Challenges for railway systems in South-East Asia: Lessons from 30 years’ experience of Japanese National Railways privatization |

Challenges for railway systems in South-East Asia: Lessons from 30 years’ experience of Japanese National Railways privatization

Evening Talk


In 1987, Japanese National Railways (JNR), the government-owned body responsible for operating the railway network across Japan was privatised and divided into seven railway companies that together form the JR Group. In 1985, JNR made a loss of 1.8 trillion yen, but as of 2015, the JR Group makes a combined profit of 1 trillion yen per annum. Of the seven companies, JR Kyushu remains one of the few that consistently turns profits. The success of JR Kyushu is largely down to an innovative approach in which diversification has been embraced, whilst customer service has been placed at the core of the business model.

Nevertheless, JR Kyushu continues to face key challenges, and Mr. Ishii will address what he considers to be particularly pertinent amongst these issues, and how we can overcome them. A railway system is a key infrastructure for passenger and cargo transportation and affects the relationship between the urban and regional economies in a fundamental way. Based on 30 years’ experience of JNR privatization, he identifies challenges for expanding railway systems in Southeast Asia, and proposes how the region could cooperate better for mutual benefits.   

Yoshitaka Ishii

Mr. Yoshitaka Ishii, Former Chairman, JR Kyushu Railway Company

Yoshitaka Ishii served as the first president and chairman of JR Kyushu Railway Company between 1987 and 2002. JR Kyushu was formed after the Japan National Railway Corporation was privatised and divided into seven railway companies. During his tenure as president, Ishii diversified the business of JR Kyushu into new ventures ranging from property development to the management of shopping malls, restaurants and hotels, as well as the establishing a hydrofoil ferry service between Fukuoka and Busan. He also improved the quality of the railway service and the cutting-edge trains designed by a leading designer Mitooka received the Brunel Award, one of the most prestigious awards for railway industry design worldwide. Under his leadership, the company increased its total sales significantly from 150,000 million yen in 1987, with sales as high as 378,000 million yen in 2015. He has been advising the Japanese government and the Japan Freight Railway Company on its strategy. He began working in the National Railways in 1955 as a graduate engineer, and he played a pivotal role in the development of diesel railcars and locomotives in the early stages of his professional career. Drawing on his experiences in the railway industry, he has been a prolific writer over a period of more than 4 decades. His books on the KiHa series of diesel railcars has been well received, especially “KiHa 58”.

Ishii served on the selection committee for the Japan Foundation Prizes for Global Citizenship, and has also been involved in the local community, and since retiring, he has served as the Chairman of the Fukuoka Prefecture Football Association and as President of the Kourokan-Fukuoka Castle History & Tourism Citizen’s Association. In the latter role, he has been heavily involved in the restoration of historic buildings in Fukuoka.

Ishii holds a Bachelor’s degree in engineering from the University of Tokyo.

Chair Person:

Dr. Tomoo Kikuchi, Senior Research Fellow, Centre on Asia and Globalisation, Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

5:15pm - 6:30pm


Seminar Room 3-1,
Manasseh Meyer,
Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy,
469C Bukit Timah Road,
Singapore 259772

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