thought ‘I actually can’t really recall the details of that ride’.

Point and call helps transit staff break out of that automation by stimulating the senses.

It involves the CSA pointing at a spotting location and calling out ’good spot’.

The CSA will then point in both directions and at the same time yell ‘clear right, clear left’ determining when the platform is safe to open the doors.

“I find I’m sharper and on the ball more with this new method,” explains Katelyn Drysdale, a CSA for 11 years.

With the organization constantly evolving, she says her, and her colleagues are used to changes and adapting to new practices.

According to Drysdale, point and call was easy to pick up and she already finds it very effective.   “It allows me to take a step back and get a proper sense of my environmental awareness, something that is crucial for me while operating the doors, she explains.”

Once customers have boarded or deboarded the train, they may see the CSA stepping out of the train, and again pointing in both directions calling ‘clear right, clear left’, making sure no passengers are left behind before safely closing the doors.

The gesture may seem a little silly, or a tad dramatic, but it’s effective. Japan’s public transit system, a transportation network that moved 12 billion passengers annually prior to the pandemic, is considered one of the world’s safest transit systems.

Point and Call – Metrolinx introduces the practice of Shisa Kanko to GO Transit trains

Katelyn Drysdale points and calls to the step before customers step off. (Nitish Bissonauth Photo)

“I’ve been reading about this for a few years and I’ve seen it myself in Japan when I was on vacation two years ago,” explains Alstom’s Quadri.

“I had observed this practice in Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka and I thought if other world class transit agencies are adopting this, why not us?”

Metrolinx was quick to support this innovative idea, especially as the transit agency gets ready to launch the largest expansion of GO service in it’s history.

“This is an important addition to the CSA workflow especially on corridors where we have massive construction projects underway,” says Rob Andrews, director of Rail Operations at Metrolinx.

Andrews also mentioned the practice won’t negatively impact GO Transit’s on time performance, something he and his team are committed to delivering, knowing the importance for customers.

Nearly all customer service ambassadors have now been trained and are currently practicing point and call.

Point and Call – Metrolinx introduces the practice of Shisa Kanko to GO Transit trains

Seen here, Drysdale is again practicing Shisa Kanko when closing the doors of the train. (Nitish Bissonauth Photo)

So, if you’re taking the GO train and you see your CSA using this method, just know this is another step towards flawless door operations and hence, greater safety for everyone.

And feel free to explain it to mom, if she accompanies you aboard.

by Nitish Bissonauth Metrolinx bilingual editorial content advisor