• Kyodo

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The Osaka High Court on Wednesday upheld a lower court ruling that cleared two West Japan Railway Co. command center officials of negligence over a November 2001 incident in which a rescue worker was killed and another injured by an oncoming train.

Kazuyuki Baba, 45, chief of train operations at JR West’s Shin-Osaka operation center, and Keiichi Kanada, 36, the staff member in charge, had been found not guilty by the Osaka District Court of professional negligence resulting in death and injury.

The accident occurred Nov. 6, 2002. Rescue worker Yoshio Nakazawa, 28, was killed and Hiroaki Hirai, 32, was seriously injured after being hit by a train traveling at 100 kph in Yodogawa Ward, Osaka, between Tsukamoto and Amagasaki stations on the Tokaido Line.

The two were trying to save a 14-year-old boy who had been hit and injured by another train, apparently while playing on the tracks.

Prosecutors had demanded that Baba and Kanada receive 18-month prison terms, but the lower court ruled Baba had no responsibility in the accident because he was handling another accident at the time.

As for Kanada, the lower court said he was not negligent because he had been notified by other staff members that it was safe to allow the train to proceed.

The lower court sentenced three others involved in the accident to 12 to 18 months in prison, suspended for three years.

JR West has been under fire for several fatal accidents in recent years that critics say were the result of poor internal communications.

In December 2002, the Osaka High Court upheld a lower court ruling ordering JR West and a local railway firm in Shiga Prefecture to pay 500 million yen in compensation to the families of nine of 42 people killed in a 1991 train crash, saying sloppy safety procedures by the two railway firms caused the accident.

In January, an express train hit four JR West workers conducting maintenance on a railway in Kofu, Tottori Prefecture, killing three and slightly injuring one.

In February, workers at a JR West affiliate were nearly struck by an out-of-service train in Osaka as they were about to start maintenance on a track because they were not notified the train was coming.

Since the fatal derailment in Amagasaki, Hyogo Prefecture, in which 107 people were killed in April 2005, JR West has been working to improve safety.

“The company should improve communications within the organization and seriously work on safety measures to prevent accidents caused by poor communications,” a senior member of the JR West labor union said.