National

JR West admits fatal crash could have been avoided

Kyodo

The fatal crash of a commuter train in Amagasaki, Hyogo Prefecture, in 2005 could have been avoided if an advanced type of automatic train stop system had been installed, according to West Japan Railway Co. President Masao Yamazaki.

Yamazaki also admitted JR West suffered from “overconfidence.”

He made the remarks in a series of meetings Saturday with people injured and relatives of passengers killed in the accident, to explain the company’s analysis of its cause and background. A total of about 285 people attended.

The seven-car train jumped the tracks April 25, 2005, along a curve between Tsukaguchi and Amagasaki stations on the Fukuchiyama Line. It plowed into a condo, killing 106 passengers and the train’s driver, and injuring 562 other passengers.

JR West had previously refrained from providing an explanation for the crash, saying it would affect the investigation by the Aircraft and Railway Accidents Investigation Commission.

The commission issued its final report in late June, so the company decided to hold the briefings for the victims’ relatives and those injured in the crash.

“It is most regrettable,” Yamazaki said of the failure to install the new ATS system at the accident site.

The train derailed as the driver took the bend at 116 kph — 46 kph faster than the speed limit for that section. Drawing a conclusion similar to the one issued by the government commission, JR West said the driver — distracted by the conductor’s radio communications with the control center about an overrun he made at a previous station — applied the brake too late.

The commission’s final report said JR West should have installed the advanced ATS system called the ATS-P at the bend.

Yamazaki admitted JR West did not consider the advanced ATS system a priority and said the railway will take the commission’s report seriously. At the same time, he said there is no law obliging installation of the advanced system.

He also referred to the company’s punitive re-education programs for drivers and conductors who commit mistakes, and tight train schedules, both of which were noted in the final report as background factors in the fatal accident.

Yamazaki promised to “improve” the re-education program, which some observers have criticized for imposing psychological pressure on train drivers. He also admitted that the firm’s tight train timetables — implemented amid competition with other railways in the area — “lacked flexibility.”

The meetings, one held in the morning for the injured passengers and another in the afternoon for the families of those who were killed, were also attended by three former senior JR West officials who resigned to take responsibility for the accident — only to be given senior positions in affiliated companies.