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  1. I was away on holiday when media reports were made, but it seems fault is being placed with the personnel policy/ training of maintenance staff at JR Hokkaido with regards the spate of breakdowns/fires, mainly on diesel stock. I think it was either westfalen or Mark Newton who remarked that he thought that management policy w/ regards maintenance was the culprit, and that observation indeed appears precognizant. The article I read states that JR Hokkaido is first of all faced with unique problems w/ regards its diesel stock- older models (1/2 the roster is over 20 yrs. old) that are required to run at high speeds over long distances (service speeds and distances on ltd. express services which elsewhere in Japan are entrusted to electric stock). Also, winter conditions with expansion and contraction of metal surfaces and parts that imposes stress on them. But the biggest issue may be personnel. JR Hokkaido has relatively few experienced maintenance personnel in their 40's to 50's (about 1/5 of the total maintenance staff). Therefore there is a deficit of knowhow. Many maintenance tasks now need to be outsourced...Blame for this is placed on a reduction of hiring of personnel since the breakup of JNR and privatization. Currently JR Hokkaido is relying on the advice of "big brother" JR East to reform its maintenance regime. Nihon Keizai Shimbun article (Japanese): http://www.nikkei.com/article/DGXNASDG0204F_S3A800C1CR8000/
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