A transport ministry panel on Monday began a full-scale probe into the first-ever derailment of a bullet train over the weekend in Niigata Prefecture during a series of powerful earthquakes.

Four members of the Aircraft and Railway Accidents Investigation Commission of the Land, Infrastructure and Transport Ministry visited the site near JR Nagaoka Station where the 10-car Toki No. 325 on the Joetsu Shinkansen Line, bound for Niigata from Tokyo, derailed Saturday evening.

Masayuki Miyamoto, a professor in the engineering department at Meisei University and one of the commission members, said the rails moved sideways due to the impact of the temblors, and that caused some of the train’s cars to derail.

Miyamoto, an expert on vehicle engineering, said the derailed cars did not flip over because their wheels on the left side became hooked on the right-side rails, and because the cars’ bodies came to a rest on the top of a 50-meter-tall slab supporting the rails of the Tokyo-bound tracks. “The fact that nobody was hurt was the only bright spot in the accident,” Miyamoto said.

Several weeks will be required to restore the damaged section of the Joetsu Shinkansen Line, according to East Japan Railway Co.

It was the first derailment in the 40-year history of the high-speed rail service.

Railway experts believe that the system set up to detect preliminary tremors and halt trains apparently failed in Saturday’s quakes because the train was passing over the epicenter of the first quake at the time.

The Toki No. 325 was traveling at 200 kph when the first powerful quake, which measured a magnitude of 6.8, hit at 5:56 p.m.

The driver said it felt as if the train had been buffeted by a sudden crosswind about 8 km from Nagaoka in Niigata, according to JR East. He activated the emergency brake and the train stopped about 1 minute and 10 seconds later, about 1.6 km down the track.

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