KOBE – The Kobe District Court on Friday acquitted three former presidents of West Japan Railway Co. over the horrific 2005 train derailment that killed 107 people and injured more than 560 in Amagasaki, Hyogo Prefecture.
Masataka Ide, 78, Shojiro Nanya, 72, and Takeshi Kakiuchi, 69, were each found not guilty by a three-judge panel presided over by Eiichi Miyazaki.
Court-appointed prosecutors had sought three-year terms for each of the three defendants for allegedly neglecting their duties and causing the fatal accident on the JR Fukuchiyama Line on April 25, 2005, in Amagasaki. The driver and 106 passengers died.
The three former executives were not originally indicted, but a team of court-appointed lawyers slapped criminal charges against them following two separate decisions by an 11-member independent panel that called for their indictment.
The focal point of the trial was whether the three could have predicted the derailment at the accident site and should have set up an automatic train stop (ATS) system in advance.
In Friday’s decision, Miyazaki, the presiding judge, said the train driver hit the brakes too slowly as the train tore into the sharply curved stretch of track, noting that railways were not at that time required to set up ATS systems on bends and that high-speed derailments had been rare.
The train was racing at 116 kph when it entered the sharp bend, where drivers were supposed to slow to less than 70 kph. It derailed and two of the seven cars crashed into a condominium by the track. The driver, under heavy pressure from JR West’s strict timetables and alleged hazing traditions, was rushing to make up for lost time after overshooting the previous station.
The court-appointed lawyers argued that the three JR West executives failed to order ATS installment at the accident site. They also argued that that section of track was laid down under their stints at the helm and that they were also responsible for the busy train schedule.
The only JR West executive to face criminal charges was former President Masao Yamazaki, who was found not guilty at the Kobe District Court in January 2012.
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