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Bullet train engineer failed to quickly evacuate passengers in 2015 self-immolation incident: report

Kyodo

The operator of the Tokaido bullet train that was halted last year when a passenger set himself on fire failed to swiftly evacuate the passengers, a government-linked panel said Thursday.

A year after the incident, in which the 71-year-old man who started the fire and a 52-year-old woman were killed and 28 others were injured, the investigative panel released a report that said many passengers were hindered from escaping because others had stopped to see what was happening.

The Japan Transport Safety Board, which reports to the government, urged railway operators to raise public awareness of the need to evacuate swiftly in case of emergency.

While railway operators have been enhancing the security of bullet trains since the fire in the Tokyo-Osaka Tokaido shinkansen on June 30 last year, the board said more security cameras should be set up in train cars and measures should be taken to allow crew members to check on developments at an early stage.

The report said the man began pouring gasoline in the first car, prompting passengers there to flee. But security camera footage has also shown that some passengers stopped at the far end of the car to watch the man.

The body of the woman who was killed was found near the exit at the end of the car.

The injured suffered from respiratory track burns or carbon monoxide poisoning.

The report concluded that the driver of the shinkansen was right to apply the brakes after the emergency alarm went off and then to speed up to exit a tunnel after realizing a fire must have started.

It also said the use of nonflammable or flame-retardant materials inside the car helped prevent the fire from spreading.

The motive behind the self-immolation remains unclear, although acquaintances of the man said that he had financial problems. The case was referred to prosecutors on charges including arson and injury resulting in death, but there was no indictment because the man died.