Present and Future of the Administration on Railway Technologies

Director of Technological Development Office
Engineering Planning Div.
Railway Bureau
Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport

  Toward the target to provide the people with "safe and reliable transport services," the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport is executing various policies to offer safe, stable and high-quality transport services and positively contribute to the innovation of economy and society.
  In particular, Railways are required, to respond to various needs of users, such as high speed operation, improvement of safety, comfort and convenience, mitigation of the congestion in the commuter and student rush hour, improvement of facilities and rolling stock to ensure the convenience of the aged and handicapped, etc. As the social constraint on environmental problems is increasing, the people have greater expectation for railways that feature high-speed, punctual and mass transport. To respond to such expectation and provide the people with attractive and easy-to-use railway services, I present our railway technological policies as below.

1. Improvement of the organization to investigate and analyze railway accidents
  According to the Report No. 23 "On Railway Technological Policies in the Future," which was submitted in 1998 November by the Transport Technology Council, the Accident Investigation Committee was organized in 1999 July in the Railway Bureau, with pre-appointed experts for the investigation of railway accidents, in order to start investigation immediately in case a large-scale or peculiar accident has occurred.
  When a derailment accident occurred on the Hibiya line, Teito Rapid Transit Authority, in 2000 March, the Committee investigated the cause of the derailment and submitted the report on the accident on October 26. Since it was required to further strengthen the organization for the investigation of accidents as a result of the activities by the Committee, laws and ordinances were revised in 2000 April to organize the Aircraft and Train Accident Investigation Committee. With this turning point, we think we must reinforce the system to investigate accidents and apply technological policies to prevent repetition of accident.

2. Application of information technology
  It is said that information technology (IT), which is being introduced into various fields, is a key to the development in the 21st century. The Report No. 26 "On Fundamental Direction of Transport Technology Development at the Beginning of the 21st Century," which was submitted in 2000 December by the Transport Technology Council, also refers to the importance to positively promote technological development based on information technology.
  Under the circumstances, we think that railways, where information technology has been used for train operation, security and ticket booking/issuing systems, must more actively apply information technology to improve safety, comfort and convenience. Therefore, we are committing research and development to prevent accidents and dramatically improve passenger services by utilizing information technology to the maximum extent, to the Railway Technical Research Institute (RTRI). As a means to introduce information technology into various fields of transport service, we are promoting researches to construct a "Comprehensive Transport Information Providing System." and will continue to implement the policies to utilize information technology.

3. Superconducting magnetically levitated vehicle
  We are now developing a superconducting magnetically levitated vehicle (Maglev) as a innovative high-speed railway transport in the 21st century.
  On the Yamanashi Test Line that has been constructed since the fiscal 1990, a full-fledged running test by a prototype started in 1997 April. A maximum speed of 552km/h was recorded with a five-car train set in the three-year running test until 2000 March. While continuing a high-speed running test, we also tested two train sets to pass each other at a relative speed of 1,003km/h.
  We organized the inter-disciplinary "Evaluation Committee on the Technological Feasibility of Maglev System" in order to comprehensively evaluate the technologies in view of practicality. In 2000 March, the Committee concluded that the system was technologically feasible as a super high-speed mass transport system, though there were some issues to be discussed further on the economy and long-term durability of the system. According to the remark by the Committee, we started a running test in fiscal 2000 to verify the long-term durability and reduce the system cost, and improve the aerodynamic performance of rolling stock. This test will continue for five years.

4. Development of gauge-changeable train
  The railway network in Japan consists of standard-gauge Shinkansen and conventional narrow-gauge lines to force passengers to change trains. To eliminate the necessity to change trains between standard and narrow gauge lines, and improve the convenience of railway network and cut the travel time for passengers, we are now developing gauge-changeable trains that can automatically adjust the distance between the left and right wheels to the track gauge in order to realize through-operation between lines of different gauges. This is the new technology in the world, in that it changes the lateral distance between the wheels of a truck mounted with motors.
  RTRI has developed the basic technology for this system since fiscal 1994, and started full-scale technological development in fiscal 1997. High-speed durability test cars were manufactured in 1998 October and tested on a narrow gauge line in Japan. After that, the cars were subjected to a high-speed durability test at about 250km/h on a standard gauge and gauge changing operation on the Puebro Test line, Colorado in the US, from 1999 April through 2001 January. These cars successfully finished the test after running about 600,000km to attain the intended purpose to a satisfactory level.
  The cars will be brought back to Japan to start a running test on standard and narrow gauge lines in Japan in 2001 autumn to verify and evaluate the technology in view of practicality based on the test results at Puebro.

5. Support of technological development for railways
  At the privatization of Japanese National Railways (JNR), RTRI took over the technological development that had been carried out by JNR, and is now promoting researches in various fields, ranging from basic technologies that would not immediately provide profitable results for railway operation to widely-ranged application technologies, as a comprehensive technological research institute. The Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport is providing subsidies to RTRI for the basic and leading development on safety, environment etc.

6. Postface
  As the most important subjects for railway technological development at the beginning of the 21st century, we think (1) high-speed, (2) comfort, (3) improvement of safety and (4) enhancement of efficiency of railway operation. We will vigorously challenge these subjects, flexibly respond to the changes in the circumstances surrounding railways, and take strong, steady and elaborate policies against various issues for which we are responsible.