• Kyodo


West Japan Railway Co. was slapped with a lawsuit Thursday filed by 264 employees seeking 264 million yen in damages for the anguish they claim they suffered from a “retraining” program, which included cleanup details, for those who erred on duty.

The unionists said the program was one of the factors behind the fatal crash of a JR West train a year ago.

The plaintiffs, including train drivers and conductors in Kyoto, Osaka, Hyogo, Hiroshima and Fukuoka prefectures, filed the suit with the Osaka District Court, demanding 1 million yen each.

The plaintiffs, members of the West Japan Railway Workers Union, said they received “day-shift education” between 1996 and 2005, with the longest period being five months.

A driver, 44, told reporters after filing the suit: “Four years ago, I was assigned to weed the lawn and copy work rules by hand for about 40 days. This frustrated me.”

The day-shift education, given to drivers and conductors who had overrun stations or made mistakes in opening or closing train doors, has been sharply criticized by union members as one of the factors that led to the derailment and crash of a JR West commuter train into a condominium high-rise in Amagasaki, Hyogo Prefecture, on April 25, 2005.

The accident killed 106 passengers and the 23-year-old driver, who was believed overspeeding on a curve amid attempts to make up for a 90-second delay due to a platform overrun. He had taken the day-shift education.

JR West overhauled that program after unions complained about the psychological pressures it caused, because it included tasks not directly related to their jobs as well as forcing them to repeatedly write reports in which they had to show repentance for their mistakes. It was considered humiliating because their colleagues knew of their punishment.

“Since the accident, the period of the day-shift education has become shorter, but the company’s policy of only making the individual take responsibility has not changed,” the driver said.

A JR West official declined comment on the lawsuit.

Four JR West employees and the West Japan Railway Workers Union filed a suit last November with the same court against the carrier and the employees’ superiors, calling the retraining punitive in nature.

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