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Thursday, May 26, 2005

Mourners remember 107 killed in train crash


Staff writer

AMAGASAKI, Hyogo Pref. -- Relatives and friends of the 107 people killed when a West Japan Railway Co. train crashed into a building one month ago gathered Wednesday here at the site of the accident for a memorial service.

About 20 West Japan Railway Co. officials, including President Takeshi Kakiuchi, arrived at the site at around 8 a.m. for the service.

Behind a white sheet hung to offer the attendees some privacy from the dozens of spectators, Kakiuchi and other officials laid flowers in memorial to those who were killed in the April 25 crash.

"We will work to ensure that a reborn West Japan Railway Co. creates a safe train system," said Kakiuchi, who has announced he will resign to take responsibility for the accident.

Throughout the morning, more relatives, friends and colleagues of the crash victims arrived to pay their respects. Several sobbed and many brought flowers.

A moment of silence was observed at 9:18 a.m., the time of the accident.

One month after the crash, many are still angry at the railway, not only for the accident but for its behavior afterward.

"First we learned that the driver was going too fast when the train hit the curve. Then we learned that two JR officials on the train walked away from the scene without offering assistance to the injured," said Akira Tani, an Osaka businessman who lost two of his colleagues in the accident. "The company is in desperate need of reform."

JR West has faced a storm of public criticism since the accident, for the behavior of officials at the scene and for its corporate culture, which some say led to the disaster.

Current and former motormen and company officials have portrayed JR West's driver training as a period of intimidation and fear.

"Drivers are under immense pressure to be on time, to the second," said Yoshiharu Miyuki, a conductor and member of JR West's labor union.

"During training, if a driver makes a mistake, he or she will sometimes be reminded of it for months afterward."

The crash probe continues.

Hyogo Prefectural Police told local media earlier this month they suspected the driver, Ryujiro Takami, was under tremendous pressure to make up for lost time when the accident occurred.

Just before the crash, Takami, who died in the crash, had overshot the previous two stations and had to back up, putting his train behind schedule.

When the train jumped the tracks on a curve near Amagasaki Station, it was traveling at more than 120 kph, according to police and the government's Aircraft and Railway Accidents Investigation Commission.

JR West officials have said the maximum safe speed on the curve is 70 kph.

There have also been reports that Takami showed signs of a mental breakdown in the months before the crash. The railway investigation commission is looking into these allegations.

While much of the public's anger has been directed toward Takami, reports that other JR West employees went to a bowling party and a golf outing later on the day of the accident have also upset many of the victims' relatives, who criticized the company for being insensitive.

JR West officials have apologized for going ahead with the events, but critics say it has raised doubts as to whether the railway realized the seriousness of the accident.

Easing off the throttle

OSAKA (Kyodo) West Japan Railway Co. will not require its drivers to speed trains up during rush hour, even if they are behind schedule, officials said Wednesday.

The decision came after the deadly April 25 accident in Amagasaki, Hyogo Prefecture, that took the lives of the driver and 106 passengers.

Responding to criticism that the tightened timetables led the driver, Ryujiro Takami, 23, to speed, the carrier announced Tuesday that schedules would be revised next spring to allow more leeway in operations.

It added that the revisions are mainly targeted at those lines that often operate behind schedule.

The company's decision not to order its drivers to run faster to make up for delays is seen as a temporary measure to cope with the existing problem until the timetables are revised.

By guiding its drivers not to run their trains faster, the carrier aims to reduce the psychological pressure on them, the officials said.



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