Hundreds of thousands of commuters in Tokyo got a free ride to work Friday morning after a systems glitch caused more than 7,000 ticket gates at 662 railway stations to fail.
The gates, which allow passengers with contactless smart cards to access the railway, failed to work when power was switched on at the start of Friday services and rail operators decided to allow passengers access at no charge. A large number of passengers use the contactless cards, and forcing them to buy paper tickets would have meant long queues and congestion at railway stations during the morning rush hour.
The problem occurred at stations operated by East Japan Railway, Tokyo Metro and several private railway operators.
While the cause of the failure is not yet known, the fault appears to lie with the manufacturer of the ticket gates, Nippon Signal. Gates made by other companies operated without problem on Friday.
Local news reports said initial investigations point to a problem in communcation between the gates and a host computer. Nippon Signal was unavailable for immediate comment.
Tokyo has one of the most extensive railways networks of any city in the world. More than 60 railway companies operate several hundred railway lines that crisscross the capital and carry millions of people per day. The contactless smart card system interoperates between different companies and allows passengers the ability to travel on almost all trains, subways and buses in the city with a common card.
More than 27 million contactless travel cards have been issued in the Tokyo area to-date.