TOPDozens of JR Hokkaido employees punished following safety investigation

Dozens of JR Hokkaido employees punished following safety investigation

By Alec Jordan

Around 75 employees at Hokkaido Railway Co, including top officials, were given a dressing-down over a safety scandal that revealed failures to fix track defects and falsification of maintenance data following a spate of railway accidents.

JR Hokkaido on Tuesday said it was slapping the company’s chairman and president with three-month pay cuts while five employees, including a managing director, were dismissed. A total of 75 employees were punished.

“These are extremely stern and wide-ranging orders. We will reconstruct rail safety measures by all means,” JR Hokkaido President Makoto Nojima told a news conference in Sapporo.

An internal survey found that 16 percent of 795 employees in charge of track maintenance said they had manipulated data, with some saying they had been doing so for 20 years.

“I would like to apologize deeply for causing worries and troubles,” Nojima said.

The company said it was 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.

The Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism also called for the removal of Managing Director Makoto Toyota as chief safety officer, who oversees all of the company’s technical divisions.

The ministry for the second time ordered JR Hokkaido to improve its operations under the railway business law. It will take effect Wednesday or later after JR Hokkaido is given a chance to explain, ministry officials said.

Transport minister Akihiro Ota told a news conference that JR Hokkaido’s management, headed by Nojima, should remain and set up a watchdog with outside experts.

Since April last year, accidents and problems have plagued the rail lines on the northern Japanese island, including fires and limited express trains.

JR Hokkaido sacked two employees who fabricated data at the Onuma track maintenance office after the derailment of an 18-car cargo train on the Hakodate Line in September.

Former JR Hokkaido president Shinichi Sakamoto was found dead in waters off the port of Yoichi in southern Hokkaido earlier this month. He was believed to have committed suicide over extreme pressure as adviser to the railway company.

By Maesie Bertumen

Image: Mmonhsi/Flickr