Fire at Yurakucho triggers rail delays

Building blaze next to main lines disrupts 270,000 holiday travelers

Kyodo, Jiji

A fire Friday morning near JR Yurakucho Station in Tokyo threw holiday travel into chaos as the Tokaido Shinkansen Line was knocked out of service for around five hours and commuter lines serving the capital were also disrupted.

The blaze broke out in a pachinko parlor building near the station at around 6:35 a.m. and spread to three other buildings nearby, prompting firefighters to deploy more than 50 fire engines, authorities said. It also burned transmission cables of East Japan Railway Co.

The Metropolitan Police Department suspects that the blaze may have started at a neighboring game arcade that was burned down, and plans to conduct an on-site inspection on Saturday. The arcade, which opened late into the night, was closed when the fire broke out, according to police and other sources.

While Central Japan Railway Co. (JR Tokai) resumed bullet train operations at 11:55 a.m., many passengers were stranded at each station before the New Year’s holiday “return rush” peaked in the afternoon, when reserved seats for shinkansen bound for Tokyo were almost fully booked.

More than 100 bullet train runs were suspended in sections between Tokyo Station and Shin-Osaka Station, JR Tokai said. After trains started running again, the timetables were still disrupted for some time.

JR Tokai said a total of 317,000 passengers were affected on Friday.

“As we were concerned about the health of our 1-year-old child amid this crush, we’ve postponed our departure to tomorrow,” Hiromu Yamada, a 32-year-old office worker who had planned to visit his wife’s family in Yamaguchi Prefecture, said in Nagoya Station.

At Shin-Osaka Station, a 42-year-old man who had been visiting Osaka with his family, said, “We hope we can return home by tonight because my wife needs to work tomorrow.” He declined to give his name.

No one was injured in the blaze, firefighters said.

The cause was not immediately known, officials said. It was brought under control by 1 p.m. and was almost completely extinguished by 3:40 p.m., the firefighters said.

JR East said that of its lines that run through Yurakucho Station, the Yamanote was shut down, while the Keihin-Tohoku and Tokaido suffered significant disruptions.

They were back in operation by 1 p.m., but not before 125 runs were suspended, affecting 270,000 people, the railway said.

Also, there was a delay of more than two hours on West Japan Railway Co.’s Sanyo Shinkansen Line connecting Osaka and Fukuoka, southwestern Japan, as Tokyo-bound trains were unable to depart from Shin-Osaka Station.

The fire also affected stores and movie theaters near the station, which is located near the Ginza shopping district. Some businesses, including department stores, delayed opening because the area was filled with smoke.

Many establishments launched their traditional new year sales Thursday.

The Yurakucho Lumine department store, which is located near the buildings that caught fire, stayed closed for the entire day but said it would be open Saturday.

The Yurakucho Marui emporium meanwhile, scheduled to open at 10:30 a.m., didn’t get started until 2:10 p.m., according to its website.

“The store where I like to shop was scheduled to start its new year bargains today, so I’m disappointed that it’s closed,” said 32-year-old Yumiko Ito, who came from Nagareyama, Chiba Prefecture, with her 64-year-old mother.

“I might shop at other places for the day,” she said.