• Kyodo

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Police said Wednesday that at least 20 people, presumably dead, are still in the first two cars of the train that rammed a condominium here Monday, raising the prospect that the death toll could top 100.

The toll from the rush-hour crash on the JR Fukuchiyama Line had risen to 96 dead — 53 males and 43 females — and 456 injured by Wednesday afternoon, as rescuers pulled more bodies from the wreckage.

Police and firefighters had been trying to locate survivors by using equipment that uses electromagnetic waves to detect heartbeats.

But by early Wednesday, it became clear that nobody who was inside the wreckage — especially the badly mangled first car — could still be alive.

West Japan Railway Co. said separately that the number of people listed by relatives as missing stood at 42 as of Wednesday morning.

Most of the victims died instantly when the train derailed and hit the nine-story condominium, investigative sources said.

The accident occurred Monday morning near a railway crossing on JR West’s Fukuchiyama Line. The train, after passing Tsukaguchi Station, was headed for Amagasaki Station — at high speed according to some witnesses — after overrunning its stopping point at Itami Station by about 40 meters.

As it approached a curve in the tracks, the first five cars derailed, with the first one plowing into the condominium’s ground-floor parking garage about 6 meters from the tracks. The second car was flattened after crashing into the corner of the building.

The investigators said earlier that the train was approaching the curve at more than 100 kph when it derailed, although the speed limit there is 70 kph.

JR West said the train could theoretically be driven as fast as 130 kph without derailing, but that it was actually designed for a top speed of 120 kph.

Testimonies of the surviving passengers and the conductor suggest the 23-year-old driver of the train, Ryujiro Takami, was speeding to make up for the delay at Itami Station.

Rescuers have found a uniformed man — apparently Takami — still trapped in the driver’s seat. The man has not been responding to calls from rescuers.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda told reporters Wednesday morning it will take time to identify the cause of the accident.

“Various factors have been cited (in the media) as being the cause of the accident, but experts need to be deployed for a comprehensive analysis,” he said.

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