• Kyodo News


The government’s final report on the horrific April 2005 train crash in Amagasaki, Hyogo Prefecture, is likely to criticize West Japan Railway Co.’s retraining programs as punitive in nature and a major factor in the accident, panel sources said Monday.

The transport ministry’s Aircraft and Railway Accidents Investigation Commission will say the programs affected the mental condition of 23-year-old Ryujiro Takami, the driver who derailed the train, in its final report as a nonbinding “observation.”

The accident left 107 people, including Takami, dead after the train left the tracks and crashed into a condominium complex.

The panel has already deemed that the direct cause of the derailment was the train taking a curve at an excessive speed of 116 kph while Takami was distracted by a radio communication about an earlier station overrun, causing him to apply the brakes too late.

In the final report to be released at the end of this month at the earliest, the panel is expected to point out problems with JR West’s management of drivers and other employees, indicating its retraining regimen tends to be punitive and exert undue psychological pressure on them, the sources said.

The programs, involving forcing employees to weed gardens, transcribe work regulations and do other tedious activities, are psychologically burdensome rather than technically useful and punitive enough to box the driver into a corner, the report will say, according to the sources.

On the morning of April 25, 2005, Takami’s rapid-service commuter train on the Fukuchiyama Line jumped the rails on the tight curve between Tsukaguchi and Amagasaki stations, plowing into a trackside condo building, killing him and 106 passengers, and injuring 562 others.

According to the panel’s draft report released in December, Takami was distracted right before the accident by the conductor’s radio exchange with the control center reporting an overrun Takami had committed at the previous station.

The train overshot the Itami Station platform by about 72 meters, but Takami had the conductor report only an 8-meter overrun.

The final report will refer to Takami’s comments that he hated the “harsh” retraining programs he had taken, amounting to a combined 18 days on three occasions. It will state that the overrun had him worried about further retraining and thus he was distracted before the accident. JR West argued before the panel in February that its retraining programs are necessary and effective, and the railway is believed to have repeated the position in presenting its view on a draft final report last month.

Intensive discussions are under way in the panel set up under the Land, Infrastructure and Transport Ministry to finalize the crash report.

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