Site: Safety Research Laboratory
East Japan Railway Co.
2-2-6 Yoyogi, Shibuya-ku
Tokyo 151, Japan
Fax: 03-3370-7912 Date Visited: May 24, 1995
Report Author: T. Sheridan
The Japanese National Railway prior to several years ago was an immense (and probably the largest) industrial entity in Japan. It was a nationalized company, but has now been privatized and broken into seven private railways and some additional related private companies. East Japan Railway Co. (EJR) is responsible for all passenger rail in the broader Tokyo area and north and east on Honshu Island (excluding the Tokyo subway). Because EJR is so capitalized in land and equipment it does not engage in high-technology developments or spend nearly the same fraction of its sales on R&D as some other major Japanese corporations. However, it is profitable, allegedly doing better and operating more efficiently than when it was nationalized.
In the Japanese railway industry, especially in operational fields, human factors has been studied for a relatively long time -- starting with the establishment of the Railway Labor Science Research Institute (RLSRI) in 1963. Unfortunately (at least from EJR's point of view), the work at RLSRI was taken over the Railway Technical Research Institute, not by EJR, when the National Railway was privatized. Therefore EJR's current human factors work is a new activity, presumably started from scratch after privatization.
The Safety Research Lab is just that. It was established in 1989 and consists of 59 researchers. They are concerned with all aspects of safety for both passengers and employees. Human factors as a discipline emerging in the United States is somewhat new to them, though they have been dealing with many of the same problems all along. M. Horiuchi explained EJR's innovation of transport, maintenance, transport services, and serious interest in environment friendly technology as well as safety. The researchers are exploring general safety, safety assessment, level crossings, natural hazards, and human factors.
T. Oishi introduced the activities of the Human Factors Group. Ongoing projects include ergonomics for the new shinkansen, platform safety improvements (injuries and fatalities occur because passengers fall off platforms) signing, handicapped access, automatic train control (to prevent trains from colliding with other trains), error prediction in rail car maintenance, computer-aided instructional (CAI) training of drivers, and evacuation instruction. S. Tsuchiya discussed in detail the control and signaling aspects of upgrading the automatic train control (ATC) system to effect smoother braking profiles and better anticipation of upcoming signals for drivers (stopping distances on high-speed trains are two or more kilometers). This simulator is being used for studies on in-cab signaling and ATC. EJR researchers then demonstrated their human-in-the-loop electric car cab simulator. This makes use of scenes of a track scene ahead originally recorded on video and played back on video disk at a rate proportional to simulated train speed. They also demonstrated a CAI system for (operational) drivers.
Company representatives commented that although EJR may not engage in high-technology developments or spend nearly the same fraction of its sales on R&D as some Japanese organizations, this is because EJR is a very young organization, and its R&D activities are still developing. R&D plays a key role in EJR's management strategy for the 21st century, as a key for the development of railway systems of the future.