Almost two weeks ago, a JR Hokkaido train derailed with investigations that led to the discovery of other maintenance issues left unmanaged. With all the information revealed, the government’s Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism is expected to improve its inspection system to ensure that no similar incident, or anything that would result from maintenance negligence, will happen in the future.
In addition to stern regulations that the ministry will implement, the number of safety inspectors will also be increased to ensure that the new safety measures will be carried out without mishap. The current ministry inspection system employs about 180 ministry officials with around 32 railway safety inspectors. The test inspections, of about 200 railway companies, are done every five years.
Back in May 2011, the JR Hokkaido went through inspections as a limited express train had been derailed and even caught fire. The railway operator went through three inspections, including a special safety check. However, tracks that were left without repairs missed the inspections’ assessment. It was even found that 267 locations of the railway company’s lines have been affected with widened tracks. The latest derailment of a JR Hokkaido train revealed that the track at the incident’s location has reached 28 mm beyond safety limit.
According to a senior ministry official, they could only do so much with the current inspection system. He reasoned, “If the number of samples is small, we may not notice existing problems.” According to the ministry, when they have completed the safety inspection, the delayed repair of tracks of the Hokkaido-based operator has violated the Railway Operations Law. A further inspection may even be conducted by the ministry, taking into accounts the statements of the railway operators’ executives including President Makoto Nojima.
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