LAST December we reported the Japanese Ministry of Transport’s strong desire to push through legislation that would allow full privatisation of the three Japan Rail Group companies on Honshu. We suggested that one or two obstacles may prohibit rapid progress towards the ministry’s goal, despite strong backing from JR East and JR West. With shares in more than half of the three companies already in the private sector, it was on paper a simple matter, and the ministry prepared a bill to complete the process. But objections arose from two sources.

JR Central’s President Yoshiyuki Kasai felt that some basic questions needed to be answered before privatisation went any further. In particular he wanted clarification of the relationship between the JR passenger companies and JR Freight. He drew attention to the impossibility of JR Central building a Tokyo - Osaka maglev line solely as a private sector project - which may be influenced by the US$50m of long-term debt arising from the high price paid for the Tokaido shinkansen infrastructure transferred from the Shinkansen Holding Corp in 1991. The costs of the Yamanashi maglev test site and JR Central Towers (RG 3.00 p141) may also enter the equation.

The other source of opposition came from some members of the ruling Liberal Democratic party who believe that a major public service should remain under government control. There is also a view that there is more chance of further shinkansen construction with a publicly-controlled railway than one which is entirely in the private sector. In these circumstances, the ministry has given up the idea of forcing the bill through, at least in the current session of the Diet.

HFive people died and over 30 were injured following a derailment on Teito Rapid Transit Authority’s Hibiya line near Nakameguro on March 8. The train was passing through a sharp curve at the end of a steep grade coming out of a tunnel when the end car left the rails and struck a crowded train travelling in the opposite direction. A week later investigators had not been able to establish the cause of the derailment, but the Ministry of Transport ordered that a guard rail be installed immediately on the 162m radius curve. The Hibiya line carries over 1 million passengers a day; this was the first fatal accident on TRTA since Tokyo’s first subway line opened in 1927.