Japan Railway & Transport Review No. 7 (pp.26–33)
Feature: Railways and Universities
This article describes a program of joint research and education established between East Japan Railway Company (JR East) and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
Photo: MIT Campus–center view of the Richard Cockbum MacLaurin Building
JR East was formed in 1987 as part of the restructuring of the Japanese National Railroad (JNR) into six passenger railroads and one nationwide freight railroad.
MIT is a major research university in the United States. It has about 10,000 students (4500 undergraduate and 5500 graduate students) and an annual budget for education and research of about $1 billion. Founded in 1861, MIT moved to the Cambridge campus in 1916 from Boston, and has developed important programs in education, research and public service.
The JR East/MIT Partnership
In 1990 the leadership of JR East took the first steps in developing a partnership with MIT. During visits to MIT by Mr. Isamu Yamashita, then chairman of JR East, and Mr. Shuichiro Yamanouchi, then executive vice president, the conceptual framework for such a partnership was developed.
The talk drew upon thoughts of the great management scholar Peter Drucker in his landmark work of 30 years ago, The Age of Discontinuity. Drucker discussed major discontinuities in several areas. First, he noted that genuinely new technologies are upon us and acceleration in the development of these new technologies is a fact of life. He further noted that major changes in the international economy, with the world becoming one market, was an underlying principle for the future. Finally, Drucker noted that knowledge and its development is the crucial resource of the economy and for individual organizations within it.
While these ideas were written in 1960, they still ring very true and have great relevance for the world of transportation. To emphasize this, I discussed some of the critical transportation issues we face around the world. Among these issues is congestion at the urban, suburban and inter-urban level; the focus on productivity in both the developed and developing world, with implications for a tighter logistics cycle on an international scale; the changing face of the transportation industry as a whole due to changing organizational structures and relationships between the public and private sector; environmental and energy issues; and increased emphasis on safety.
While these challenges are indeed difficult, we are also seeing technology and methodology expansions with dramatic consequences. Among the technologies and methodologies discussed were information sciences; communications; mathematical methods in operations research; materials and structures; robotics, automation and remote sensing; and organizational and economic theory.
The address noted that the fundamental challenge for the international world of transportation is to utilize these technological and methodological advances to address the critical transportation issues we face. It is only through an informed use of advanced technologies and methodologies that we can hope to deal with the need for superior transportation services in the future in support of a more productive set of national economies and a more productive world economy. There is a historical confluence of critical transportation issues with extraordinary change in a number of technological fields; our challenge is to take advantage of these new technologies. But, at the same time, we need to consider the subtle complex social, political and economic environment in which we work.
There are three specific dimensions to be considered.
We need to consider all three—technology, systems and management—to achieve success in the future of the transportation enterprise.
The speech noted that research was a critical element in the transportation enterprise of the future and the education of what I call the “New Transportation Professional,” able to address technological systems and institutional complexities of the future world of transportation, was central to the strategy. The development of this “New Transportation Professional,” with expertise in new technologies as well as the broader systems and institutional perspectives on transportation, would require a new partnership for education and research between the transportation industry and the transportation academic community.
The contribution academia can make to this partnership relates to the new disciplines and concepts which must be integrated into the transportation field. What is needed is a transportation synthesis as an educational model for the 21st century to educate the transportation professional of the future.
On the international scene, we see this transportation synthesis as an expanding idea in academia. As the critical role of transportation in the productivity of nations becomes clearer and clearer, the broadly and deeply educated transportation professional becomes more and more essential.
Earlier, we commented that an expanded commitment to research in transportation will be necessary to meet the challenge of integrating new technologies and concepts into the transportation industry. It is important that the academic community be a full partner in this research enterprise. The transportation industry must support the innovative minds available in the academic community.
At the same time, academia must be prepared to address its research supported by industry to the critical problems of industry. These industry-supported academic research programs must be truly joint ventures of academia and industry with a high degree of interaction. They would be carried out in parallel with the research programs performed by industry itself and would be complementary to these programs.
The development of research programs in transportation academia is important because it permits the development in the university setting of the new transportation synthesis, our new educational model. Research activities is the mechanism by which we integrate new technologies and concepts into our transportation education program, keeping them forward-looking and relevant to the transportation professionals of the 21st century.
For this partnership between industry and academia to prosper, both partners need to benefit. The transportation industry benefits through development of:
The academic community gains through:
I concluded my Technoplaza talk describing my vision of the partnership between JR East and MIT, which built on the insights of JR East's senior management; it involves cooperative research between MIT and JR East researchers, as well as education of JR East staff members.
With the conceptual framework now in place for the partnership between JR East and MIT, work could begin in earnest in developing a long-term program.
The next important step in the partnership was participation by JR East in the program of the Center for Advanced Engineering Studies (CAES) at MIT. In the 1991-92 academic year, JR East sent their first Fellow to the CAES program. This first Fellow is a senior researcher in the Safety Research Laboratory at JR East. During his time at MIT, he worked closely with a number of faculty, taking academic subjects, as well as discussing ideas for possible future cooperative research between JR East and MIT. His primary area of interest was risk assessment and his discussions with faculty, mainly Professor Amedeo Odoni and me, led eventually to the first cooperative research program between the two organizations.
After his return to Japan, MIT and JR East worked over the next year to carefully structure a cooperative work program in risk assessment. Patient development was needed to establish a program of cooperative research appropriate from both JR East's and MIT's perspective. Also, people in both organizations were cognizant of the fact that this research program was setting the structure for possible future areas of cooperative research and we wanted to be sure that what we proposed worked as a model for the future. This program began with a set of exploratory activities during the first year (September 1993 to August 1994) and continues now with an expanded set of research activities. Among the areas in the risk assessment program are:
Risk research is a joint and cooperative program between JR East and the Institute. The research agenda is developed jointly by JR East and MIT staff. MIT has had access to various JR East databases. In addition to the funding of MIT faculty and staff to conduct research, JR East, through the staff of the Safety Research Laboratory, is carrying on parallel activities in the area. Furthermore, there have been a number of meetings both in Tokyo and at MIT to discuss and further the risk research activity.
The risk assessment area was selected because it represents a long-term core interest of both JR East and MIT. JR East has established safety as its top priority. An effective investment in improved safety can take place only through sophisticated risk assessment analysis. MIT is one of the world leaders in the risk assessment framework, with advanced research in nuclear and transportation safety in its portfolio. So this research program built on basic and fundamental interests of both JR East and MIT. A number of research documents have been produced and it is expected that some of the findings of the research will be reflected in future JR East policies and practices.
JR East has continued sending a Fellow to the Center for Advanced Engineering Study each academic year. In total, five Fellows have been sent, focusing on areas such as natural hazards, geotechnical engineering and below-ground construction, risk aspects related to human factors, control systems, and reliability of electronic signaling devices.
Each of these CAES Fellows has proven to be an important communication link between JR East and MIT. All have developed their own research interests with faculty at the Institute. At the same time, they have served a liaison function, helping in the organization of technical meetings between JR East staffers and MIT faculty in a number of additional technical areas that may become joint research directions for the future.
In addition to the CAES Fellows, JR East has sent graduate students to study for degrees at MIT in the School of Engineering in the transportation and construction fields, the Sloan School of Management and in Urban Studies and Planning. These graduate students have participated in the MIT Rail Research Group, which represents a broad range of railroad-related research activities at MIT, including the program with JR East, the Association of American Railroads Affiliated Lab at MIT, the Federal Railroad Administration of the US Department of Transportation, and individual railroads in the USA and abroad. By participation in this rail research group, the JR East staffers have been exposed, not only to the research programs directed toward their particular interest, but to a broad range of research activities in the railroad field.
In addition to the flow of people from JR East to MIT, MIT sends student interns to work at JR East. MIT students, with Japanese-language skills as well as technical credentials, have spent periods as short as a summer and up to 1 year working at JR East, contributing to their technological programs.
Further, a number of MIT faculty have visited JR East to give seminars, inspect JR East facilities and to participate in discussions of advanced research activities.
Thus, over the last few years, a number of relationships between individuals at JR East and MIT have been established. Important professional exchanges have taken place between a number of people from both organizations, providing the basis for long-term growth in the intellectual interchange.
A management structure for a long-term relationship is in place. Each year senior management from JR East meets with MIT faculty to discuss joint activities and to plan for the future. These meetings have proven to be very useful exchanges, as each organization seeks to assure that the concepts that defined the initial JR East/MIT partnership continue to be valid and that the particular activities that have been implemented are consistent with the long-term needs of both JR East and MIT.
At both JR East and MIT, emphasis has been placed on developing broad relationships encompassing many aspects of both organizations. These are shown in Table 1.
The program is truly interdisciplinary. The interests and perspectives of diverse MIT and JR East Staff have come together to develop a truly broad-based program at the Institute.
The interdisciplinary nature of MIT's approach deserves special emphasis. While the institute aspires to the development of interdisciplinary programs, building them is no easy feat. The interdisciplinary approach to the JR East program has come together with remarkable swiftness which reflects JR East reaching out to a broad constituency within MIT.
The program has proven to be a broadening experience for both MIT and JR East. MIT faculty, students and staff have been exposed to a number of new perspectives in research areas in their interaction with peers at JR East. At the same time, a number of JR East professionals have gained by participation in the research and education programs at MIT.
One of the young professionals who came to MIT and earned a Master of Science in Transportation now works in the Technical Research and Development Department heading a group of six engineers concerned with environmental noise caused by high-speed-train operations. I found it particularly stimulating to talk with him during one of my recent visits to JR East, now that he has returned to professional responsibilities on the railroad. His most interesting statement, from MIT's viewpoint, was the comment he made about mentoring young Japanese engineers on the advantages of an international experience, and in particular an MIT experience, for their professional development. He indicated that he viewed it as his professional responsibility to explain to people working for him the professional advantages that can accrue from the kind of education and research environment provided at MIT.
As the relationship matures between MIT and JR East, we hope we can build a second generation of JR East staffers coming to the Institute, and certainly this person's experience and perspective gives us some cause for optimism in this regard.
From the opposite point of view, I have had extensive discussions with a MIT mechanical engineering graduate who served as an intern for 1 year at JR East working in the Technical Research and Development Department. This intern has also been very helpful in describing to MIT students considering working in Japan how productive and helpful an experience with JR East could be to their professional development.
It is clear that our two organizations have a great deal to learn from one another and that we have made great strides toward developing the personal ties needed to establish this joint learning experience.
Photo: President and Mrs. (Rebecca) Charles Vest, Professor Joseph Sussman, Mr. Isamu Yamashita on the occasion of the World Economic Forum at MIT, Sept 1993
To date in its brief 5-year history, the JR East/MIT relationship has achieved a good deal. MIT has relationships with many Japanese companies in a number of industries. Senior officials at MIT have characterized this relationship as among the most successful.
Where will the relationship between MIT and JR East go in the future? While we believe the basis has been built for a long-term cooperative program between the two organizations, the precise directions it will take are difficult to predict. There are a number of possible areas for mutual cooperation that have been established during many meetings between MIT and JR East staff. The question of which of these we will pursue is open at this time.
Speeches and Presentations
Yamashita, Isamu, “The Challenges of Privatization—Restructuring of the Japanese Railways and JR East Today,” presented to the senior faculty, School of Engineering, MIT, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA, June 1991
Sussman, Joseph, “Transportation, New Technology and the Railroads: A Broad Perspective,” presented at JR East Technoplaza, Tokyo, Japan, September 1991
Sussman, Joseph, “New Directions in Rail Research at MIT,” presented at JR East, Tokyo, Japan, November 1992
Yamashita, Isamu, “Information Technology at JR East,” presented at the World Economic Forum, held at MIT, Cambridge, MA, USA, September 1993
Odoni, Amedeo, “Railroad Risk Assessment and the Joint JR East/MIT Relationship,” presented at JR East, Tokyo, Japan, January 1994
Sussman, Joseph, “A Progress Report on the JR East/MIT Relationship,” presented at JR East, Tokyo, Japan, January 1994
Barnett, Arnold, “Some Problems with Exceptionally Safe Transportation Systems,” presented at JR East, Tokyo, Japan, May 1994
Ingólfsson, Ármann, “Estimating Probabilities of Rare Events,” presented at Yamashita Memorial Symposium, Tokyo, Japan, September 1994
Nasser, Thomas-Olivier, “A Framework to Monitor the Safety Performance of a Transportation System,” presented at Yamashita Memorial Symposium, Tokyo, Japan, September 1994.
Shimamura, Makoto, “Rail Research Activities at JR East,” presented to MIT Rail Research Group, MIT, Cambridge, MA, USA, September 1994
Rimm-Kaufman, Alan, “A Mathematical Model to Predict Earthquake Damage to a Railroad,” presented at JR East, Tokyo, Japan, July 1995
Anandarao, Sudhir, “Safety Analysis of Level Crossings,” presented at JR East, Tokyo, Japan, July 1995
Horiuchi, Masahiko, “Research Programs at JR East—Recent Results,” presented to MIT Rail Research Group, MIT, Cambridge, MA,USA, September 1995
Yamanouchi, Shuichiro, “Japanese Railroads in Transition—The Benefits and Lessons of Privatization, presented at the Symposium on Transportation Privatization: Potential and Reality, Center for Transportation Studies, MIT, Cambridge, MA, USA, November 1995
Drucker, Peter, “The Age of Discontinuity”
Sussman, Joseph, “Educating the New Transportation Professional”, ITS Quarterly, 1995 Summer lssue, Vol. III, No.1
Participating MIT Faculty and Staff
Professor Arnold Barnett, Sloan School of Management, Operations Research Center
Mr. Paul Berger, MIT Japan Program (Internship Program)
Dr. Paul Brown, Center for Advanced Engineering Study
Dr. Patricia Gercik, MIT Japan Program
Dr. Ichiro Masaki, Principle Research Associate, Artificial Intelligence Laboratory
Mr. Carl Martland, Senior Research Associate, Civil and Environmental Engineering, Center for Transportation Studies
Professor Amedeo Odoni, Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics, Operations Research Center
Ms. Kathleen Schaefer, MIT Japan Program (Internship Program)
Professor Thomas Sheridan, Mechanical Engineering, Ford Professor of Engineering, Director, Human-Machine Systems Laboratory
Professor Joseph Sussman, Civil and Environmental Engineering, JR East Professor, Center for Transportation Studies
Professor Daniele Veneziano, Civil and Environmental Engineering
Mr. David Woodruff, Director, Far East Corporate Relations, Industrial Liaison Program
Professor Kamal Youcef-Toumi, Mechanical Engineering
Joseph M. Sussman
Dr Joseph Sussman is JR East Professor and Professor of Civil & Environmental Engineering at MIT. He serves as Director of the Association of American Railroads Affiliated Research Laboratory at MIT.