NAGASAKI – Investigators looking into the derailment Friday night of a super-express train on the JR Nagasaki Line in Isahaya, Nagasaki Prefecture, determined Saturday that it was caused by a 130-kg rock that slipped onto the tracks.
The train collided with the rock and the lead carriage rolled over, injuring 33 people.
The Nagasaki Prefectural Police and the Land, Infrastructure and Transport Ministry agreed on the cause of the accident after conducting an investigation earlier in the day. The accident occurred at about 9:45 p.m. on a stretch between Hizen Nagata and Oe stations in Isahaya’s Koten district.
The police plan to continue the probe and may charge the train company with professional negligence due to lax security management.
The Kamome-46 super-express, a six-car train bound for Fukuoka from Nagasaki, was not crowded at the time of the accident. The police said there were 76 passengers aboard, in addition to the driver and a conductor.
The driver, 47-year-old Kazuhiko Terasaki, told investigators he saw a large rock on the tracks ahead of the train. “Even though I slammed on the brake, it was too late,” he was quoted as saying.
Terasaki was trapped in the badly damaged driver’s compartment and it took rescue workers two hours to pull him out. Doctors said he has sustained serious injuries, including a broken clavicle.
The investigators said they found the 130-kg rock some 40 meters from a spot where rain had loosened it from an embankment and washed it onto the track.
Among the passengers who were injured was Yasuyuki Eda, a House of Representatives member from the New Komeito party, who boarded the train after attending a town meeting in Nagasaki.
Eda, who was in the first car, said he was in a corridor trying to make a telephone call at the time of the accident. Eda’s carriage rolled over when it landed in the field.
“I was turned upside down and I hit my back hard. I have no idea what I hit, and for a while I couldn’t breathe,” Eda told reporters early Saturday after being treated at a local hospital.
Kyushu Railway Co. officials said the train was on a stretch where the normal speed is around 120 kph. It was raining at the time, but Kyushu Railway officials said the rain was not heavy enough to force the driver to reduce speed.
Investigators said the train plowed through shrubs and damaged 200 meters of railway sleepers. The track is lined by five-meter-high embankments on both sides.
Kyushu Railway carries out regular inspections of the embankments once every two years, and the last inspection took place just two weeks prior to the accident, company officials said.
According to witnesses and the crew, the train swayed before the wheels of the first car went off the rails and it rolled over.
Two other cars also derailed. The second car swung round and came to a stop perpendicular to the tracks, while the third car was left leaning to one side. The last three cars remained on the tracks.