Rail

Report: U.S. high-speed rail can learn from Japan's early-warning earthquake system

Posted on May 6, 2015

Sui-Sez
Sui-Sez

As California and other states move forward with high-speed rail plans, some have questioned the system's ability to withstand earthquakes. This is especially critical in California, an active quake zone. A new peer-reviewed research report from the Mineta Transportation Institute says that valuable lessons are easily adapted from Japan's successes with its early earthquake warning (EEW) systems.

The report, “Great East Japan Earthquake, JR East Mitigation Successes and Lessons for California High-Speed Rail,” is available for free download.

The principal investigators were Frances Edwards, PhD, and Daniel C. Goodrich, MPA, working with an academic and professional research team.

JR East, a Japanese rail company, has developed systems to mitigate the damage to its facilities and personnel, including an early earthquake detection system, retrofitting existing facilities for seismic safety, developing more seismically resistant designs for new facilities, and holding earthquake response training and exercises for company staff.

"These systems demonstrated their value in the Great East Japan Earthquake of 2011 and have been further developed based on that experience," said Dr. Frances Edwards, one of the report’s principal investigators. "Researchers in California are developing an EEW system for the state, and the private sector has seismic sensors in place. These technologies could contribute to the safety of the California High-Speed Rail Authority's developing system, which could emulate Japan's best practices."

A rendering of the California High-Speed Rail sytem
A rendering of the California High-Speed Rail sytem
The JR East EEW system stops the train, prompting a response from passengers and staff. Detailed staff training in Japan was largely responsible for the subsequent lifesaving activities that moved passengers and staff out of harm's way. There were no passenger or crew deaths on any JR East trains, including the bullet trains. For this report, the types of training and exercise activities used in Japan are evaluated for applicability to California rail systems.

That disaster's impact and its three-fold aspects (earthquake, tsunami and nuclear event) also provided valuable information for the California High-Speed Rail Authority's (CHSRA) system. The insights will be leveraged and adapted to build greater safety for passengers and crew.

The report explains the physics of seismic events before delving into the evolution of warning systems. It also describes the extensive training that JR East provides for its employees so they can assist during a disaster.

JR East provided reports rarely available to Western researchers on EEW system performance; seismic resistance and resilience research related to columns, piers and bridges; and staff training. The authors conducted extensive EEW research through the Berkeley Seismic Laboratory, at the sites of existing installed EEW systems, and structural engineering research on seismic resistance through private engineering activities.

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