Motorman gets suspended term over rail crash


The Fukui District Court on Tuesday handed a former motorman employed by troubled railway operator Keifuku Electric Railroad Co. a 2 1/2-year suspended prison term for causing a railway accident last year that injured 24 people.

The sentence imposed on 23-year-old Makoto Shimokawatoko, who was convicted of professional negligence, will be suspended for five years.

On June 24, 2001, Shimokawatoko ignored a red light while operating the controls of a train on the Echizen Line in Katsuyama, Fukui Prefecture, causing a head-on collision with an oncoming train.

In the accident, 24 people — 23 passengers on board the trains and the motorman of the oncoming train — were injured.

Prosecutors had demanded a 2 1/2-year custodial term for Shimokawatoko.

Following Shimokawatoko’s admission of the charges, his lawyers had requested a suspended sentence, stating that he had visited most of the victims to apologize and had done a sufficient amount of soul-searching.

The June 2001 accident was the second head-on collision involving trains operated by the Kyoto-based company; the first came in December 2000.

The previous accident, which occurred on the Echizen Line in the town of Matsuoka, resulted in the death of a motorman and injuries to 25 passengers and crew members.

Investigative sources said Monday police will likely turn over to prosecutors the cases on Keifuku officials — including Keifuku President Eiichi Ishida — regarding the two collisions.

Investigators reportedly believe the accidents occurred because the 62-year-old Ishida and several other Keifuku executives failed to deploy sufficient safety measures, such as installing an automatic train-stopping system and conducting adequate employee training.

According to the Land, Infrastructure and Transport Ministry, it is rare for railway presidents to be prosecuted over a rail accident.