OSAKA (Kyodo) A veteran West Japan Railway Co. conductor was arrested Wednesday on suspicion of deliberately disabling safety equipment on the trains he had been operating, police said.
Hirokazu Fujita, 49, is alleged to have broken equipment, compromised safety and obstructed train services by removing a fuse in early April from the standby power supply of an emergency radio system in the driver’s cab.
He allegedly admitted to removing fuses on around 20 occasions.
“I’ve had a beef with the company,” Fujita was quoted by police as saying. “The job of a conductor was so tough, I got fed up with it.”
The radio equipment transmits to other trains in the vicinity, signaling them to stop in an emergency, including a wreck. If the standby power supply is disabled, the signals to stop wouldn’t be sent in the event of a power outage following a disaster.
“I removed the fuses with my screwdriver while the trains were running. . . . I started it in February or March, and I discarded them,” Fujita reportedly told investigators.
Fujita has been with JR West for about 30 years and a conductor for roughly 19 years, mainly working on lines in Osaka and its surrounding area, according to the railway.
JR West first discovered a fuse had been removed during a regular inspection April 30. The carrier conducted a general check in May and confirmed the same irregularities in 20 trains among the 2,800 it examined.
The police opened an investigation when JR West filed a report in mid-May and identified Fujita as a suspect after checking crew members of the trains that were tampered with.
JR West has been trying to improve its corporate culture, which has reportedly been closed and punitive to those who make mistakes, following the crash of a commuter train in Amagasaki, Hyogo Prefecture, that claimed the lives of 106 passengers and the driver in 2005.
However, a survey conducted in April by the company’s biggest union indicated around 45 percent of drivers and conductors said they sometimes “hesitate to report alarming events that may affect safe operations due to the lack of a trusting relationship (with colleagues).” Fujita belongs to the union.
Due to the dissatisfaction he has shown toward JR West, the probe may focus on finding a link between his work environment and the trouble.
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