The Japanese government said Tuesday it will request companies operating bullet trains to accelerate construction work to boost the earthquake resistance of shinkansen lines if it is technically viable.
The move comes after services on the Tohoku Shinkansen Line were suspended for about a month due to a magnitude 7.4 quake that hit the country's northeast in March.
Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Minister Tetsuo Saito said the ministry will hold its first meeting of experts on May 31 to examine reinforcement work to improve the quake resistance of bullet trains and measures to prevent their derailment.
"We will study the issue broadly, including (asking operators) to accelerate reinforcement work," Saito told a press conference, adding the ministry will also consider ways to manage the costs for such work, including whether to allow operators to raise fares.
A bullet train on the Tohoku Shinkansen Line, operated by East Japan Railway Co., derailed following the March 16 quake when it was traveling between Tokyo and Sendai, the capital of Miyagi Prefecture, injuring six people aboard.
It took the operator about a month to reopen the entire line and around two months to fully resume services, as infrastructure, including utility poles and tracks, were damaged at around a thousand locations.
Since the 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake in western Japan, JR East has spent a total of around 500 billion yen ($3.9 billion) to improve the quake resistance of its shinkansen and conventional lines.
The company plans to spend 20 billion to 40 billion yen annually in the future, but it had only completed necessary work for 11.25 percent of 20,000 concrete utility poles and for 66.55 percent of 55,000 viaduct pillars on the Tohoku and Joetsu Shinkansen lines as of the end of March.
The ministry currently approves fare revisions and only allows price increases when an operator incurs revenue losses and expenditures, but it is planning a fundamental review of the fare system for railway operators due to the need to improve quake resistance and work on anti-aging measures, according to the ministry.
The ministry has set up another expert panel to review the fare system that is scheduled to compile a midterm report in June, the ministry said.