Suga slams JR Hokkaido for safety oversights, promises investigation

Kyodo, JIJI

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga rapped Hokkaido Railway Co. on Tuesday over recent safety oversights that have tarnished its public image, and pledged a government investigation.

“Leaving abnormalities on tracks unrepaired while knowing the need to fix them is extremely malignant,” Suga, the government’s top spokesman, told a news conference. “So I have instructed the transport ministry to probe the organizational problems involved.”

After four cars in a freight train derailed from a siding in a station yard Thursday, JR Hokkaido said it had left unrepaired the wider than standard gauge at the site for about a year, ignoring its in-house rule that any irregularities be rectified within 15 days of discovery.

On Sunday, the railway operator revealed it has neglected to follow internal rules and swiftly repair tracks that were wider or higher than regular standards at some 97 locations, including 49 on main lines, across Hokkaido.

JR Hokkaido President Makoto Nojima apologized and acknowledged systematic problems with the company’s track maintenance. All of the irregularities have been repaired, he said.

A JR Hokkaido executive said the failure to make quick repairs may have led to Thursday’s derailment.