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JAPONYA BASININDA TREN KAZASI

71 Killed in Japan Train Derailment
By MARI YAMAGUCHI

ASSOCIATED PRESS

AMAGASAKI, Japan (AP) -

0425japan-train The death toll jumped to 71 Tuesday as crews pulled more victims from the wreckage of Japan's deadliest rail crash in decades. Investigators focused on whether excessive speed or the driver's inexperience caused the train to derail and slam into a building.

The seven-car commuter train carrying 580 passengers left the rails Monday morning near Amagasaki, a suburb of Osaka about 250 miles west of Tokyo. It hit an automobile and then a nine-story apartment complex. More than 440 people were injured.

Rescuers working under floodlights pulled out a conscious but seriously injured 46-year-old woman then reached a 19-year-old man passenger, also in serious condition.

But most of the work was grim as crews pulled 14 more bodies from the twisted rail carriages, pushing the death toll from 57 to 71.

Two of the five derailed cars were shoved inside and flattened against the wall of the building's first-floor parking garage.

Distraught relatives rushed to hospitals looking for loved ones who might have been injured or killed in the 5:18 a.m. crash. They struggled to comprehend their loss.

"I only saw him the night before," said Hiroko Kuki, whose son died in the crash. "I wish he were alive somewhere... I wish it were only a nightmare."

Takamichi Hayashi said his elder brother, 19-year-old Hiroki, might be among those still in the wreck. He said Hiroki had called their mother twice on a mobile phone from inside one of the train cars hours after the crash but remained unaccounted for.

"He told my mother: 'I'm in pain. I'm not going to make it,'" Hayashi said.

Officials said no cause had been ruled out but added that investigators suspected speed and the driver's less than a year on the job.

The driver - identified as Ryujiro Takami, 23 - was unaccounted for.

He got his train operator's license last May. A month later, he overshot a station and was issued a warning, railway officials and police said. Passengers said he also stopped too far past a station platform Monday just before the crash.

Tsunemi Murakami, safety director for train operator West Japan Railway Co., said it had not been determined how fast the train was traveling.

A surviving crew member told police he "felt the train was going faster than usual," public broadcaster NHK said.

That echoed comments from passengers who speculated the driver might have been speeding to make up for time lost when he overshot the previous station by 25 feet and had to back up. The train was nearly two minutes behind schedule, media reports said.

The crash occurred on a curve with a speed limit of 43 mph . Murakami estimated the train would have had to be traveling at 82 mph to have jumped the track purely because of excessive speed.

Some stretches of track in Japan have safety systems designed to stop trains at any sign of trouble without requiring drivers to take emergency action. But transport ministry officials said the automatic braking system along the stretch of track where the train crashed is among the oldest in Japan and can't halt trains traveling at high speeds.

Outside experts predicted investigators would find a combination of factors to blame.

"There are very few train accidents in Japan in which a train has flipped just because it was going too fast. There might have been several conditions at work - speed, winds, poor train maintenance or aging rails," Kazuhiko Nagase, a train expert who is a professor at the Kanazawa Institute of Technology, told NHK.

"For the train to flip, it had to be traveling at an extremely high speed," Nagase said.

Murakami said investigators also found evidence of rocks on the tracks, but hadn't determined whether that contributed to the crash.

Transport Minister Kazuo Kitagawa told reporters he would order all of Japan's railway operators to conduct safety inspections in the coming days.

"It's tragic," Kitagawa said at the scene. "We have to investigate why this horrible accident happened."

Deadly train accidents are rare in Japan, which is home to one of the world's most complex, efficient and heavily traveled rail networks. Monday's crash was the worst since 161 people died in a three-train crash in 1963 at Tsurumi, outside Tokyo.

--

DAILY YOMIURU (27.04.2004)

Speed cited in fatal crash

The Yomiuri Shimbun

The seven-car train that derailed Monday morning on the JR Fukuchiyama Line in Amagasaki, Hyogo Prefecture, killing at least 76 people and injuring hundreds, approached a curve at more than 100 kph before jumping the tracks, investigators said Tuesday.

According to police and fire department authorities, nearly 30 people were trapped in the first and second cars, and it was not known whether they were alive.

The lead car of the train became airborne due to its high speed before crashing into the apartment building, police said Tuesday. They added that the first car may have bounced after derailing and hit an electricity pole along the line.

Analyzing equipment collected from the fifth car that recorded the train's speed and other data, they found the brakes were applied as it approached the curve. Police received operational records and employee schedules from eight West Japan Railway Co. facilities in connection with Monday's fatal accident. As of 10 p.m. Tuesday, 76 people were confirmed killed and 456 hurt, the police and other sources said.

The police confiscated a pocketbook and other belongings of the train's 23-year-old driver, Ryujiro Takami, from his office.

The Construction and Transport Ministry's Aircraft and Railway Accidents Investigation Commission said the accident was a result of multiple causes, including the train's speeding, adding it would take days to identify the primary cause of the accident. A commission member said, "The accident seems different from those of any other rollover accidents caused by speeding."

The police will soon start investigating JR West on suspicion of professional negligence resulting in death and injury.

JR West President Takeshi Kakiuchi is likely to resign from his post to take responsibility for the accident as there is a strong possibility that the accident resulted mainly from the firm's negligence. Chairman Shojiro Nanya, 63, also is likely to resign.

According to the police, the concrete electricity pole near the point on the track where the train's seventh car stopped was severely damaged.

The pole is located about three meters from the track. Crossties before the pole also were found to have been damaged. Thus the police concluded that the train derailed at this point, and the first car of the train hit the pole shortly after it went off the tracks.

Wheel marks were found for several meters alongside the track, starting from a point near the pole, but they became shallower the closer they came to the apartment building. As white powder, believed to have come from crushed stones, was found on the track, JR West suspects someone placed stones on the railway track, causing the accident.

White powder was found on an outer track of the bend, about 11 meters before the spot where the train derailed.

Crushed stones were also found on some crossties. From the amount of residue, JR West suspects that fist-sized stones had been placed on the track, as larger stones are knocked away by a mechanism on the lead car to remove obstacles from the tracks.

According to JR West, drivers and other crew members of five trains that passed the spot before the accident, including a rapid train that passed there four minutes earlier, saw no stones.

The police are skeptical that stones caused the accident, claiming it is unrealistic to believe that someone placed stones on the tracks within the four-minute interval between trains during rush hour, and no eyewitnesses have come forward.

===

Conductor admits false report

The train's 42-year-old conductor, Masatoshi Matsushita, said Monday night after the accident that he had made an arrangement with the driver to say that the train had overshot the stop line at Itami Station by eight meters, although it had actually overshot by 40 meters , before he reported the irregularity to JR West

Dozens die as train hits housing block

04/26/2005
The Asahi Shimbun

AMAGASAKI, Hyogo Prefecture--At least 50 people were killed and more than 400 injured Monday when a crowded commuter train jumped the rails and smashed into the first-floor garage of a multistory apartment building.

The five front cars of the West Japan Railway Co.'s Takarazuka Line train derailed. The line is sometimes referred to as the Fukuchiyama Line.

Two of the train cars rammed the apartment building.

Rescue work was still continuing hours later.

A little past 5 p.m., four people were confirmed alive in the first car, which plowed into the nine-story building.

The cause of the 9:20 a.m. crash was not immediately known, railway officials said.

The seven-car rapid train derailed at a curve near a railway crossing close to Amagasaki Station.

The train originated at Takarazuka Station and was bound for Doshishamae Station with about 580 passengers, many of them standing. It derailed between Amagasaki and Tsukaguchi stations.

JR West officials told a news conference that the train, operated by a 23-year-old driver, overshot the stop mark at Itami Station by 8 meters and had to backtrack, resulting in a 90-second delay in the operating schedule.

The train was speeding to make up for lost time when it derailed, officials said.

The speed limit for the relatively steep curve is 70 kph. Officials said a train would have to be moving at 133 kph to derail.

The train's maximum speed was 120 kph.

They said the accident occurred while the conductor was in contact with JR officials to explain the overrun at Itami Station.

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi set up an a liaison office within the government's crisis management center to deal with the accident.

``I have instructed concerned organizations to keep close contact with each other and deal with the situation appropriately,'' Koizumi told reporters after being informed of the crash.

The prime minister said he has given instructions for steps to be taken to prevent a recurrence.

The Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport also set up a task force to deal with the accident and sent accident investigators to the scene.

Political parties also sent representatives to the area.

There are quite a few connections at Amagasaki Station, where the train was headed.

For this reason, train drivers are under pressure to be on time so that the traveling public can get other services, railway sources said.

Police meantime are investigating the crash on the basis that it was caused by professional negligence.

Investigators are questioning the conductor about the operating schedule and other details of Monday's service.

The driver was reported to be in critical condition, sources said.

It is not known what speed the train was traveling at when it jumped the tracks, officials said.

Also, JR West officials found signs that train wheels had hit and crushed rocks. It was not immediately clear if this might have contributed to the disaster.

Railway experts suggested the damage was exacerbated by the switchover to stainless steel from regular steel to build train cars. This was done to reduce maintenance costs and weight.

The vulnerability of light-weight train cars came under the spotlight after a Hibiya Line train in Tokyo derailed in March 2000, killing five people and injuring 64. The train cars had aluminum bodies.

A rail collision in Shiga Prefecture in 1991 claimed 42 lives.

In 1963, two trains rammed a derailed freight train in Yokohama's Tsurumi Ward on the Tokaido Line, killing 161 people.

A total of 160 people died when two trains collided with a freight train on the Joban Line at Mikawashima Station in Tokyo in 1962.

A derailment at a curve in Saitama Prefecture in 1947 claimed 184 lives and left 497 injured.(IHT/Asahi: April 26,2005) 
 

NEWSDAY.COM
Clues Sought in Japan Train Wreck; 78 Dead

By MARI YAMAGUCHI
Associated Press Writer

April 26, 2005, 11:36 AM EDT

AMAGASAKI, Japan -- Rescuers pulled two survivors -- but also more bodies -- from the gnarled wreckage of Japan's worst train crash in decades Tuesday, and investigators raided the rail operator's offices for clues about why the train skidded off the tracks, killing at least 78 people.

Power shovels picked at the piles of twisted railway cars, peeling away crushed metal to get into the two train cars that struck an apartment building in Monday's accident. Workers found more bodies Tuesday in the wreckage of the 580-passenger train, and an unknown number were still there, a police spokesman said.

At least 456 people were injured.

Agents swarmed eight offices of West Japan Railway Co., carting away cardboard boxes of documents. The inquiry into possible professional negligence has focused on the actions of the 23-year-old driver -- who has not yet been accounted for -- and the speed of the train.

National broadcaster NHK reported that police suspected the train was going 65 mph when it hit the curve where it derailed -- well above the 43 mph speed limit.

Workers freed two survivors from the wreckage early Tuesday, and police said they did not expect to find anyone else alive. Hiroki Hayashi, 19, was pulled from a damaged car after surviving the night with the help of an intravenous drip and drinking water.

"I'm in pain, I can't take it anymore," he told his mother by cell phone after the crash, according to his 18-year-old brother Takamichi Hayashi.

Hiroki Hayashi had a leg injury and was hospitalized in stable condition.

Victims' relatives struggled to comprehend their loss.

"I wish it were only a nightmare," Hiroko Kuki, whose son Tetsuji was killed in the crash, told NHK. "I only saw him the night before ... I wish he were alive somewhere."

In northern Japan, the lead car of a passenger train jumped the tracks when it crashed into a trailer at a crossing at Nimori on Tuesday in the second derailment in two days. The trailer's driver was slightly hurt.

The seven-car train that crashed Monday in Amagasaki was packed with passengers when it derailed near this Osaka suburb and plunged into the first floor of an apartment complex.

Government inspectors launched their accident investigation Tuesday by examining the tracks. They also hoped to recover a recorder with data on the train's speed and other details at the time of the accident, said a Transportation Ministry inspector who identified himself only by his family name, Shimoda.

Monday's accident occurred at a curve after a straightaway. Passengers speculated that the driver may have been speeding to make up for lost time after overshooting the previous station.

The train had been nearly two minutes behind schedule, company officials said.

The driver -- identified as Ryujiro Takami -- got his train operator's license in May 2004. One month later, he overran a station and was issued a warning for his mistake, railway officials and police said.

They were investigating the case as possible professional negligence by the railway, a prefectural police spokesman said on condition of anonymity.

Tsunemi Murakami, the railway's safety director, said he instructed his employees to cooperate fully with police.

Deadly train accidents are rare in Japan. Monday's accident was the worst rail disaster in nearly 42 years in this safety-conscious country, which is home to one of the world's most complex, efficient and heavily traveled rail networks. A three-train crash in November 1963 killed 161 people in Tsurumi, outside Tokyo.

Five people were killed and 33 were injured in March 2000, when a Tokyo subway hit a derailed train. An accident killed 42 people in April 1991 in Shigaraki, western Japan.

 

 

 

 

--The Asahi Shimbun, April 26(IHT/Asahi: April 27,2005)

04/27/2005
Transport firms must rethink safety standards

Monday's accident on the Takarazuka Line (Fukuchiyama Line) operated by West Japan Railway Co. was not a collision between a train and a vehicle at a level crossing. Nor was it a case of two trains colliding. Why did this derailment result in so many casualties? The derailment in Amagasaki, Hyogo Prefecture, was an appalling spectacle. We cannot recall a disaster of this scale in decades.

The two coaches that smashed into a multistory apartment building were flattened like tinfoil. The second coach wrapped around the building, coming to a rest atop the first train car. Traces of what appeared to be stones crushed by train wheels were reportedly found on the tracks near the derailment spot. The cause of the accident must be investigated immediately.

Passengers said the train was moving much faster than usual before the accident, triggering speculation that the driver was trying to make up for lost time following a delay at Itami Station when he overshot his mark and had to back up.

Because the Takarazuka Line connects with other lines at Amagasaki Station, even a slight delay would have affected the operations on the other lines.

West Japan Railway apparently demanded that drivers adhere to operating schedules without fail.

What this reminds us of is a statement by Japan Airlines to the government concerning a spate of missteps involving problems with aircraft maintenance and violations of flight regulations. The carrier admitted that its policy of meeting departure and arrival times at the expense of safety concerns, which should have been paramount, was one factor that resulted in the troubles.

For public transportation companies, running according to schedule is at the heart of their credibility. Frequent delays inevitably invite stiff criticism. But placing speedier operations above safety concerns brings irreversible consequences.

Across the country, such companies must now re-examine their operations to ensure that safety concerns are not being ignored. Being inconvenienced by a delay of any length is infinitely preferable to never arriving at all. 

Train crash kills 71, injures 441
Cars ram apartment building after jumping rails in Hyogo


Compiled from Kyodo, staff reports
OSAKA -- At least 71 people died and 441 others were injured Monday when five cars of a seven-car train derailed, sending two cars slamming into an apartment building in Amagasaki, Hyogo Prefecture, police and firefighters said.

The accident occurred at around 9:20 a.m. near a railway crossing between Amagasaki and Tsukaguchi stations on West Japan Railway Co.'s Fukuchiyama Line.

The first and second cars of the train crashed into the ground floor of the nine-story apartment building about 6 meters from the curved tracks and were destroyed.

As of Monday evening, rescuers were trying to free at least four people still alive in the wreckage. Rescue work continued through the night.

Hundreds of injured people were taken to nearby hospitals, police said.

Government and JR West officials said they were trying to determine the cause of the accident. Several passengers said they thought the train was going too fast.

The number of deaths surpassed the 42 people who died in a 1991 head-on train collision in Shiga Prefecture.

JR West said it found grinding marks on the tracks often left behind when a train runs over objects such as stones, but added they had not confirmed any causal relationship between the marks and the accident.

The 23-year-old driver, who had been on the job for 11 months, overshot a station stop in June last year by 100 meters , JR West said. He was still missing in the wreckage as of Monday evening.

The 42-year-old conductor on the train was interviewed by police, JR West officials said.

JR West President Takeshi Kakiuchi apologized for the accident. "As a railway operator, I am filled with a very sorry feeling," he said at a news conference in Osaka.

At a separate news conference in the evening, the railway operator said the accident led to the cancellation of 280 train runs, affecting 120,000 passengers.

In response to requests by the Hyogo Prefectural Government, a Ground Self-Defense Force unit in the prefecture sent personnel to help with rescue operations, while nearby municipalities such as Osaka and Kobe sent firefighters to provide emergency aid.

The train, with about 580 people on board, was heading from Takarazuka Station in Hyogo Prefecture to Doshishamae Station in Kyoto Prefecture. The speed limit at the accident site was 70 kph, but it is not known how fast the train was going when the accident occurred, JR West officials said.

The automatic transfer switch used in the area is the oldest model available and does not have the capability to trigger automatic braking when trains go by too quickly, the Land, Infrastructure and Transport Ministry said.

At Itami Station, the train's last stop before crashing, the driver overran the stop mark by about 8 meters and had to back up before the passengers could be let off, a JR West official said. The train then left the station about 90 seconds behind schedule and passed Tsukaguchi Station about one minute late, he said.

The conductor was reporting to the command room about the overrun at Itami Station by radio and mobile phone when the accident occurred, JR West said. "We just had a derailment accident," the conductor said through the phone, the company said.

Many of the injured said the train seemed to be traveling faster than usual after leaving Itami Station, as if the driver was hurrying to make up for the delay.

JR West sources suggested the train may have exceeding the speed limit and likely failed to negotiate the curve.

Based on calculations, a train going by the accident site would derail if it were moving at 133 kph or more, JR West officials said. The train was designed to move at a maximum speed of 120 kph, they said

DAILY YOIMURI

56 die as train slams into building

The Yomiuri Shimbun

A seven-car train on the JR Fukuchiyama Line derailed and crashed into an apartment building Monday morning in Amagasaki, Hyogo Prefecture, killing 56 passengers and injuring 440, as of Monday night, police and other sources said.

The front four cars on the train, which was carrying about 600 passengers, ran off the tracks before the front two cars slammed into a nine-story apartment building east of the tracks after ripping through a parking lot on the north side of the building.

The front cars were crushed against the building, leaving many passengers trapped for hours. In the evening, rescue workers confirmed four passengers alive inside the first car, which slammed into the first floor of the building.

The train's 23-year-old driver, Ryujiro Takami, was believed to have been trapped in the first car, according to the police.

The accident occurred at about 9:20 a.m. when the train was en route to Doshishamae Station in Kyoto Prefecture from Takarazuka Station in Hyogo Prefecture.

The train was traveling around a bend to the right at the time of the accident. West Japan Railway Co. said the speed limit at the turn was 70 kph. According to JR West and Railway Technical Research Institute, a train would need to be traveling faster than 133 kph to derail at the spot.

JR West, however, said the train that crashed was designed to have a top speed of only 120 kph. The railway firm said it was unsure what speed the train was traveling at the time of the accident.

JR West found no evidence that another vehicle caused the derailment.

Hyogo prefectural police questioned the train's 42-year-old conductor. According to the police, the train overshot the stop line at Itami Station by eight meters and was forced to reverse, putting the train about 90 seconds behind schedule. The police quoted the conductor as saying, "It looked like the train was running a little faster than usual, so I wondered if the operator attempted to make up for the delay."

Passengers also said the train seemed to be traveling faster than usual after overshooting the station.

An eyewitness said the train's front car leaned and derailed after its brakes made squealing noises, adding that it only took about 10 seconds for the train to crash into the apartment building after it derailed.

The driver of the train had only 11 months experience. According to JR West, he overshot Shimokoma Station in Kyoto Prefecture on the JR Gakkentoshi Line by about 100 meters in June.

According to the railway firm, white powder that looked like crushed stone was found on the railway track near the accident site. JR West said it also would investigate whether there had been any obstruction on the tracks.

The Construction and Transport Ministry's Aircraft and Railway Accident Investigation Commission sent three investigators to the site.

The Hyogo prefectural government set up a task force to deal with the accident. Responding to the prefectural government's request, the Ground Self-Defense Force dispatched 50 members from the third division in Itami, Hyogo Prefecture, to help with rescue efforts. The central government also established a liaison office at the Prime Minister's Office to deal with rescue operations.

The crash was the worst train accident since a head-on collision of JR West and Shigaraki Kogen Railway Co. trains on the Shigaraki Kogen line in May 1991 that killed 42 passengers.

JR West President Takeshi Kakiuchi said during a press conference at its headquarters in Kita Ward, Osaka, "As a train operator, we feel very sorry for the victims."

DAILY YOMIURU 27_04_2005

Safety gear faulted in crash

The Yomiuri Shimbun

While the real cause of Monday's catastrophic train accident in Amagasaki, Hyogo Prefecture, that killed more than 70 passengers and injured hundreds remains under investigation, experts are blaming lax safety measures.

According to the experts, West Japan Railway Co. has not replaced safety devices with more advanced versions to prevent serious accidents on such lines as the JR Fukuchiyama Line.

Most train lines have been equipped with an automatic train stop, or ATS, system that automatically applies emergency brakes to stop a train when it passes a red light.

The most advanced system is the automatic train stop pattern, or ATS-P system, which calculates the maximum speed at which a train can travel safely based on information transmitted from a device installed between rails.

However, the Fukuchiyama Line's ATS system was the oldest version, ATS-SW, which originally was developed by defunct Japanese National Railways. JR West improved the system and added SW to the name.

This system only automatically stops a train when an operator misses a red light or a train is about to crash into a buffer stop. The ATS-SW is not designed to prevent speeding on curves.

According to JR West, the company planned to introduce ATS-P on the Fukuchiyama Line from June.

The automatic train control system, or ATC, has been introduced on some trains in the Tokyo metropolitan area. ATC is more sophisticated and was originally developed for Shinkansen bullet trains.

ATC automatically controls the speed of a train so that it does not exceed speed limits. However, an ATC requires a system that transmits electronic signals through rails and only recently was implemented on the JR Yamanote Line and Keihintohoku Line.

A senior official of the Construction and Transport Ministry's Railway Bureau said, "It's a slow process, replacing safety devices on existing lines."

In the latest fatal train accident, a train smashed into an apartment building, bending the cars beyond recognition. It is highly likely that the impact was more severe than anyone could have imagined possible in a train accident.

The cars were made of stainless steel and were part of the 207 series, which have been manufactured since 1991, and about 480 have been built as of fiscal 2003.

The model did not require paint, which made the cars lighter and therefore faster, and less susceptible to rusting.

However, stainless steel is not as strong as regular steel, and therefore the train suffered an immense amount of damage.

"One of possible reasons for the serious extent of the damage in the latest accident is that the material of the ultralight car was so susceptible to damage from impact," said Nobuyuki Sato, a lecturer at Asia University's economic department who specializes in transport policies.

Train car manufacturers have objected to such reasoning, saying the car was designed to withstand impact, and the materials used did not weaken the design.

However, train car designs are based on the assumption that any crashes will involve a front or rear collision. Impact to the side of a car was unforeseen.

The senior official of the bureau said, "There are limitations on building strong cars, and measures should be implemented to stop a train safely if it derails."

In the latest accident, the train ran off the rails and crashed into an apartment building.

It is possible that the accident would not have been as serious if the train had been equipped with so-called derailment guards--a second set of rails installed between the main set.

In the wake of a derailment on the Hibiya subway line in March 2000, the ministry instructed railway companies to install derailment guards on turns that were less than 200 meters in radius.

JR West installed the guards at turns that were less than 250 meters in radius. The turn involved in the latest accident, however, was 300 meters in radius.

However, rocks or other objects that become stuck in the guards could derail a train. Railway companies are reluctant to install the measures due to their cost and frequent maintenance requirements, according to observers.

KYODO NEWS

Train crash death toll rises to 73, over 450 injured

OSAKA , April 26, Kyodo - (EDS: CLARIFYING 1ST, 2ND AND 8TH GRAFS)

The death toll in Monday's commuter train derailment and crash in Amagasaki, western Japan, rose to 73 Tuesday, with at least 456 people injured, some seriously, police said.

After rescuing several survivors from the wreckage earlier in the day, the police and firefighters tried to confirm the safety of 14 or 15 people trapped in the mangled cars by using equipment to detect heartbeats with electromagnetic waves, but none of them is believed to be alive.

Given statements from the train conductor and passengers that the train was traveling faster than usual at the time it derailed, the police launched an investigation of train operator West Japan Railway Co. (JR West) on Tuesday on suspicion of professional negligence resulting in death and injury.

Investigators raided the railway operator's offices to obtain materials related to the train crash in Amagasaki, Hyogo Prefecture, just west of Osaka.

Underlining the statements from the train conductor and passengers, the police have found the rapid-service train advanced to a curve at the crash site at a speed of more than 100 kilometers per hour, although the curved section has a speed limit of 70 kph, investigative sources said.

The train theoretically would derail if its speed exceeded 130 kph but it was designed to have a top speed of 120 kph, according to JR West.

A uniformed man believed to be the train driver, Ryujiro Takami, 23, has been found to still be in the driver's seat, but it has not been confirmed if he is dead or alive, the police said. He has not responded to rescue workers' calls, they said.

The first two cars of the seven-vehicle train plowed into the first floor parking area of a nine-story apartment building, located about 6 meters from the tracks. The firefighters completed removal of the third to seventh cars Tuesday.

It is the worst railway accident in Japan since the Japan Railway group was formed from the privatization of the state-run Japanese National Railways in 1987.

The accident occurred Monday morning on a curve near a railway crossing on JR West's Fukuchiyama Line, when the train was heading from Tsukaguchi Station to Amagasaki Station. JR West said Monday the train had an overrun of about 8 meters at Itami Station, but at a press conference Tuesday it revised the overrun distance to about 40 meters .

Many passengers said the train, which left the previous stop at Itami Station 90 seconds behind schedule, appeared to be traveling faster than usual.

The train's conductor, Masatoshi Matsushita, 42, told JR West officials that the driver asked him after the incident at Itami Station to report a smaller overrun distance and so he conveyed to the command center three minutes later and said the train had an overrun of 8 meters , according to JR West.

After backing up to let passengers on and off at Itami Station, the driver apparently tried to make up for the delay by increasing speed and the train passed Tsukaguchi Station, the second station from Itami, about one minute behind schedule.

Just before the accident, JR West's command center contacted the driver twice but the driver did not respond, according to the railway company.

According to JR West, Takami, who has been driving trains for 11 months, previously worked as a conductor and had a record of two reprimands in that post -- one for failing to pull an emergency lever when a train overran a platform in May 2002 and another over a passenger's report that he looked ''absent-minded'' while on duty in August 2003.

He also received a reprimand as a driver for a platform overrun of about 100 meters in June last year.

 

The Asahi Shimbun
Death toll rises amid `miracle' rescue

04/27/2005

AMAGASAKI, Hyogo Prefecture-Rescuers on Tuesday pulled three survivors from the wreckage of the nation's worst train disaster in decades, calling the case of one student trapped for nearly 24 hours a miracle.

Meantime, the grim body count rose to at least 74 with 456 people injured, officials said Tuesday afternoon. Police said between 15 and 20 people remain trapped in the twisted metal. Little hope was held for their survival.

As investigations continued into the cause of the tragedy, police were raising suspicions about possible speeding. Police on Tuesday said they had established the train was moving in excess of 100 kph when it should have kept to 70 kph.

The West Japan Railway Co.'s Takarazuka Line train was carrying 580 passengers when it jumped the rails.

The best news Tuesday came with word that there were three survivors, all of them in the worst-damaged first car that hurtled into a first-floor garage of a multistory apartment building.

Rescuers said it was ``miracle'' that Hiroki Hayashi, 19, survived ``because nothing inside the car retained its original form.''

Hayashi, a sophomore at Doshisha University and also from Itami in Hyogo Prefecture, was pulled free at 7:08 a.m., nearly 22 hours after tragedy struck.

Five of the seven train cars derailed around 9:20 a.m. Monday. Two of them rammed the nine-story apartment building, located very close to the tracks. The wreckage had the appearance of crumpled tin foil.

Yuko Oshita, 46, of Nishinomiya, Hyogo Prefecture, was also rescued early Tuesday from the first train car along with Ryosuke Yamashita, 18, a Kinki University freshman from Itami, who was freed before 3 a .m.

Hayashi was put on an intravenous drip while trapped in the debris of twisted metal. Rescuers said he grasped firmly when they held his hand. He was able to clearly state his name and address inside the ambulance.

With no signs of other survivors, work got under way after midday to remove the wreckage with heavy machinery.

In another key development, it emerged Tuesday that the train driver, Ryujiro Takami, overshot the stopping mark at Itami Station on Monday by as much as 40 meters , not 8 meters as originally reported. That caused a 90-second delay that may have prompted him to drive too fast.

The train had to back up to let passengers on and off at the station. When it passed the next stop, Tsukaguchi Station, it was about 60 seconds behind schedule.

In a news conference Tuesday morning, company officials said the train's conductor, Masatoshi Matsushita, 42, changed his account Monday night and said that Takami had asked him to make the overrun seem shorter than it actually was.

Rescuers were reasonably certain they had located Takami's body. They spotted a man in uniform in the front car but saw no sign of life.

A senior JR West official indicated that JR West President Takeshi Kakiuchi would likely step down to take responsibility for the disaster.

In other developments Tuesday, Hyogo prefectural police searched JR West offices and seized work records as part of their investigation centering on professional negligence.

Police said they found signs that train driver Takami applied emergency brakes just before the start of the curve where the train derailed.

The train was equipped with a system that allowed for brakes to operate automatically if the connecting couplings between cars disconnected. Officials said driver could also have applied the emergency brakes after realizing he was speeding.

The train derailed around the middle of the curve. Police want to ascertain if speeding and sudden braking caused the train to jump the tracks.

Police are also checking to see if crushed stones in the train wheels played a part in the crash.

JR officials found the marks on the tracks Monday and alluded to rocks having been placed there intentionally.(IHT/Asahi: April 27,2005) 
 

The Japan Times: April 27, 2005

Train took curve at over 100 kph

OSAKA (Kyodo) The packed commuter train that derailed and slammed into an apartment building Monday in Amagasaki, Hyogo Prefecture, was going more than 100 kph when it hit a curve and jumped the tracks, police officials said Tuesday.

The speed limit at the accident site was 70 kph, according to West Japan Railway Co., the operator of the JR Fukuchiyama Line train. The company has said derailment can occur at 130 kph.

The Hyogo Prefectural Police determined the speed by analyzing records in a device recovered from the wrecked train to automatically record train speed, officials said.

The Hyogo police believe the cause of the accident may have been excessive speed, stones on the rails, or both.

JR West said it found grinding marks on the rails that are often made when a train runs over such objects as stones, but added they had not confirmed any causal relationship between the marks and the accident.

Officials of a transport ministry accident investigation committee, however, said they could not find signs that the train ran over stones nor that a brake had been applied.

The Hyogo police opened a criminal investigation Tuesday into JR West on suspicion of professional negligence resulting in death and injury.

The death toll from the derailment rose to at least 75.

Hyogo Prefectural Police investigators confiscated materials from the offices of JR West that may be related to the crash, which also injured 456 people -- 150 of them seriously.

A rescue team found a uniformed man believed to be the driver, Ryujiro Takami, 23, in the driver's seat. He did not respond to calls from the rescuers, who weren't able to reach the body.

Earlier Tuesday, three people trapped inside the mangled lead car of the train were pulled out of the wreckage alive after an overnight rescue operation. They were identified as Ryosuke Yamashita, 18, Hiroki Hayashi, 19, and Yuko Oshita, 46.

The rescuers used equipment to detect heartbeats with electromagnetic waves and carefully removed wreckage piece by piece.

However, hopes of finding more survivors faded as the rescue operation entered into its second evening. Police said they believe there were at least 14 people -- apparently dead -- still trapped inside the wreckage of the two mangled cars.

The accident occurred at 9:18 a.m. on JR West's Fukuchiyama Line, when five cars of a seven-car train carrying some 580 people derailed on a curve in Amagasaki, just west of Osaka.

The first two cars plowed into the first-floor parking garage of a nine-story apartment building.

Takami, who had been on the job for 11 months, overshot a station stop in June last year by 100 meters , JR West said.

The train was heading from Takarazuka Station in Hyogo Prefecture to Doshishamae Station in Kyoto Prefecture. automatic transfer switch used in the area is the oldest model available and does not have the capability to trigger automatic braking when trains go by too quickly, the Land, Infrastructure and Transport Ministry said.

On Monday, JR West initially announced that at Itami Station, the train's last stop before crashing, the driver overran the stop mark by about 8 meters and had to back up before the passengers could be let off. But the company corrected that figure Tuesday and said he overshot the mark by 40 meters .

The train's conductor, Masatoshi Matsushita, 42, told JR West officials that the driver asked him after the incident at Itami Station to under-report the overrun distance, so he radioed the command center three minutes later and said the train had overrun the stop point by 8 meters , according to JR West. The train then left the station about 90 seconds behind schedule and passed Tsukaguchi Station about one minute late.

Many of the injured said the train seemed to be traveling faster than usual after leaving Itami Station, as if the driver was hurrying to make up for the delay.

Just before the accident, JR West's command center contacted the driver twice but he did not respond, according to the railway company.


(C) All rights reserved

YOKOHAMA POST 27_04_2005 Wednesday 27.04.2005, CET 08:39
April 26, 2005 1:35 PM

Japan police raid train operator after crash

By Issei Kato

AMAGASAKI, Japan (Reuters) - Japanese police looking for clues to the cause of the country's worst rail crash in more than 40 years raided the offices of the train's operator on Tuesday as weeping relatives claimed the remains of many of the 73 confirmed dead from a makeshift morgue.

As darkness fell more than 30 hours after the crash, rescue workers were still trying to reach about a dozen people trapped in the twisted wreckage but there were no signs of life.

"Rescuers are proceeding in the hope that people may still be alive," a fire department official said. "The car is rather badly broken up, so it's difficult to say anything concrete."

Two women and a man were pulled alive from the mass of tangled metal earlier in the day.

Investigations were focusing on the speed at which the crowded train was travelling when it jumped the tracks on the outskirts of the western city of Osaka and smashed into an apartment building just after rush hour on Monday morning.

Police investigating for possible professional negligence lugged away boxes of documents from the offices of West Japan Railway Co. (JR West)

JR West President Takeshi Kakiuchi and two other executives are likely to resign to take responsibility for the disaster, which also injured more than 440 people, the Nihon Keizai Shimbun business daily reported.

"I feel a great responsibility for this accident," JR West Chairman Shojiro Nanya, who was also expected to step down, told a news conference.

Local people laid flowers against a fence and bowed their head in prayer for the victims as safety investigators inspected and photographed the accident site.

Television showed a man crouched and weeping outside the gymnasium where the bodies of most of the dead were taken.

"As I watched the news reports this morning I gradually became angry and I'm wondering what to do," another middle-aged man who lost his wife told reporters.

"The driver was young and I wonder about the training."

BLOW TO IMAGE

Investigators said the cause of the crash was still unclear, but survivors among the some 580 passengers, as well as the train's conductor, said they believed the train was going faster than normal after falling behind schedule.

The train had overshot the previous station by about 40 metres ( 130 feet ) and had to reverse back to the platform.

The fate of the driver, a 23-year-old man with 11 months' experience, was not confirmed but Kyodo news agency said a uniformed man believed to be the driver had been found and that he was not responding to rescue workers' calls.

The same driver also over-shot a station by 100 metres ( 328 feet ) last June, railway officials said.

The accident was the worst for Japan 's heavily used rail network since 1963 when about 160 people were killed in a multiple train collision at Yokohama , near Tokyo , and the most serious since Japan 's rail network was privatised in 1987.

The accident was also a blow to the efficient image of the railway system, which boasts 27,000 km ( 16,780 miles ) of track and transports more than 20 billion passengers a year.

But while accidents are relatively rare, another passenger train hit a truck at a crossing northeast of Tokyo on Tuesday, slightly injuring the truck driver. No passengers were hurt.

JR West, which was completely privatised a year ago, has been experiencing sluggish revenue growth and has been trying to improve profitability by cutting costs.

"If that made the company neglect its safety responsibilities, that would be a problem," the Yomiuri Shimbun daily said in an editorial.

Officials said a train could derail if it were travelling at nearly twice the 70 km per hour ( 43 mph ) speed limit on the curved stretch of line where the accident occurred.

The automatic train stop system in the area was of the oldest type and had no ability to apply automatic brakes if a passing train was going too fast, the Transport Ministry said.

Satoru Sone, a professor at Kogakuin University , told public broadcaster NHK the accident was probably due to multiple causes such as a brake malfunction, faulty rails and driver error.

JR West said investigators found marks on the tracks of the type left when a train runs over an object such as a stone, but it said it was not clear if this was related to the accident.

China and South Korea both sent their condolences, putting aside recent diplomatic disputes over war history and territory.

Shares in JR West fell another 1.75 percent on Tuesday after dropping 3.6 percent on Monday.

 

Reuters