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Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Residents heard screech, then roar, then silence

Staff writer

AMAGASAKI, Hyogo Pref. -- A screech, followed by a roar, and then silence.

That was how residents living near the scene of Monday's terrible train crash, in which 69 people were killed and more than 440 were injured, described what they heard.

"We only live a few hundred meters from where the train derailed. I didn't see the crash, but I heard a very loud screeching sound, followed by a strange roar that I'd never heard before. After that there was silence," said Makiko Kobayashi, a 49-year-old resident of Amagasaki.

While many of the passengers said they noticed the train seemed to be running too fast just before it crashed, Kobayashi said she didn't get that impression from the noise it made as it went by.

But Fumihiko Tani, who owns a small shop beside the tracks about a half-kilometer from the crash site, said that he could tell from the sound it made when it went by something was wrong.

"I remember telling one of my customers, 'That train is really in a hurry.' I couldn't understand why it was going so fast," he said.

Residents were also anxiously awaiting word from West Japan Railway Co. officials on the cause of the accident. Many were angry at media reports that the train might have been going too fast to make up for a delay caused by an overrun at an earlier station.

According to JR West, the safe speed limit for a train at the curve where the accident took place is 70 kph. It is not known at what speed the train was running when it derailed, but the speed above which derailment could take place is 130 kph, JR West said.

"I think the main question those of us who live beside the tracks want answered is how fast the train was going when it crashed. If it turns out the train was over the safe speed, we'll be demanding answers from JR West as to how they intend to ensure trains remain within the safe speed limits," said Yoko Oda, a 37-year-old housewife whose house is close to Amagasaki Station.

By late afternoon Monday, JR officials, police and firefighters were still combing through the wreckage, searching for bodies and answers.

Police had sealed off the area and JR West officials had extra staff on hand at Amagasaki Station, only about a 15-minute walk from the crash site, to greet anxious relatives, and at JR Osaka Station, which is about five minutes by special express train from Amagasaki Station.

While the line between Amagasaki and Fukuchiyama stations was closed, trains along the busy Osaka-Kobe JR line, which passes through Amagasaki Station, were operating normally as of the afternoon.

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The Japan Times

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