Three former presidents of West Japan Railway Co. will be charged with professional negligence in the April 25, 2005, accident on the Fukuchiyama Line in Amagasaki, Hyogo Prefecture, which killed 106 passengers and the driver and injured 562 other people.

Prosecutors in July 2009 indicted another former JR West president, Mr. Masao Yamazaki. Thus, four successive JR West leaders will stand trial over the incident. The prosecution in the trial of Mr. Masataka Ide, Mr. Shojiro Nanya and Mr. Takeshi Kakiuchi (who between them held the post of president from 1992 to 2006) will comprise three court-appointed lawyers. Because the five-year statute of limitations on the case expires on April 25, the local bar association and the public prosecutors office should give the three lawyers their full support.

The latest development is the result of two successive votes by an independent, 11-person judicial panel on whether the three should face trial. On March 26, Kobe’s No. 1 prosecution inquest committee voted to reverse prosecutors’ decision not to indict the three former JR West presidents, making it the second citizens’ panel to exercise that power.

In its report, Kobe’s No. 1 panel cited the three former presidents’ failure to install an automatic train-stop system (ATS) at the curved section where the accident occurred.

The radius of the curve was reduced from 600 meters to 304 meters in December 1996 as part of new construction work. The panel said the three should have applied JR West’s internal rule of installing an ATS at any curve with a radius of less than 450 meters. The panel said that scheduling pressure led to trains traveling as fast as 120 kph when approaching the curve. A 104-kph limit was established to prevent trains overturning. The train involved in the accident entered the curve at 115 kph.

Every effort must be made to establish the basic facts, unearth all surrounding details and ensure the former presidents recieve a fair trial.

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