NIIGATA – Around 430 passengers in Niigata Prefecture were forced to spend the night on a packed four-car train after it got stranded Thursday evening by heavy snow along the Sea of Japan coast.
According to rescue workers, five passengers — a man in his 40s and four women in their teens and 20s — were found unwell when they arrived, and the man was taken to a hospital. The train, which was bound for Nagaoka from Niigata, resumed service Friday morning about 15 hours after getting stuck.
More than half of the passengers on the train on the East Japan Railway Co. (JR East) Shinetsu Line were evacuated earlier in the morning, with families arriving to pick them up by car.
While JR East said the train’s interior lights and heating worked properly, it only had one bathroom and the toilet paper ran out, passengers said. Some said they took turns using the seats to relieve passengers who were standing.
“I was standing and looking down the entire time,” said a woman who exited the train at around 4:40 a.m. when her family arrived.
“I just want to sleep,” a male passenger said.
A 50-year-old man who came to pick up his daughter said he was angry because she was preparing for an entrance exam.
“Tomorrow, she will sit for the university entrance exams so I want her to rest as soon as possible,” he said. “The operator kept saying the train would start moving, but they were wrong.”
The train was stranded at around 6:55 p.m. Thursday at a crossing between Tokoji and Obiori stations in Sanjo, where snowfall reached 77 cm around that time.
Due to other delays and cancellations caused by snow, the train ended up being packed, and JR East did not arrange for alternative transport.
“We put priority on safety,” a JR East official said.
Transport minister Keiichi Ishii said he instructed the railway to investigate why it took so long to help the passengers and resume service.
There were no snowplows operating near the site Thursday evening, and the only one deployed arrived at the site at around 9:30 a.m. Friday.
Two subsequent trains also came to a halt, temporarily stranding an additional 400 people who were later evacuated by buses.
Snow also caused about 300 vehicles to get stuck near two exits of the Ban-etsu Expressway in the Niigata town of Aga Thursday evening, but all were able to leave after about 12 hours of snow-clearing work.
In the meantime, another 410 vehicles got stuck on the Hokuriku Expressway in Toyama and Ishikawa prefectures, but there were no reports of injuries or sickness, according to local authorities.