Monday 9 March 2009

Study trip to East Japan Railways (EJR)

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Under perfect conditions trains should run like clockwork but unfortunately this is not always the experience of the customers. There is however one place where the customers can actually set their watches by the arrival of the trains. East Japan Railways (EJR) runs more than 12.000 trains a day carrying more than 17 million passengers and more than 99% of them arrive within 1 minute of the scheduled timetable. JRE could be called the world champions of the rail industry but they are much too modest for that. EJR had together with UIC and CER invited European railway operators to Japan where they could get a first hand experience on how EJR runs their business. It is safe to say that all of the group consisting of 6 participants from DSB, Gysev, Renfe, SBB, SNCF and VR were impressed with what they saw during the four days.

JRE is the largest of seven private JR companies (listed on the Tokyo Stock Exchange) which took over most of the assets and operations of the government-owned Japanese National Railways in 1987. They operate a 7527 km railway network which amount to 27% of total railways in Japan. The company operates five high speed (Shinkansen) routes, has 92 stations used by more than 100.000 people. However EJR is not just a railway operator but a highly diverse company with more than 30% of their revenue coming from other activities than transportation. The ‘life style’ operations covers areas such as financial services, hotels, retail chains, nursing care facilities etc. and the aim is that by 2020 40% of their revenues will come from these activities. The reasoning behind this objective is the shrinking Japanese population, which implies fewer customers and lesser revenue in the future coming from operation of trains. Such long term thinking can be found behind every part of the EJR business.

One the first day of the visit, the group was invited to see the Tokyo control center, the heart of the EJR operation. The center is a fully integrated control center where daily operation of trains, infrastructure, staff, customer information and their power stations (yes, they operate a hydro and a thermal plant which supplies more than 60% of their electricity) is managed. The Autonomous Decentralized Transport Operation Control System (ATOS), which has been introduced on most of their lines is able to determine train operation situations in real time for more reliable operation management.

The stations and the trains that JRE runs are impeccable clean. On the second day the group had the possibility to observe the turnaround cleaning of the Shinkansen at Tokyo station. At the station a Shinkansen train departs about every 10 minutes and with only two tracks leading in and out of the station, time is very scarce and the staff has between 4 and 7 minutes to do the cleaning of the trains. However the staff (this is done by a JRE subsidiary called Tessei) is prepared and waiting when the train comes in and once the passengers have left the train, the cleaning staff runs in and like a tornado cleans the train. After a few minutes the train is ready to go. The group got a second chance to observe how the trains are cleaned at the Tabata Clean Center. Here the Shinkansen trains are thoroughly cleaned inside out every other day. Once again the speed and the staff’s attention to detail was impressive.

EJR invited the group to see their Research and Development Center. Again it was clear that a long term perspective is at the center of the EJR thinking. EJR showcased their newest customer information products like the intelligent touch screen where EJR centrally can change the information and which presents information based on the request history. Also new models of the SUICA card with electronic display and no batteries were shown enabling the customer to see the ticket details and the actual amount of money remaining on the card. Later the same day the SUICA card test center was visited. There we could see the enormous effort that is put into quality control and interoperability between the different smart card solutions, which exists in Japan.

On the last day of the program a trip with the newest N700 model of the Shinkansen had been organized together with JR Central who operates the line between Kyoto and Tokyo. The N700 series have a top speed of 300 km/h also the usage of lightweight technology has improved the energy efficiency with 19% compared to the 700 series. The trip ended at Kyoto station an architectural masterpiece by Hiroshi Hare from 19977 which is managed by JR West. The bowl shaped building mimics the geography of Kyoto, which is surrounded by mountains. Like all of the stations the group visited a lot of attention had been placed on creating an attractive commercial space, many of the stations seemed more like the Grands Magasins in Paris than average stations. As an integrated part of the JRE ‘life style’ business a lot of attention is placed on the mixture of stores and the design of the station space and the groups experience was that every station even the smaller ones were buzzing with life and commercial activity.

Four days is hardly enough to fully comprehend the JRE business but due to our host generous hospitality and willingness to answer every question, the group managed to get a good impression of the JRE operations and a warm thanks goes out to our host from JRE. A presentation and a paper will be produced based on the findings from the trip which will be available for interested parties.

For more information please contact Michael Stevns:

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