National

Preparedness helped JR West keep passengers safe amid raging Typhoon Jebi

by Magdalena Osumi

Staff Writer

As powerful Typhoon Jebi approached western parts of Japan, railway operators in the Kansai area acted quickly to inform customers they would halt services in the hope of preventing chaos at stations and encouraging businesses to let workers stay home to ensure safety.

West Japan Railway Co. began alerting customers about its service suspension plans from Monday morning, a day before Jebi — the most powerful typhoon to hit Japan in 25 years — slammed into the region. By Tuesday afternoon, the company had suspended operations on all of its lines in the Kansai area.

“You can ensure safety to some extent, once you stop trains,” said a spokesman for JR West.

“Most (railway) companies now issue notice of planned disruption earlier, and it appeared that operators suspended more trains than usual this time,” said an official with the Kinki District Transport Bureau, which is affiliated with the transport ministry.

Kansai University professor Seiji Abe, who specializes in safety science, praised the railway operators’ response, which he believes were based on lessons learned from past disasters in the region.

Back in October 2014, when heavy rain hammered western Japan, JR West swiftly announced its suspension of services on all lines in the region, but later faced criticism from the public as the scale of the disaster ended up to be relatively small, Abe recalls.

But such precautionary measures seem to be gaining public approval following a strong earthquake that jolted Osaka Prefecture in June and torrential rains that triggered flooding and landslides in western Japan in July. In July, JR West was the only operator in Kansai that informed customers it would suspend trains a day before the downpours, Abe said.

“They (JR) made a good call … and this time other companies, including private operators, followed suit,” the professor said. Osaka Prefectural Government officials also benefited from the early call, and reminded its staff to return home earlier than usual, an official said by phone. “Now it’s easier to predict how weather conditions may affect (employees’) commutes,” he added.

Mayumi Itoh, 33, a small business owner in the Umeda district of Osaka, said, “We had good advance warning of the typhoon and so were able to make preparations.”

JR West now uses social media to better inform potential travelers of the status of train services. “We started using Twitter on Aug. 1, following the massive quake in June” during rush hour, the JR West spokesman said.

But Kansai University’s Abe also called for railway operators to provide services that take account of foreigners coming to Japan, and lamented that information is mainly available in Japanese.

“This information should also be published in English and Chinese, at least,” he said.