National

JR Hokkaido punishes 75 employees over track data falsification

Kyodo

Hokkaido Railway Co. on Tuesday announced punitive measures for 75 employees over the failure to fix track defects and falsification of track maintenance data.

The punishment, which includes three-month pay cuts for JR Hokkaido’s chairman and president as well as dismissal of five employees, came after the transport ministry instructed the company to remove its managing director as its chief safety officer.

“I would like to apologize deeply for causing worries and troubles,” President Makoto Nojima told a news conference in Sapporo.

Around 16 percent of the 800 employees in charge of track maintenance said they had falsified data, according to an internal survey.

The company said it is considering filing a criminal complaint against a train driver who destroyed an automatic train stop system with a hammer last September in an attempt to conceal a driving error.

Earlier in the day, the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism issued an order to get rid of Managing Director Makoto Toyota.

The order is among a set of administrative actions taken by the ministry in the first application of the 1986 law on JR companies, as well as the railway business law.

It will take effect Wednesday or later after JR Hokkaido is given a chance to explain, ministry officials said.

JR Hokkaido was found last September, after a freight train derailed, to have failed to repair track gauges at 270 points on its rail network in Hokkaido, leading to revelations that track maintenance data were falsified, including at the accident site.

But transport minister Akihiro Ota told a news conference Tuesday that JR Hokkaido’s management, headed by President Makoto Nojima, should stay on to improve operations while urging it to set up a watchdog with outside experts.

Ota also said his ministry has been in talks with Hokkaido police on possibly lodging a criminal complaint against JR Hokkaido employees involved in the falsification.

This is the second time the government has ordered JR Hokkaido to improve its operations under the railway business law, with the first order issued over the 2011 derailment and a fire involving a limited express train on the Sekisho Line.

JR Hokkaido is one of the six passenger railways of the Japan Railways group established in 1987 by splitting up the deficit-ridden Japanese National Railways.

Still owned by the government-run Japan Railway Construction, Transport and Technology (JRTT), JR Hokkaido operates a roughly 2,500-km rail network across the prefecture.

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