This paper focuses on the safety of a railway system in Japan. Shinkansen, the bullet train in Japan has been operated for more than 55 years without a serious system accident. The rolling stocks are designed through collaboration between railway companies and independent railway vehicle manufactures. This paper describes how railway safety has been achieved by the interaction between relevant organisational actors, material entities and institutional or structural factors. In addition, the paper focuses on the blind spots of the assemblage because of a serious recent incident in which Shinkansen with about 1000 passengers on-board kept running for about 740 kilometres with a cracked chassis.
This paper adopts an original analytical method, called the MAIS approach, which intends to elucidate social phenomena from the interactions among actors, material entities and institutional/structural factors. MAIS is an acronym formed from the initial letters of the elements of social phenomena: ‘material entities’, ‘actors’, and ‘institutional/structural factors’.
The contributions of this paper are, firstly, the description of inter-organisational practices in the railway industry in Japan to shape safety; secondly, theoretical and practical implications for the safety studies about complex sociotechnical systems; and thirdly the proposal of an effective analytical tool of social phenomena: the MAIS approach.