Japan Today
executive impact

Central Japan Railway Co (JR Central)

By Chris Betros

One of Japan’s best-known icons would have to be its bullet trains or shinkansen which are a marvel of technological achievement. Central Japan Railway Co, better known as JR Tokai or JR Central, operates the Tokaido Shinkansen. Its high-speed rail technology is in demand overseas.

Handling international operations is Masahiro Nakayama, General Manager, International Department of the Corporate Planning Division. Nakayama joined JR Tokai in 1990. He worked as a shinkansen train crew member in the initial stage of his career and then joined the company’s hotel division where he spent 19 years, including four of those in the United States.

Japan Today visits him at the JR Central headquarters at Tokyo's Shinagawa Station to hear more.

What lines does JR Central operate?

We operate the Tokaido Shinkansen from Tokyo to Osaka and we also operate conventional lines in the central Japan region -- the Nagoya and Shizuoka areas. For the Tokaido Shinkansen, we carry around 390,000 passengers every day on average.

Was 2012 a good year for you?

Fiscal 2012 was a good year for JR Central. Tokaido Shinkansen passenger volume has increased by 6% over fiscal 2011. After the March 11, 2011 disaster, the number of passengers dropped because many economic activities stopped. It took a few months to recover passenger numbers. Also last year, our non-rail business, including the hotel business, grew.

Tell us about the shinkansen lines.

Shinkansen tracks are made exclusively for bullet trains. No other trains use them and there are no level crossings. JR Central offers three different services. The fastest one is Nozomi – it only stops at major stations such as Tokyo, Shinagawa, Shin-Yokohama, Nagoya, Kyoto and Shin-Osaka. There are 10 services per hour during the peak hours. We also have two Hikari services, which stops at a few additional stations and two Kodama services, which stops at every station. The top speed of the all the trains is 270 kph. From Osaka on to Hakata and Fukuoka – a service is operated by JR West – the speed rises to 300 kph. All the regular Nozomi services are operated by the Series N700 or N700A. We started the operation of the newest Series N700A from February this year.

What anti-earthquake measures do you have in place?

We have been investing in that area even before the 2011 disaster. We have developed a very sophisticated high-technology detection system called TERRA-S (Tokaido Shinkansen Earthquake Rapid Alarm System) to safely bring all train operations to a halt. It detects primary waves, which travel faster than secondary waves and makes real-time computation to identify the scale of the quake and its epicenter. We have installed earthquake detectors on 21 points to ensure full coverage of the Tokaido Shinkansen.

In addition, we started implementing derailment and deviation prevention measures such as derailment prevention guards, which are installed parallel to and on the inside of rails in sections. The deviation prevention stoppers are installed in the center of shinkansen rolling stock bogies. These measures are taken to further strengthen seismic resistance.

What are you doing about infrastructure?

Over the next 10 years, JR Central will be spending about 730 billion yen to substantially extend the lifespan of the infrastructure such as bridges and tunnels on the Tokaido Shinkansen. By using new construction methods, the work will be done without suspending or slowing the trains.

What’s happening with the maglev train?

Maglev trains are our most advanced product. As you know, we have been experimenting with this system for many years. We are now extending the tracks at our test center in Yamanashi Prefecture from 18.4 km to 42.8 km. After some legal processes, the Japanese government designated JR Central as the operator and constructor of the Chuo Shinkansen between Tokyo and Osaka. The operation between Tokyo and Nagoya will start in 2027. The Maglev train will travel at a speed of 500 kph. That means you will be able to go from Tokyo-Nagoya in 40 minutes. It will completely change lifestyles.

Is your high-speed rail technology in demand overseas?

Today, global warming is a pressing issue. With its environmentally-friendly characteristics, rail travel -- in particular high-speed railways -- is attracting more and more interest from all over the world, and therefore, there are many high-speed railway projects underway. JR Central is promoting the overseas deployment of high-speed railway systems by leveraging the comprehensive high-speed railway technology it has accumulated through the operation of the Tokaido Shinkansen and development of the Superconducting Maglev system.

In which countries do you have offices?

We have representative offices in Washington, London and Sydney gathering information about the railway industry. Some are involved in non-rail businesses. For example, the London office is involved in operating a Japanese restaurant called Matsuri St James’s.

JR Central became a private company in 1987. You must have seen a lot of changes to the Tokaido Shinkansen experience over the years.

Yes, indeed. We have increased our maximum speed to 270 kph from 220 kph in 1992 by introducing Series 300 to our rolling stock. In addition, we opened the Shinagawa Shinkansen Station in 2003. The timetable was drastically revised by the upgrading of the maximum speed on all Tokaido Shinkansen trains to 270 kph.

I notice that whenever a new train model is introduced, thousands of fans turn up at the station to take photos.

I think trains are a very special part of most Japanese people’s lives. Especially, when we introduce new shinkansen rolling stocks, there are always a lot of fans at the station taking photos.

Do you get many job applications each year?

Yes, we do. We have a lot more women employees now than in the past when I joined JR Central. Approximately 20% of train crew are currently women.

Do you think Japan needs 24-hour train services?

It would be nice to have that kind of service in some urban areas, but not really for a high-speed rail system like the Tokaido Shinkansen. Maintenance of tracks and facilities is a big thing for rail operators in terms of safety. For the shinkansen, we stop from midnight through 6 a.m. every day for maintenance to achieve safe and reliable transport.

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The shinkansen is one of the most amazing technological achivements in history, and most likely the safest form of travel, anywhere, ever. Kudos to all the people who have ever worked on it and made it what it is.

4 ( +5 / -1 )

Well said, Borax. However the delay with the Maglev could be a metaphor for Japan Inc.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

That was my dream job, driver for shinkansen. So far I have run into an uphill battle, too many barriers. For me it does not look very promising. I am deeply diasppointed!! Again, JR is worlds best system, no one can match our system!

3 ( +3 / -0 )

the Shanghai vanity line,

"Vanity" because the Japanese didn't build it? LOL. A fast and futuristic rail link to a major airport is just so frivolous, isn't it.

Tripadvisor ranks the Chinese-German maglev as #11 of Shanghai's 504 attractions, based on nearly 1,200 reviews, so lots and lots and lots of people would disagree with you on that point.

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

vanity because they built a line at enormous expense that links the airport with nowhere

And Japan's maglev will be cheap, cheap, cheap! Nowhere? The Skyliner in Tokyo takes me to Nippori or Ueno, neither of which are convenient to my home but I still have to use it.

So to use the maglev, people link to it by subway

which is what I do when I use Tokyo's Skyliner. Your point being....

rather less impressive speed of 300 km/h, instead of 430 km/h

300 clicks: a snail's pace.

-3 ( +1 / -4 )

No, just a massive compromise for a train can go very much faster

Massively complex, expensive and advanced technology like this usually begins in small careful steps. You don't seem to account for the fact that, hey, nobody has done this before. Normal people cheer pioneering and innovative ventures, but I guess you're just trapped in your resentment, jealousy, or whatever.

The Shanghai maglev is a train that is costly, inconvenient, underused, and doesn't run at full speed for about half of the operating day.

If it's such a disaster, why do 1,200 users on Tripadvisor give it a 4.5 out of 5 star rating, (vast majority not Chinese)?

Take a look at the glowing, non-biased reviews: http://www.tripadvisor.com/Attraction_Review-g308272-d1371754-Reviews-Shanghai_Maglev-Shanghai.html

"The best way to/from the airport." "A great way to get to the city" "Fastest way to get to town and out" "Just brilliant" "A quick alternative"

-3 ( +1 / -4 )

Oh Jeff, you really are completely intolerable. The Japanese train system as a whole is the envy of most G10 countries. Are you simply looking for another way to criticise Japan? Seriously, to accuse other posters of holding resentment or being Jealous. Laughable.

2 ( +4 / -2 )

As with physics if you want to go faster you have to break more things. I'm sure the Japanese are working on the maglev. but that 500kmh speed to achieve it consistently takes alot of technological improvements. The Japanese don't just want to have Maglev for a short trip to the city but looking to build it over their country's main cities.

but all this kind of subtle complex nuances are beyond people like JeffLee

2 ( +3 / -1 )

I have travelled on both British and Japanese trains. And buy far the Japanese trains are far ahead in technology, cleanliness, punctuality. Politeness of staff. The ease of which I purchased a ticket, and the price, unlike the British ticket price varied so much from time to time and how long upfront you bough the tickets. If you buy a ticket on the day the rip you off for as much as they can get! And it so complicated buy the different rail operators. I believe that the British rail operator should hang there heads in shame and disgust at there poor performance.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

If only America had such a system. Our trains are a joke. This is one way Japan has us beat. We should've had Maglev 30 years ago. Washington should stop spending all our tax dollars on 200 million dollar jet fighters and rebuild America's rail system. Japan's rail system is number one.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Are you simply looking for another way to criticise Japan

Where in my posts do I criticize "Japan"?

No, and a pathetic red herring.

No, an apt comment on someone with an extraordinarily negative attitude toward innovation and progress.

All I can say of Trip Advisor is that it doesn't pay the bills.

Indeed, who cares about the experiences and opinions of the people who actually use the system? Better to listen to an armchair curmudgeon living in a different country.

but all this kind of subtle complex nuances are beyond people like JeffLee

"Subtle nuances"? LOL.

-4 ( +0 / -4 )

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