• Kyodo

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Rescuers called off the search for missing passengers Thursday evening as the death toll from the train crash in Amagasaki, Hyogo Prefecture, climbed to 106, including the driver of the ill-fated train.

Among the bodies pulled from the wreckage of the seven-car train the same day was that of Ryujiro Takami, the 23-year-old driver at the center of the catastrophic wreck.

Based on the latest findings, police suspect the West Japan Railway Co. driver was speeding and could not negotiate a curve to the right, causing the train to derail to the left and ram a nine-story condominium next to the Fukuchiyama Line.

Investigative sources also said stones may have been placed on the tracks, which would have aided the train’s derailment.

Rescue teams meanwhile said they are unable to confirm that more bodies are in the mangled first car and ended search efforts in the evening. Work then began on the task of extracting the demolished car from the parking garage of the condominium.

About 30 people whose relatives are unaccounted for have been waiting for information at a local gymnasium that has been converted into a makeshift morgue.

It is not known how long it will take to remove the wreckage.

Residents near the scene of the derailment, however, raised doubts about the stones-on-the-tracks theory.

Several people told the media they did not see anybody at the derailment scene between the time an express train passed and the time Takami’s train approached four to five minutes later.

Meanwhile, members of a government panel investigating the accident said they believe the cars might have derailed in a nearly sideways position after the right wheels lifted off the rails and the cars tilted to the left, because no signs of damage were seen on the left rail.

The left rail would have been damaged if the right wheels made contact with it while derailing, according to members of the Land, Infrastructure and Transport Ministry’s Aircraft and Railway Accidents Investigation Commission.

The train was traveling toward the curve at a speed of more than 100 kph when it derailed, and the curved section had a speed limit of 70 kph, according to the investigative sources.

Accounts of surviving passengers and the conductor of the train suggest the driver, Takami, was speeding to make up for a delay that was caused when he overran an earlier stop at Itami Station.

The police found that one of the reasons the accident was so grave was the first car suddenly lost speed when the brakes were applied and it derailed and hit the ground, causing the other cars to run into it, the sources said.

Speeding said normal

To make up for delays, many train drivers routinely speed up on the 4-km straight preceding the curve where Monday’s derailment and crash took place in Amagasaki, Hyogo Prefecture, a driver who works in that area said Thursday.

According to the driver, a colleague of Ryujiro Takami, the 23-year-old driver of the ill-fated West Japan Railway Co. train, it is “common sense” to accelerate to top speed there because that is the only place where they can make up for lost time.

The driver, who is in his 40s and asked not to be named, said the stretch of straight track is between Itami Station and the accident site, and has a speed limit of 120 kph.

The police said the train was traveling at more than 100 kph when it derailed.

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