Part of a bullet train that derailed in one of the Oct. 23 earthquakes in Niigata Prefecture came close to lying across the opposite track, according to a government interim report released Monday.

In addition, all Joetsu Shinkansen Line trains were stopped after the first quake, and the possibility of an even worse disaster was averted.

The report by the Railway Accidents Investigation Committee of the Land, Infrastructure and Transport Ministry says that the train’s lead car was prevented from going onto the other track by twisted rail snarling its wheels and a part on the bottom of the carriage designed to fend off obstacles on tracks.

“It was lucky that the lead car was not thrown violently off the tracks,” the report says.

But the last coach of the 10-car train swung around nearly 30 degrees and was almost lying on the opposite track, and would have been struck by another train passing at the same time, it says.

All Joetsu Shinkansen Line trains stopped after the first quake.

The report by the Railway Accidents Investigation Committee of the Land, Infrastructure and Transport Ministry says more time is needed to pinpoint exactly how the derailment occurred.

It was the first derailment in the 40-year history of the bullet train service.

The 10-car Toki No. 325 train, bound for Niigata from Tokyo, was running on an elevated section in Nagaoka at 200 kph when the first of the powerful quakes hit.

The motorman applied the emergency brake, but the derailed train traveled another 1.6 km before it finally stopped.

Eight cars derailed, the four rear cars leaving the tracks completely.

There were some 150 people on the train, but they all escaped injury.

A probe by the committee found that the track gauge started to widen about 250 meters ahead of where the derailment started.

At one location where the elevated section sagged due to the quake, the rails had moved 4 cm off position, according to the report.

The probe also found broken track joints, which normally require a massive force to disconnect, from about 1.1 km to the point where the first car came to a halt.

The track’s right-hand rail, as viewed from the lead cab, was severed at two points and severely deformed, according to the report.

The report calls on the four Japan Railways carriers that operate bullet trains to consider strengthening their track joints.

Joetsu Shinkansen Line services in the quake-damaged section were not fully resumed until Dec. 28.

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