Japan on Wednesday started inspecting fire-safety measures on subways nationwide in the wake of a fatal subway blaze in South Korea.
The Land, Infrastructure and Transport Ministry, along with local transport bureaus, launched inspections aimed at checking various fire-prevention steps, including designated evacuation routes, officials said.
According to the ministry, subway stations are subject to stricter fire prevention rules than aboveground stations because of the danger posed by enclosed spaces.
Some older subway stations apparently do not meet all of the required safety standards.
Fire-prevention standards were strengthened in 1975, when the transport ministry issued an ordinance calling on subway operators to design fire-proof facilities, establish offices in charge of disaster preparedness and provide adequate ventilation facilities and more than one evacuation route.
The ministry took the step following several major fires on railways, including one on the Hibiya Line of the Teito Rapid Transit Authority in 1968 that injured 11 people, and a 1972 train fire in the Hokuriku tunnel that claimed 30 lives.
But some Tokyo subway stations do not meet the 28-year-old safety standards, partly because many stations and subway lines started operating before the ordinance was introduced.
The Tokyo Metropolitan Government’s Bureau of Transportation began its inspections on fire-prevention measures for 93 subway stations under its jurisdiction.
Subject to the inspections are fire shutters, hydrants and ventilation at stairways and platforms, among other areas, while fire extinguishers on subway cars will be checked to made sure they are in working order.
Given that arson was the reason for Tuesday’s blaze in South Korea, the bureau officials said they will strengthen patrols at stations, and caution passengers via loudspeaker announcements to be on guard against suspicious people and items.
Two subway trains in the southeastern South Korean city of Taegu were gutted by fire Tuesday and more than 120 people were feared killed after a man poured flammable liquid inside a train carriage and set it on fire.
“The fire in South Korea was (deliberately set), and this type of case has not been assumed under current disaster prevention measures,” a ministry official said.
“But if there are any lessons to be learned from the fire, we want to learn them,” the official said.
Similar inspections were carried out Tuesday and Wednesday at all 32 subway stations operated by Yokohama’s Transportation Bureau.
As well as asking passengers to be wary of suspicious-looking people and items, the bureau instructed about 1,000 workers in written form to double-check safety procedures, including their initial response to a fire and the subsequent evacuation of passengers.
Yokohama has never experienced a station or train fire.
The Transportation Bureau of Nagoya on Wednesday started inspecting all 742 of its subway cars.
Although stronger surveillance procedures and regular checks were enforced after the fatal sarin attack on the Tokyo subway in 1995, the bureau said the blaze in South Korea prompted further checks on the system.
Also, in various parts of western Japan, subways in the cities of Kyoto, Osaka and Kobe are expected to step up patrols. In the past, patrolling in Osaka took place once every two hours.
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