Standards and the rail industry

Bullet trains whisk passengers between city centres at speeds of 200 miles per hour or more. And their speed capabilities are only getting faster. ISOfocus sat down with Dr Yuji Nishie, the chair of the new ISO technical committee on railroad applications (ISO/TC 269), to discuss the latest issues surrounding the priorities for the rail industry and the most pressing challenges for standards.

ISOfocus: With high-speed bullet trains and densely packed urban lines, Japan has one of the busiest railway systems on the planet. Why do we need standards for railroads? And why now?

Dr Yuji Nishie: Japanese railway systems, including the Shinkansen high-speed train network, regional/urban railways, subways, monorails and so on, carry 23 billion passengers a year. In the Tokyo metropolitan area, railway systems transport an annual 13 billion commuters, equating to 58% of the passenger demand. The Shinkansen bullet train departs from Tokyo station 14 times per hour, ferrying 292 million travellers a year across the country.

Rail is the best mode of transport for both passengers and goods. Its strong safety record and minimal environmental impact secures rail’s future in the coming decades. Its technologies have been developed and refined to fulfil local needs, producing successful and proven railway systems worldwide.

Reaching a common understanding of the world’s railway systems through international standards will be extremely beneficial. These future standards will provide industry best practice and know-how based on the world’s most efficient rail systems, and will be used in the development of new railways or in the improvement of existing ones.

What are your ambitions for international standards? Where do you see the benefits and challenges for rail?

Since the railway industry began its commercial operation in the early 19th century, railways have been enriching people’s lives and contributing to the development of societies and economies. In recent years, however, the advantages of trains, including their environmental benefits, have been re-evaluated in the light of today’s battle against climate change.

Fifty years since the opening of the Japanese Shinkansen – considered the dawn of high-speed rail – we can witness a number of networks quickly expanding around the world. In developing countries, for example, the rapid mass transportation capacity of railways has attracted more and more attention as a boost for economic development.

Many railway construction projects, including high-speed rails, urban transit systems and freight railways, are being planned around the globe.

But there are challenges. Many developing countries have yet to benefit from the high level of safety, environmental sustainability, convenience, and cost efficiency of railway systems. Therefore, to spread rail systems quickly and efficiently around the world and for all countries to benefit from well-managed rail services, international standardisation of the rail field is essential. We must address the growing need to globalise railways through our standardisation work, by making vast scopes of railway technologies more comprehensive and coherent.

Japan has an excellent railroad safety record. How might international standards be applied to enhance safety worldwide?

Railway safety should be secured throughout the entire life cycle, from planning, design and manufacturing, to construction, operation, and maintenance, through to renewal and disposal. Although practical measures to achieve railway safety differ in every country or region, for scientific reasons, the fundamental policy is comparable.

A railway’s safety strategy should be established according to background and environment, by taking into consideration the transfer density and frequency required, the need for dedicated or mixed operation, natural or manmade disasters, as well as social, economic, and environmental factors. Applying international standards to every stage of the railway’s life cycle will help to enhance safety in each country or region.

Summarised from an article in ISOfocus November/December 2013.


Published in international.