National

Over 70% of Japan's most hazardous railroad crossings left untouched in past five years

JIJI

Over 70 percent of the underequipped railroad crossings where accidents resulted in death or injury over a five-year period through fiscal 2016 had not been eliminated or upgraded as of last month, it was learned Saturday.

According to railways and municipalities, no relief measures were taken for 59 of the 79 Class 4 crossings that have crossbuck signs but lack crossing gates or bells. These crossings are where the accidents took place through March 2017.

Due to their high risk, the transport ministry has called for Class 4 crossings to be scrapped or upgraded to Class 1 crossings, which are equipped with automatic gates and alarms.

Some railways are blaming the delay in improvements to high upgrade costs or difficulty winning local approval to abolish the crossings in question.

A total of 84 accidents occurred at the 79 Class 4 crossings from fiscal 2012 to 2016, leaving 38 people dead and 67 injured, according to accident records obtained from the ministry through a freedom of information request filed by Jiji Press.

Of the 79 crossings, 20 were abolished or upgraded to Class 1, according to railway operators.

West Japan Railway Co. (JR West) said it has plans to upgrade the Class 4 crossings at Asahi Shrine on the Kishin Line in Maniwa, Okayama Prefecture, and at Tsutsuminouchi on the Geibi Line in the city of Hiroshima, respectively. The aim is to upgrade them to Class 1 by fiscal 2018 ending in March next year.

In fiscal 2012-2016, two accidents each occurred at five Class 4 railway crossings.

The five crossings are Kitataiho 8 on Kanto Railway Co.’s Joso Line in Shimotsuma, Ibaraki Prefecture; Goshokubo on Nagano Electric Railway Co.’s Nagano Line in the city of Nagano; and Watenodo Ichigo on Uedadentetsu Co.’s Bessho Line in Ueda, Nagano Prefecture.

The other two are Matsuchi Daiichi on Shikoku Railway Co.’s Yosan Line in Seiyo, Ehime Prefecture, and Taromaru Ichigo on Echizen Railway Co.’s Mikuni Awara Line in Sakai, Fukui Prefecture.

According to Kanto Railway and Shikoku Railway (JR Shikoku), Kitataiho 8 has been upgraded to Class 1, while Matsuchi Daiichi has been abolished.

But Nagano Electric Railway, Uedadentetsu, and Echizen Railway said they discussed scrapping the crossings where accidents took place but have yet to win permission from residents and other users.

In many cases, the railways have set up signs banning vehicles from entering Class 4 crossings where accidents occurred, or begun talks with municipalities in an attempt to remove them.

However, obtaining approval takes time. Additionally, a Nagano Electric Railway official said that, from a management standpoint, it is difficult for a single railway to upgrade a railway crossing, a view shared by other small railways.

In the meantime, there were 1,516 Class 4 crossings run by the seven firms in the giant Japan Railways Group as of the end of March 2017, accounting for 54 percent of all such crossings in Japan, according to the ministry.

Of them, JR West had the largest number, 479, followed by East Japan Railway Co. (JR East) at 393, and Kyushu Railway Co. (JR Kyushu) at 240.

For the five years through fiscal 2016, the number of accidents resulting in casualities stood at 12 in areas covered by JR West, and nine each in areas under the jurisdiction of JR East and JR Kyushu.

Of the crossings where such accidents occurred, JR West abolished two and upgraded five, while JR East scrapped and upgraded two each.