Engineering standards are established after a governmental or public organization has confirned the safety and reliability of the requirements given in the standards in question, on the basis of the objective data gathered and analyzed for that purpose.
However, recent entrepreneurial activities have resulted in the private sector achieving a larger share of technological advances. As a result, technologies have been developed and applied mainly in the private sector. Since the government has not taken the lead in either developing or using a new technology directly, new technology information could not be obtained in a timely manner but became available only after some time had elapsed. Consequently, new technologies failed to be incorporated in relevant standards in the earliest possible stages of its development.
A large number of private enterprises want to use a new technology in actual projects. Nevertheless, they have been prevented from smoothly implementing the new logically feasible technology because of the restraints of old-fashioned standards. This is a very critical problem.
As part of the deregulation policy, engineering standards have been set up not numerically but qualitatively. These are called the performance provisions.
Under the performance provisions, a reference value is given in terms of a specific number and used as a mere reference. The reference value is not mandatory. A railway operator, therefore, is allowed to apply any other reference values that have been approved by the government, as long as their reasons are clarified. In terms of both human and financial resources, however, it is very difficult for a railway operator to prepare such reasons.
It should be considered that more and more diversified technologies will be developed and applied in the future. Railway operators all in similar situations should ideally be able to cooperate mutually in gathering and analyzing a lot of data. Once such a scheme has been established, an individual railway operator will be able to clearly present the grounds of safety on a new technology inexpensively and promptly. Results thereof should be incorporated in standards at the earliest stages possible so that each enterprise may reduce its burden. This will contribute to development of their operations and wider spread of a new technology.
Here in Japan, the engineering norms adopted by the JR Railways are serving as the basis of applicable standards. In the near future, the JR company in Honshu (the mainland) of Japan is expected to be completely privatized. From an overall viewpoint of the railway industry in Japan, it is difficult to assert that there is a large group of railway engineers with appropriate abilities to meet the challenge of formulating new standards. Under these circumstances, it is more important that, with the lead taken by the private sector, railway operators and railway-related enterprises should have their engineers cooperate in gathering and analyzing new technologies developed and introduced so that a basis of the standards can be established earlier.
Within the Railway Technical Research Institute there is an organization, "Railway Technology Promotion Center," where railway companies, railway-related enterprises and others are collaborating with one another to find a solution for technical challenges transcending the boundaries of companies and technical fields. The role of this organization is to propose to the government that an engineering standard should be revised after clarifying the technical grounds for such a revision, under the cooperation between railway companies and Railway Technical Research Institute.
For example, concerned persons cooperated and investigated the service life of trains and the deterioration or fault of materials used. The investigation results demonstrated that it would be possible to lengthen the inspection cycle. With this taken into consideration, we proposed to the government that the applicable engineering standards should be revised. This proposal launched a government study, resulting in revision of the engineering standards.
Subsequently, the Railway Technology Promotion Center revealed that the internal combustion locomotives might well have their inspection cycle extended, and this was also proposed to the government.
Thus, we have proven that an engineering standard may be revised as long as the private sector has provided reasonable grounds for such revision. This fact may be considered to show us how the railway engineering field in the private sector should be related to the technical standards established by the government.
It is vital that railway companies, railway-related enterprises, and engineers and researchers in the Railway Technical Research Institute be able to standardize and popularize new technologies in cooperation with the leadership of the private sector. It will also enhance the raison d'etre of engineers. We at the Railway Technology Promotion Center would like to see such a point of view permeate the railway industry here so as to achieve an optimum technological cooperation scheme significantly contributing to maintenance and further development of railways.