Japan's so-called bubble economy collapsed about ten years ago and a new socio-economic model is still being sought. Worldwide economic and social conditions are rapidly changing, particularly in Asia, with new forces steadily taking hold of areas that Japan once dominated. In these circumstances, it does not seem likely that Japan's economy will see constantly increasing growth again. Instead of waiting for that kind of economic growth to recur, we should be concentrating our efforts on building up a framework for a mature society.
Present and future socio-economic trends in Japan can be summarized by such key terms as: low economic growth, declining birth rates, the aging society, diversification of values, a technology-based and tourism-supported country. They indicate that economic activities and technological development with substantial added value and utilization of previously accumulated know-how are needed.
This also holds true for R&D in the rail transport services' field in which an R&D promotion system that can anticipate and absorb current trends must be built. In a mature society with diversified values, it is very likely that a higher quality of service, adaptation to theenvironment, and safety and reliability improvements will be ranked high among reasons for users to select a particular means of transport. Even though rail transportation actually has advantages from all these viewpoints, even higher transportation service standards will be required. In a mature society, the following seem to be of particular importance in promoting rail transport R&D.
Improved convenience and amenities amenities: In a mature society, demands are even greater for seamless mobility and enhanced amenities not only on trains but also at stations and the aging population will further accelerate this trend. In order to deliver services that can satisfy ever-demanding customers with diversified needs, flexible IT utilization is essential. We at the RTRI are aiming at achieving even more seamless mobility, based on the IT-driven "CyberRail" concept, and are also advocating and promoting R&D activities to bring even more appealing universal design-based railway systems to fruition.
Enhanced system safety and reliability reliability: As living standards in Japan have risen, so have expectations for greater safety and reliability. Countermeasures against natural disasters, in particular earthquakes, and security assurances in this information-oriented society are among the priority issues. Determined to boost the countryfs tourism industry, Japan must be able to provide rail services that tourists from overseas can rely upon and feel at home on the move.
Efficient utilization of resources resources: In a mature society, even more efficient resource utilization is required. It is often pointed out that Japan's R&D investment efficiency is unsatisfactory but it is safe to say that the RTRI, which is a comprehensive technology research institute, has been effectively promoting rail service R&D. The RTRI's current missions are to consolidate research areas shouldered by the Institute, to promote R&D activities that tackle increasingly difficult issues with improved efficiency, and to consider task sharing with other research organizations, including overseas institutes, as appropriate.
Securing qualified human resources resources: These are the essential element in R&D. In Japan, people are becoming more and more alienated from science, which is of great concern for Japan as she attempts to survive as a technologically strong nation. R&D in a mature society requires human resources with superior abilities for identifying challenges and carrying out difficult R&D subject matter, and realization of active rail services, to which our existing staff can contribute by continuing to deliver noteworthy achievements, is a prerequisite to attract talented personnel into the rail transport R&D field. At the same time, we must try even harder to develop human resources.
Sustainable transport systems are now being aggressively developed in the European Union that has already entered the mature stage ahead of Japan, and efforts are being made to determine R&D investment priorities by referring to communities other than the EU. Particularly from the environment protection viewpoint, they are giving serious consideration to the concept of modal shift, making much of R&D efforts to deliver surface means of transport such as railways, automobiles, and ships. We should be promoting sustainable development of Japan's railway network, following the EU concept.