JR, train driver faulted in final report on crash

Kyodo News

The driver of the commuter train that crashed into a building in Amagasaki, Hyogo Prefecture, in 2005, killing him and 106 passengers, was worried about the conductor’s radio call to the control center and applied the brakes too late as the train took a sharp curve too fast, a government panel said in a report released Thursday.

The final report on the accident, compiled by the government’s Aircraft and Railway Accidents Investigation Commission, also blamed West Japan Railway Co. for the accident, citing its punitive re-education program for train drivers who committed mistakes such as overruns leading to schedule delays.

The commission, under the Land, Infrastructure and Transport Ministry, attached an opinion in the report urging JR West to give more practical training to improve drivers’ skills and to place priority on safety when setting train schedules.

The crash involved a rapid-service commuter train on the Fukuchiyama Line on the morning of April 25, 2005. The seven-car train bound for Doshishamae Station in Kyoto Prefecture derailed on a sharp curve between Tsukaguchi and Amagasaki stations, plowing into a trackside high-rise about 8 km west of Osaka Station. The driver and 106 passengers died and 562 people were hurt.

The report said driver Ryujiro Takami, 23, took the bend at 116 kph, 46 kph faster than the speed limit for the curve, causing the derailment.

Before the crash, Takami’s train was around 80 seconds behind schedule when it overshot Itami Station by about 72 meters. He drove at 124-125 kph to make up for the delay.

Takami applied the brakes late in the curve as he was apparently distracted by the conductor’s radio call regarding the overrun, the report said.

There was a delay of 16 to 22 seconds in applying the brakes, it said.

Takami must have been focused on the radio communications between the conductor and the control center. It is highly likely he was preoccupied with how to excuse the delay or was worried about possible dismissal or other punishment, it said.

JR West’s train drivers were forced to take a punitive in-house re-education program, called “nikkin kyoiku,” that was not designed to improve their train-driving techniques but has only been described as punitive busywork.

Takami had received three rounds of retraining over 18 days before the accident.

The report said JR West’s timetable was too strict, noting it was not easy to cover the 17.8-km section between Takarazuka and Amagasaki stations in the 16 minutes, 25 seconds as set by the railway.

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