The bullet train driver who fell asleep at the controls earlier this week continued to operate the train without supervision for more than 20 minutes after leaving Okayama Station, where he was shaken from his slumber, transport ministry officials revealed Friday.
The revelation came to light during a meeting between Kenzo Tokuoka, senior general manager of the railway operations headquarters of West Japan Railway Co., and Kenji Shiratori, assistant vice minister for engineering affairs at the ministry secretariat.
During the meeting, JR West apologized over Wednesday’s incident and provided further details.
According to an earlier account offered by JR West, the train conductor stood beside the 33-year-old driver of the Hikari No. 126 between Okayama Station and Shin-Osaka Station on the Sanyo Shinkansen Line.
It has now emerged, however, that the conductor, himself a qualified driver, left the driver’s cab several minutes after the train left Okayama Station.
A few minutes before the train reached Shin-Kobe Station, the driver was joined by a former JR West conductor who is now an administrative employee who happened to be on the train during his day off.
This man was not a qualified shinkansen driver. At Shin-Kobe Station, he was replaced by a qualified driver who sat with the driver until the train arrived at Shin-Osaka Station.
Shiratori told Tokuoka that the incident was unforgivable and voiced frustration over JR West’s conduct in providing an erroneous original account.
The Land, Infrastructure and Transport Ministry ordered the railroad company to continue to provide details through the ministry’s Chugoku Regional Bureau.
A ministry official said later, however, it is unlikely that the driver will lose his shinkansen license just because he dozed off.
The train is equipped with a system that automatically regulates its speed.
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