Some 30 percent of passenger railcars used by four Japan Railway companies have been in service since at least 1987, when the firms were created through the privatization of the Japanese National Railways, Jiji Press has learned.
The four firms are JR Hokkaido, JR West, JR Shikoku and JR Kyushu.
The proportion of older railcars remains lower at two more financially stable JR firms — JR East and JR Tokai — which are ahead in updating their trains.
According to the transport ministry, there are no rules regarding the service life of train cars. They are allowed to operate as long as they undergo maintenance and meet safety standards.
A ministry ordinance provides rules on how frequently railway operators should conduct checkups on their trains. Operators are also required to submit their maintenance manuals to the government.
Among the four firms operating the aging cars, JR Hokkaido has the highest proportion in service for at least 30 years, at 32 percent. It is followed by JR West and JR Shikoku, both at 30 percent, and JR Kyushu, with 28 percent of railcars having been in operation for at least 30 years.
JR East, meanwhile operated just 10 percent for at least 30 years while a mere 0.2 percent of the cars operated by JR Tokai have been in service for that time span.
All Shinkansen operated by JR Hokkaido, JR East, JR Tokai, JR West and JR Kyushu use cars made after the 1987 privatization.
The six JR companies and JR Freight were formed in the April 1987 privatization and breakup of the state-run JNR, which was saddled with some ¥37 trillion in debt after decades of losses.
Following a recent spate of derailing accidents, JR Hokkaido began replacing its aging vehicles in fiscal 2014, spending some ¥84 billion. But facing difficulty in procuring new trains on schedule, it is dropping its frequency of services.
The JNR, in its last days, carried out revamps of vehicles older than 20 years, in a bid to prolong their life. JR West continued such work following its establishment, and in 1996 began remodeling interior facilities and other parts of aging vehicles.
By the end of fiscal 2013, JR West had remodeled 23 percent of its vehicles used from the JNR period. Some were renewed as trains aimed at tourists, including Hanayome Noren in the Nanao Line in the Ishikawa Prefecture and Nostalgy on the Tsuyama Line in Okayama Prefecture.
JR East employs JNR vehicles in its Limited Express Odoriko trains on the Tokaido Line and elsewhere.