Driver training — Page 2

Compiled from Kyodo, AP

AMAGASAKI, Hyogo Pref. — The Hyogo Prefectural Police launched a full-scale investigation Friday into Monday’s deadly train crash here that killed at least 106 people and injured more than 460 others, 150 of them seriously.

The probe follows the completion of search and rescue operations Thursday, when emergency workers recovered nine more bodies, including that of the 23-year-old train driver, Ryujiro Takami.

Takami’s body was recovered from the first car of the seven-car train, which derailed and crashed into a nearby nine-story condominium building.

Police plan to conduct their investigation throughout the Golden Week holiday period, which began Friday, police officials said.

The accident occurred around 9:20 a.m. Monday near a railway crossing on JR West’s Fukuchiyama Line, while the train was heading from Tsukaguchi Station to Amagasaki Station.

West Japan Railway Co., the operator of the train, said the driver had earlier overran a stop at Itami Station by about 40 meters.

This put the driver 90 seconds behind schedule, and railway union leaders said that fear of punishment may have driven him to speed up in an effort to make up for lost time.

Authorities have searched the offices of JR West in connection with allegations of professional negligence. Investigators were also examining the train’s “black box,” a computer chip that stores information about the train’s speed and movements.

They also questioned Masatoshi Matsushita, the 42-year-old train conductor, and JR West officials, the police said.

Among the 106 victims, 100 were confirmed dead at the accident site, while the other six died at hospitals, they said.

Officials believe the driver was going faster than 100 kph, well above the 70 kph speed limit on that stretch of track.

Officials have also focused on Takami’s inexperience. He received his train operator’s license in May 2004. One month later he overran a station and was issued a warning, according to railway officials and police.

JR West President Takeshi Kakiuchi acknowledged Friday that psychological pressure may have played a role in causing the accident, and suggested the firm should improve its driver training.

“I’m afraid the driver was under heavy pressure and that might have played a role,” Kakiuchi said. “I believe our training program works in principle, but the latest case raises a question of whether the training program should remain the same.”

Errant drivers are often berated by their superiors. Fear may thus have prevented him from making a rational decision, railway union officials said, adding that Takami had been subjected to harsh treatment for 13 days in connection with a previous error.

Tsunemi Murakami, head of the safety department at JR West, apologized in a separate news conference Friday for announcing earlier that stones may have been placed on the tracks. He said the assertion turned out to be wrong.

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