Research and development to be expected

Hisashi TARUMI
General Manager
Fundamental Research Div., RTRI


  The railway industry in Japan has made characteristic steps since the beginning of the commercial operation of Shinkansen. Twenty three years later, the industry experienced a revolution, which resulted in the privatization and division of Japanese National Railways into seven companies. In the twelve years since then, each of these railroad groups has been pushing to achieve their intended objectives. On the other hand, structural changes in Japanese society and economic activity have also had an influence on the railway industry from day to day. The keen competition and cooperation among traffic industries and the present situation, in which the value standards of customers have been diversified, suggest that the conventional method of railway management should be changed. At the same time, though the railway industry is at an advantage since it is environmentally preferable to other transport systems, it is necessary to continuously strive to enhance this superiority. There are other important factors to consider in the management of railway industry, such as the increase of the number of aged people and actively working women in society and the decrease in the birth rate.
  Under these circumstances it seems impossible to predict a simple increase in the total volume for passenger and freight transportation. Therefore the railway companies are now urged to keep the fare from rising. As a result there are some significant challenges in managing the efficiency of the railway industry and cost reduction including enhancement of customer services, securing and seeking safety and reduction of fixed cost.
  After the privatization and division of Japanese National Railways , technological development as well as business efficiency based on customer convenience has had a high rate of success. In order to accomplish the goals laid out during the reorganization of the National Railways, "Railway Technical Research Institute, Japan" has been striving in the fields of high technology research and development to be transferred to the new companies, in basic fields that don't always come to immediate practical results, in fields with a wide range of application and in the field of the magnetically levitated train. After striving for success in these areas, the management system change resulting from the privatization and division of Japanese National Railways has been highly regarded, both inside and outside of Japan, while the Shinkansen has been very much admired for its highly technical systematization using existing technology,
  Furthermore, in order to keep making improvements in the railway industry, it is important to promote other research and development focusing on customer convenience, information, environment, security, maintenance technology and lower cost. Especially basic research seems to respond to our expectations because it has great potential to lead the development of system change and new materials. One typical example of a recent system change is the development of the magnetically levitated train by using the principle of superconductivity. There are also a number of examples that were not on the same scale but were developed with ideas different from the conventional methods: resolution of PCB by microbes; earthquake-proof embankment reinforced with geo-synthetics and perpendicularly standing rigid concrete walls; and the "stone-blowing" method, a new idea which consists of filling in the ballast tracks by blowing crushed stones into the spaces under ties, instead of tamping the ballast with vibration. It must be also referred to that a Japanese company designed a car with the concept reducing the cost, the weight and the life of a car to half. Seen from a different viewpoint, there are many points like these to improve on. We believe that the results coming from these issues will be useful.
  In order to accomplish the tasks in these basic fields and achieve intended objectives, it is necessary to employ and train persons who can strive for success in unknown fields. Needless to say, another basic issue is to set proper assignments in anticipation of the needs of the railway industries. As far as the point of effective application with limited resources is concerned, it is important to organize the effective system to promote research and development and at the same time give priority to difficult but fruitful subjects while reinforcing the cooperative relationship between Japan and other countries. It should be now recognized that management for research and development has become more important than ever.