Condition Based Maintenance for Japan’s railways

Since Japan’s first railway line between Shimbashi and Yokohama opened on 14 October 1872, Japanese National Railways (JNR) has been expanding the railway network and improving the technology it uses. For Global Railway Review, Kenzo Fujita, Senior Advisor at the UIC and Secondee from East Japan Railway Company (JR East), explores how moving to Condition Based Maintenance (CBM) for rail assets will help improve operational performance and reduce maintenance costs.

Japan maintenance image

In 1987 JNR was privatised and divided into seven railway companies – six covering passengers and one for freight – and was called Japan Railways Group (JR Group). JR East is one of them and today its network covers 6,263.1km of conventional lines and 1,194.2km of Shinkansen (high-speed) lines. JR East employs approximately 57,580 people and transports roughly 17.3 million passengers per day on average. Japan’s decline in population can be considered to have greatly affected railway operations. Maintenance expenses make up just under a third of overall railway operation expenses. With future decreases in population, the number of passengers will probably decrease too, naturally resulting in a decrease in railway revenues. That and the anticipated increase in personnel costs that will result from a reduced workforce will necessitate a drastic overhaul of the business cost structure. It is for that reason that we must change the way we carry out maintenance of railway equipment.

Condition Based Maintenance (CBM)

Currently, the maintenance, inspection and repair of rolling stock equipment is carried out using the Time Based Maintenance method, whereby components are maintained based on distances travelled and operating times, regardless of deterioration level. However, Condition Based Maintenance (CBM) is the way forward, where deterioration levels and signs of failure can instead be identified by monitoring components to show their condition, ensuring maintenance is carried out accordingly.

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