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A memorial ceremony for the 42 people killed in the May 1991 train collision in Shigaraki, now Koka, in Shiga Prefecture was held on Thursday, exactly 29 years after the tragedy.

This year’s ceremony, held near the accident site, was attended by only six people. No family members of the victims participated in the annual memorial service for the first time.

Due to the spread of the new coronavirus, the ceremony was shortened by about 10 minutes compared to past years, with the two railway companies that caused the accident sending reduced numbers of officials and the attendance of guests, including the governor of Shiga Prefecture and the mayor of Koka, being canceled.

Participants, including the two companies’ presidents, offered silent prayers and made floral tributes in front of a monument dedicated to the victims.

Memorial messages by the two presidents were laid in front of the monument, without being read out.

In the accident, a train of Shigaraki Kohgen Railway Co. and a train of West Japan Railway Co. collided head-on in Shigaraki.

In his memorial message, Senjiro Masaki, president of Shigaraki Kohgen Railway, pledged that the local railway operator “will work on ensuring safety and step up related efforts.”

JR West President Kazuaki Hasegawa said in his message that the company will “establish a system to ensure safety and a corporate culture of giving top priority to safety.”

In June last year, a civil group set up by bereaved families of the Shigaraki accident victims and others with the aim of improving train accident investigations in the country was disbanded.

The group’s activities led to the 2001 establishment of the transportation ministry’s Aircraft and Railway Accidents Investigation Commission, currently called the Japan Transport Safety Board.

But the civil group decided to disband as its members grew older and decreased in number.

“I’m relieved that this year’s ceremony was carried out without any problem,” Seiji Shimomura, 61, who served as co-head of the civil group.

“I’ll continue to engage in activities to reflect the feelings of bereaved family members in the efforts to improve safety measures,” said Shimomura, who lost his loved one in the 2001 fatal stampede accident on a pedestrian bridge in Akashi, Hyogo Prefecture.

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