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Wednesday, April 27, 2005

PASSENGERS SAY NOW THEY'LL SPEAK OUT

Private rail firms check safety after JR crash


Staff writer

OSAKA-- Kansai's major private train firms said Tuesday they are reviewing safety procedures in the wake of the train crash near Amagasaki in Hyogo Prefecture that killed 73 and injured more than 450.

News photo
Commuters scramble for certificates to board Hankyu Corp. trains Tuesday morning at Hankyu Takarazuka Station. Commuters who usually use the JR Fukuchiyama Line were forced to alter their routes due to Monday's train crash.

They will wait, however, until the cause of the West Japan Railway Co. train crash is clear before taking any concrete measures, they said.

Passengers said the lesson learned from the accident was to speak out if they think there is something wrong with the train driver.

As rescue workers near Amagasaki continued to search for bodies in the rubble, the four major private train lines in Kansai announced various new measures they are taking to ensure passenger safety.

"We've told our train conductors and station employees to redouble their efforts at passenger safety, but we're waiting to hear the official cause of the accident before deciding if things like additional track checks or technical reviews are necessary," said Tatsuhiko Kobayashi, a spokesman for Hankyu Railways, which serves the Osaka, Kyoto and Kobe areas.

The accident affected JR lines near some of the Hankyu lines and Kobayashi said Hankyu has agreed to a JR request that it accept JR passes on some of its lines that run between Osaka, Takarazuka, and Kobe.

Kintetsu, which serves southern Osaka, Nara and Mie prefectures, and goes all the way to Nagoya, said it is conducting safety reviews similar to Hankyu.

"As Kintetsu's trains often wind through the countryside where curves are sharp, we decided several years ago to build guardrails on curves that are less than 250 meters. This is an additional safety procedure that is not, strictly speaking, required by the government," said Toshihiro Fukuhara, a Kintetsu spokesman. The curve where the JR accident occurred did not have a guardrail.

Keihan, which serves Osaka and eastern Kyoto city, said drivers and stationmasters held meetings Tuesday morning to review safety procedures and that it has issued a directive to all train conductors to mind their speed.

"We are also discussing additional checks of our train tracks," said Seiji Nagasawa, a Keihan spokesman. "But like the other train operators, we are waiting on the results of the accident before deciding what, if anything, we need to formally review."

Yoshitaka Kimura, a spokesman for Hanshin, said his company had no immediate plans to conduct a review of their safety operations in the wake of the accident.

All four companies said they had automatic train-stop systems, and Hankyu and Keihan said they had the newer models, in which an alarm goes off in the driver's compartment if the train exceeds a certain speed and brakes are automatically applied.

The length of track where Monday's accident took place used an older ATS system that works only if a train driver speeds up to run a red light. Some experts have suggested that this situation could have caused the crash.

But several passengers at Hankyu's Umeda Station said Tuesday it was less of a technical issue and more a matter of speaking up when there is a problem.

"Listening to the survivors on the TV news, I was struck by the fact that so many of them knew something was wrong with the train driver when the train overshot Itami Station and then backed up," said Manabu Hirokawa, a 31-year-old Osaka man who works for a local translation company.

"Perhaps if they had complained louder to the Itami Station manager, or told the driver to be careful, the accident could have been avoided."

52 people missing?

OSAKA (Kyodo) Fifty-two people have been listed by relatives as still missing after possibly being aboard the train that derailed Monday on the JR Fukuchiyama Line, according to West Japan Railway Co.

Relatives of these people have visited a gym at Amagasaki City Memorial Park serving as a makeshift morgue but have not found their loved ones. On Tuesday afternoon, about 100 such relatives and company colleagues of the missing people were waiting at the gym for relevant information.

"Many of them say they visited several hospitals in the area but were unable to find their loved ones, and that their repeated calls to the cellular phones (of the people unaccounted for) go unanswered," a JR West spokesman said.

According to JR West, 69 bodies have been brought to the gym, and only two hadn't been identified yet.



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