The Turtles that Stopped the Japanese Train

Turtles Stopped Japan Train

When you think of the classic story of “The Turtle and the Hare,” you surely get an image of the turtle, tucked safely in its hard shell, taking its time to get to the finish line, while the sassy hare loses track of time. What would you say if the story were called “The Turtle and the Japanese Train?” Pretty silly, right? But it’s actually a true story.

The train system of Kobe, Japan is bustling and active, transporting commuters to and from the city. Kobe, being the sixth-largest city in Japan, has a lot of commuters to the surrounding areas. Yet you may be thinking that trains have nothing to do with turtles.

In the railway system between Kobe and neighboring towns, the turtles had become a problem. While they move slowly, the turtles typically make it over the tracks with no problem. When there is a problem, however, it is a big problem. The turtles get stuck in railway junctions, unable to move out because of the track switch and the track cannot successfully switch with a turtle blocking it. The result was 13 disruptions in train traffic from 2002-2014, enough that the turtles had finally become a problem.

The Turtles’ Journey

The turtles make the daily journey to get from their nests to a nearby ocean. But in between their nests and ocean are the badly placed rail lines. There are so many turtles involved that they cannot be simply moved. So sometimes a turtle strays at a poor time and gets stuck trying to go for its daily journey for a swim and some grub.

Turtles have a hard shell, but it is not strong enough to handle a train track. They were only made to help keep them from being eaten by a hungry animal looking for a tasty snack.

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The Real Problem

Turtles have been protected in Japan since the 1970s, so helping them isn’t really that weird. Eggs used to be poached, but that is now watched for by the Sea Turtle Association of Japan.

But really, while the turtles should not need to run the risk of being crushed, the real reason behind finding a solution is the train delays. When trains are late in Japan, the railway literally writes the commuters notes to take to their bosses. At least it helps the turtles.

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Looking for a Solution

The West Japan Railway Company needed to find a solution to help both themselves as well as the turtles. Asking for help from the Suma Aqua life Park, the local aquarium, they made a plan to get the turtles to where they were headed without turning them into dinner.

Through some trial and error, they found that the turtles could not avoid walking in between the rails, which is how they wind up in turtle soup. There is no way for them to go around the track and the ocean clearly cannot be moved elsewhere. This made a bigger problem. There are too many turtles to just try to move the whole lot.

A U-Ditch Saves the Day

They had to do some brainstorming to get the turtles across the tracks without disrupting train service. In case you didn’t know it, being punctual is crucial in Japan, so having trains disrupted for any reason is not going to cut it.

The result was the construction of five u-shaped ditches that run underneath the tracks at the switch points. They built them at two stations in Nara. Made of concrete, the ditches were placed near junctions, where the problems seemed to be the greatest. How it works is that the turtles that are close to the junctions will spill over into the ditches safely under the tracks, preventing them from being crushed.

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New Additions to the Aquarium

The turtles can’t get back out of the ditches, unfortunately. So while they no longer are getting crushed, they are still not making it where they wanted to go to. At least the trains are not getting disrupted though, right?

Staff of the West Japan Railway Company makes rounds looking in the ditches once a month to grab the turtles that have fallen in. The turtles who survived the ditches get to have a nice new home at the Suma Aqua life Park, which is definitely better than constantly risking their lives crossing the train tracks. And the aquarium gets to have some extra turtles on display.

Park Sweet Home

The Suma Aqua life Park is not your typical aquarium. It’s more like a gigantic aquarium on a beach resort, giving its tenants a pretty happy life.

While it is not the ocean, it is not a bad way to live for the turtles. And progress from being crushed by a railway. If you could ask a turtle, I bet they would go for a beach resort over being squished.

The Success of the U-Ditch

The questions remains: have the u-ditches actually been successful? To date, there have been ten successful turtle rescues in the ditches, which were potentially ten turtles who lived to see another day. And ten prevented train disruptions.

So far, the turtles have not stopped train service since. This means no more turtle fatalities at the moment and no delayed commuters. In the end, everyone should be happy.

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Closing Thoughts

Turtle shells are really a ribcage on the outside, protecting them from mighty jaws. But, unlike what you see in cartoons, they are part of their backbones. A turtle shell cannot come off their bodies; it would be like you removing your ribs. They can move their heads back inside of their shells though. That part is true. They do it to keep their heads from being eaten if they think some creature is looking for a turtle snack.

Also of note, there are some types of turtles around today that were around in the time of the dinosaurs. So while their shells seem pretty handy for the turtles of today, it goes to show that they have been making good use of those shells for millions of years.

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