JR West was incorporated as a business corporation (kabushiki kaisha) on April 1, 1987 as part of the breakup of government-owned Japanese National Railways (JNR). Initially, it was a wholly owned subsidiary of the JNR Settlement Corporation, a special company created to hold the assets of the former JNR while they were shuffled among the new JR companies.
For the first four years of its existence, JR West leased its highest-revenue line, the Sanyō Shinkansen, from the separate Shinkansen Holding Corporation. JR West purchased the line in October 1991 at a cost of 974.1 billion JPY (about 7.2 billion USD) in long-term payable debt.
JNRSC sold 68.3% of JR West in an initial public offering on the Tokyo Stock Exchange in October 1996. After JNRSC was dissolved in October 1998, its shares of JR West were transferred to the government-owned Japan Railway Construction Public Corporation (JRCC), which merged into the Japan Railway Construction, Transport and Technology Agency (JRTT) as part of a bureaucratic reform package in October 2003. JRTT offered all of its shares in JR West to the public in an international IPO in 2004, ending the era of government ownership of JR West. JR West is now listed on the Tokyo Stock Exchange, Nagoya Stock Exchange, Osaka Securities Exchange and Fukuoka Stock Exchange.
JR West continues to be burdened by debt sustained by JNR up to 1987, although through refinancing, it has managed to halve its interest payments over the last ten years.
See main article: Sanyō Shinkansen. JR West's highest-grossing line is the Sanyō Shinkansen high speed rail line between Osaka and Fukuoka. The Sanyō Shinkansen alone accounts for about 40% of JR West's passenger revenues. The company also operates Hakata Minami Line, a short commuter line with Shinkansen trains in Fukuoka.
The "Urban Network" is JR West's name for its commuter rail lines in the Osaka-Kobe-Kyoto metropolitan area. These lines together comprise 610 km of track, have 245 stations and account for about 40% of JR West's passenger revenues. Urban Network stations are equipped to handle ICOCA fare cards. Train control on these lines is highly automated, and during peak hours trains run as often as every two minutes.
JR West's Urban Network competes with a number of private commuter rail operators around Osaka, the "Big 4" being Hankyū Railway/Hanshin Railway (Hankyu bought Hanshin in 2005), Keihan Railway, Kintetsu, and Nankai Railway. JR West's market share in the region is roughly equal to that of the Big 4 put together, largely due to its comprehensive network and high-speed commuter trains (Special Rapid Service trains on the Kobe and Kyoto lines operate at up to 130 km/h).
Those in italics are announcement names.
A number of other lines account for more than half of JR West's track mileage. These lines primarily handle business and leisure travel between smaller cities and rural areas in western Japan. They account for about 20% of the company's passenger revenues.
JR West subsidiaries include: