2005 accident report leaked to JR West

Panel denies impact on findings

Kyodo News

A member of the government’s transport accident investigation commission leaked a draft report about the fatal 2005 Amagasaki train derailment in Hyogo Prefecture to West Japan Railway Co., government officials revealed Friday.

Koichi Yamaguchi, then a member of the Aircraft and Railway Accidents Investigation Commission, handed the panel’s draft report to Masao Yamazaki, then president of JR West, shortly before the panel’s final report was released on June 28, 2007, the commission’s successor, the Japan Transport Safety Board, said.

In response to Yamazaki’s repeated requests, Yamaguchi handed over the draft and also called for deleting from the report a clause disadvantageous to JR West which said the accident could have been avoided if the railway operator had installed an automatic train stopping system, or ATS.

Yamaguchi made the call at a panel session convened to compile the final report on the cause of the accident, the board said. Yamaguchi’s argument was rejected, it said.

The derailment disaster involved a rapid-service commuter train on the Fukuchiyama Line on the morning of April 25, 2005. The seven-car train bound for Doshishamae Station in Kyoto Prefecture derailed along a curve between Tsukaguchi and Amagasaki stations, plowing into a condominium near the track in Amagasaki, Hyogo Prefecture, about 8 km west of central Osaka.

The driver and 106 passengers died, and over 500 people were injured in the accident.

It was the worst railway accident in Japan since the JR group was launched in 1987 following the breakup and privatization of the Japanese National Railways.

The safety board said Yamaguchi’s act is equivalent to a leak of information and runs counter to panel members’ duty of confidentiality.

Yamaguchi, a JNR retiree, was also found to have been treated to meals and given gifts, such as refreshments and model trains, by Yamazaki, the board said.

New transport minister Seiji Maehara, who supervises the safety board, called Yamaguchi’s behavior an “outrageous criminal act.”

Maehara, minister of land, infrastructure, transport and tourism, offered an apology at a news conference Friday to those who were killed and injured in the railway accident.

JR West released a statement by former JR West President Yamazaki saying he regrets having conducted an “improper and inadequate act.”

The safety board denied any distortion in the panel report in the wake of Yamaguchi’s leak of information. Yamaguchi left the panel in September 2007 after serving two terms from 2001.

He is a former executive director of the Japan Train Operation Association, which conducts research on railway operations and distributes railway expertise.

In July this year, the Kobe District Public Prosecutor’s Office indicted then JR West President Yamazaki over the accident without arresting him, charging him with professional negligence resulting in death and injury. He was in charge of safety measures when JR West installed sharply curving rails at the accident site on the Fukuchiyama Line in 1996.

Yamaguchi’s leak of information to Yamazaki became known during the prosecutors’ investigations into the former JR West chief.

Following the indictment, Yamazaki resigned as president of JR West and was replaced by Takayuki Sasaki, who was vice chairman.

The Japan Transport Safety Board was born by merging the Japan Marine Accident Inquiry Agency and the Aircraft and Railway Accidents Investigation Commission on Oct. 1, 2008.