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Saburo Tsukamoto

【#214】JR Hokkaido’s Loose Safety Management Is Intolerable

Saburo Tsukamoto / 2013.10.03 (Thu)

September 30, 2013

       I served as an employee of the then Japanese National Railways in Nagoya before becoming a National Diet lawmaker and working hard to reform and privatize the JNR. I would like to remain proud that Japanese railways have been the safest in the world and that I, as a lawmaker, contributed to paving the way for the JNR plagued with 27 trillion yen in losses to be divided into regional companies for privatization.
       For this reason, I, as a former JNR employee, was surprised to hear that Hokkaido Railway Co., known as JR Hokkaido, incurred a series of accidents including the recent derailment and found various problems in the course of investigations into these accidents.

Corporate governance is problematic
       Investigators into the recent freight train derailment have reportedly found that a rail track anomaly had been left untouched for one year after its detection, running counter to a guideline under which any anomaly must be solved within 15 days after its detection. JR Hokkaido reported 97 dangerous rail track anomalies before announcing 170 more anomalies later.
       “We delayed and forgot repairs at less frequently used rail tracks,” JR Hokkaido President Makoto Nojima said. “We must more deeply analyze what were short at workplace.”
       “Personnel and goods have absolutely been short,” a veteran railway platelayer said. “We usually see cases where repairs are put off.” The reform of loose organization looks indispensable.
       “Anything could happen under such situation,” said a senior official at the transport ministry’s Railway Bureau. “I don’t understand why anomalies were left untouched.” A railway industry source said JR Hokkaido should thoroughly reform its business arrangements. There may be labor union problems that have remained unresolved since the JNR age.
       “There should be problems with corporate governance as well as in-house safety management arrangements,” said a senior transport ministry official. I have to agree with him.

Whole organization has to be overhauled
       JR Hokkaido is financially and physically weaker than JR East or JR Tokai. But personnel shortages must not be a reason for putting off repairs.
       Given the latest derailment accident, JR Hokkaido should overhaul its financial profile, organization and chain of command, and improve skills and morals, returning to the starting line for the railway business.
       The JR Hokkaido problem should be interpreted as a warning to other JR companies in regard to in-house control arrangements and employees’ responsibility for safety. Other JR companies as well should return to the starting line by acknowledging their responsibility for the world’s fastest speed and safety.

Saburo Tsukamoto is Director of Japan Institute for National Fundamentals and was Chairman of defunct Democratic Socialist Party.