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Impending mass retirement pushes JR West to automation

Driverless trains and shortened timetables to help fill gap of 4,000 workers

JR West has tested automated trains on the Osaka Loop Line, but operation is less smooth and energy-efficient compared to a human engineer. (Photo by Mitsutoshi Masano)

OSAKA -- With nearly 20% of on-site staff set to hit retirement age in the next five years, West Japan Railway has begun preparing for a future with a much-reduced workforce, looking to use technology to lighten the load on its remaining employees.

Labor shortages loom across a range of jobs, including engineers, conductors, station staff and maintenance workers. JR West had about 19,000 employees in such positions as of April 1, including those rehired after reaching the retirement age of 60, down by 500 from five years earlier.

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