Yoshiyuki Kasai, the honorary chairman of Central Japan Railway Co. who played a key role in privatizing Japan National Railways in the late 1980s, has died of interstitial pneumonia, the train operator said Friday. He was 81.

Kasai, who died Wednesday, was one of the three key figures along with the former presidents of JR East and JR West who led the reform of Japan's railway system and breakup of the state-owned operator in 1987. The privatization created six regional passenger railway firms and one freight operator along with several other private companies.

Joining the state-run railways after graduating from the University of Tokyo in 1963, Kasai worked in the corporate planning and labor divisions and became president of the privatized JR Central, which operates the Tokaido Shinkansen line connecting Tokyo and Osaka among other services, in 1995.