SALE OF the Japanese government’s outstanding shares in the three mainland JR companies may start later this year. This follows the passage of a bill through the Diet on June 15 paving the way for full privatisation of JR Central, JR West and JR East.

The bill had been opposed by JR Central in particular (RG 3.01 p178), which was concerned about measures to deal with its historic debts and about the future of unprofitable routes. A compromise was agreed, with the transport minister retaining powers to make recommendations about local lines and promising to consider ways of easing JR Central’s debt burden. The bill will give the three companies substantially more freedom - they will be able to choose their own presidents and issue bonds without seeking permission from the state.