"We can’t rule out the possibility that the external investigation will find other cases."
The strength and durability of materials used in trains built in Japan in the last ten years have been called into question, after one of the country’s largest metal producers admitted falsifying documents that appeared to prove their quality. Kobe Steel admitted ‘improper conduct’ after it supplied around 500 companies with compromised aluminium, copper and steel.
Also affecting cars and aeroplanes, Kobe has for as long as a decade falsified quality reports on tens of thousands of metal products that could put the reliability of critical operational parts in serious question.
Japanese high speed operators Central Japan Railway and West Japan Railway and the train manufacturer Hitachi have all used the substandard parts, though they were quick to reveal there was no risk to public safety. “Products used met safety standards, but they did not meet the specifications that were agreed between us and Kobe Steel,” a Hitachi spokesman said. The three companies intend to replace the metals during routine maintenance.
Hitachi said the compromised metal has been used in its trains as well as bullet trains used in Japan. The discovery came about after Kobe Steel carried out an internal audit that examined the compliance status of contracts that were completed in the last year. As a result of the scandal Kobe Steel has been hit hard on the markets, nearly halving the value of the company’s shares by 42% that equates to around £1.3bn.
Calling Kobe Steel a company with “zero credibility”, its chief executive, Hiroya Kawasaki, said efforts would be made to “regain trust as soon as possible”. Worryingly for all manufacturers using the affected metal, though, Kawasaki indicated there could be more problems ahead. “We can’t rule out the possibility that the external investigation will find other cases,” he said.
More specific details on the production of the imperfect metal and what led to it being allowed to be used will be released within a month, according to Kobe Steel. Prior to the release of that information, the company will in the next two weeks report to the country’s trade ministry with the results of critical safety inspections on its products.
The news comes a week ahead of the maiden journey of Hitachi’s Intercity Express Train on England’s Great Western Main Line (GWML). Kobe Steel announced in November 2014 that it had begun deliveries of aluminium extrusions for Hitachi to use in its UK train cars, providing the metal for “nearly the total amount” required to construct the trains. Connecting London with Cornwall in the South West of the country, the GWML was the product of the industrialist Isambard Kingdom Brunel as part of the Great Western Railway that was completed in 1843.
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