Friday, 6 September 2013

Bitter Decision of JR Hokkaido

DMU JR Hokkaido KiHa 281 series, limited express "Super-Hokuto" stands at Hakodate Station
JR Hokkaido made an announcement that the maximum speed of their limited express trains will decrease from 130 to 110km/hour from November this year. They have also decided to reduce the operations of the limited express trains on their three routes.

JR Hokkaido is one of the JR group railway companies operating in the northernmost island (Hokkaido) of Japan. It was established in 1987 after the breakup and privatization of Japanese National Railways. Just like the other companies, JR Hokkaido has been facing fierce competition from airlines and bus companies especially in the field of intercity transportation.

Since JR Hokkaido doesn't have a Shinkansen (super-express train) tracks, the only thing they could do was to increase the train speed on their conventional lines to attract passengers. But it had come back to haunt this company. Within the last couple of years, JR Hokkaido was accident-filled with derailments and vehicle fires. Fortunately, there were no casualties, but the accident rate of JR Hokkaido is said to be twice as much as the other railway companies.

What has actually been causing the high accident rate? It is said that the large load on the vehicles was the reason. Most of the vehicles that caused accidents were diesel multiple units (DMUs) for limited express trains equipped with a body tilting device to pass through tight curves at high speed. The equipments of these DMUs seems to be very complex and difficult to maintain in good condition.

As a rail fan, I hope for a resurgence of JR Hokkaido soon.

Side view of Type KiRo 280 of the DMU KiHa 281 series