State may not fight Kobe court's ruling that let JR West ex-chief off hook for '05 fatal derailment

Amagasaki crash acquittal may stand

Kyodo

Prosecutors will probably not appeal last week’s acquittal of a former president of West Japan Railway Co. tried on charges of professional negligence in connection with a 2005 train derailment that killed 107 people and injured 562.

Most of the senior members of the Supreme Public Prosecutor’s Office agreed it would be difficult to overturn the Kobe District Court’s Jan. 11 acquittal of Masao Yamazaki, 68, prosecution sources said Friday.

The district court ruled that the derailment could not have been predicted and rejected almost entirely the prosecution’s argument.

Prosecutors at the Kobe District Public Prosecutor’s Office and the Osaka High Public Prosecutor’s Office have anyway argued for an appeal with the Osaka High Court against the lower court decision, according to the sources.

The three offices have launched discussions on whether to file an appeal and will come to a decision early next week ahead of Wednesday’s deadline for filing, the sources said.

Yamazaki, who was a director in charge of JR West’s railway operations and safety at the time of the accident, was charged with professional negligence for failing to have the Automatic Train Stop system installed on the tight curve where the Fukuchiyama Line accident occurred in Amagasaki, Hyogo Prefecture.

But the district court said there were no legal requirements for JR West to install the ATS system at the site, although noting there are many tight curves on its lines.

Prosecutors will brief relatives of the victims and those injured about its decision on whether to file an appeal, the sources said.

A team of court-appointed lawyers filed criminal charges against three former JR West presidents — Masataka Ide, 76, Shojiro Nanya, 70, and Takeshi Kakiuchi, 67 — after prosecutors opted not to pursue criminal indictments against them. The trio were charged by the lawyers serving as prosecutors for professional negligence resulting in death and injury.

If the Yamazaki verdict stands, it will be very difficult to find the three other ex-presidents guilty, judicial experts say.

Ide served as an adviser, Nanya was chairman and Kakiuchi was president of JR West at the time of the accident.

The fatal accident occurred on the morning of April 25, 2005, when a train exceeding the assigned track speed jumped the tracks on the tight curve on the Fukuchiyama Line and crashed into an apartment building, killing 106 passengers as well as the driver.

It was the worst rail accident in Japan since the Japan Railways group was launched in 1987 following the breakup and privatization of the state-run Japanese National Railways. JR West operates bullet train services on the Sanyo Shinkansen Line that links Osaka with Fukuoka and also a conventional railway network in western Honshu.

In July 2009, the prosecutors indicted Yamazaki but did not bring charges against the three former presidents.