• Kyodo

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The packed commuter train that derailed and slammed into an apartment building Monday in Amagasaki, Hyogo Prefecture, was going more than 100 kph when it hit a curve and jumped the tracks, police officials said Tuesday.

The speed limit at the accident site was 70 kph, according to West Japan Railway Co., the operator of the JR Fukuchiyama Line train. The company has said derailment can occur at 130 kph.

The Hyogo Prefectural Police determined the speed by analyzing records in a device recovered from the wrecked train to automatically record train speed, officials said.

The Hyogo police believe the cause of the accident may have been excessive speed, stones on the rails, or both.

JR West said it found grinding marks on the rails that are often made when a train runs over such objects as stones, but added they had not confirmed any causal relationship between the marks and the accident.

Officials of a transport ministry accident investigation committee, however, said they could not find signs that the train ran over stones nor that a brake had been applied.

The Hyogo police opened a criminal investigation Tuesday into JR West on suspicion of professional negligence resulting in death and injury.

The death toll from the derailment rose to at least 75.

Hyogo Prefectural Police investigators confiscated materials from the offices of JR West that may be related to the crash, which also injured 456 people — 150 of them seriously.

A rescue team found a uniformed man believed to be the driver, Ryujiro Takami, 23, in the driver’s seat. He did not respond to calls from the rescuers, who weren’t able to reach the body.

Earlier Tuesday, three people trapped inside the mangled lead car of the train were pulled out of the wreckage alive after an overnight rescue operation. They were identified as Ryosuke Yamashita, 18, Hiroki Hayashi, 19, and Yuko Oshita, 46.

The rescuers used equipment to detect heartbeats with electromagnetic waves and carefully removed wreckage piece by piece.

However, hopes of finding more survivors faded as the rescue operation entered into its second evening. Police said they believe there were at least 14 people — apparently dead — still trapped inside the wreckage of the two mangled cars.

The accident occurred at 9:18 a.m. on JR West’s Fukuchiyama Line, when five cars of a seven-car train carrying some 580 people derailed on a curve in Amagasaki, just west of Osaka.

The first two cars plowed into the first-floor parking garage of a nine-story apartment building.

Takami, who had been on the job for 11 months, overshot a station stop in June last year by 100 meters, JR West said.

The train was heading from Takarazuka Station in Hyogo Prefecture to Doshishamae Station in Kyoto Prefecture. Automatic train stop used in the area is the oldest model available and does not have the capability to trigger automatic braking when trains go by too quickly, the Land, Infrastructure and Transport Ministry said.

On Monday, JR West initially announced that at Itami Station, the train’s last stop before crashing, the driver overran the stop mark by about 8 meters and had to back up before the passengers could be let off. But the company corrected that figure Tuesday and said he overshot the mark by 40 meters.

The train’s conductor, Masatoshi Matsushita, 42, told JR West officials that the driver asked him after the incident at Itami Station to under-report the overrun distance, so he radioed the command center three minutes later and said the train had overrun the stop point by 8 meters, according to JR West. The train then left the station about 90 seconds behind schedule and passed Tsukaguchi Station about one minute late.

Many of the injured said the train seemed to be traveling faster than usual after leaving Itami Station, as if the driver was hurrying to make up for the delay.

Just before the accident, JR West’s command center contacted the driver twice but he did not respond, according to the railway company.

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