S06E07 Runaway Train: Amagasaki Rail Crash

February 22, 2013 | By | Comments More

On April 25, 2005, a seven-car commuter train derails and crashes just before Amagasaki Station in Japan, causing 107 deaths and 562 injuries. A commuter train is leaving one of Paris’s busiest train stations when a runaway train slams into it, killing 56 people in France’s worst train crash.

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The Amagasaki rail crash (JR Fukuchiyama-sen dassen jiko, lit. “JR Fukuchiyama Line derailment”) was a fatal railway accident which occurred on 25 April 2005 at 09:19 local time (00:19 UTC), just after the local rush hour. A seven-car commuter train came off the tracks on the JR West Fukuchiyama Line in Amagasaki, Hyogo, near Osaka, just before Amagasaki Station on its way for Dōshisha-mae via the JR Tōzai Line and the Gakkentoshi Line, and the front two carriages rammed into an apartment building. The first carriage slid into the first floor parking garage and as a result took days to remove. Of the roughly 700 passengers (initial estimate was 580 passengers) on board at the time of the crash, 106 passengers, in addition to the driver, were killed and 562 others injured. Most passengers and bystanders have said that the train appeared to have been travelling too fast. The incident was Japan’s most serious since the 1963 Yokohama rail crash in which two passenger trains collided with a derailed freight train, killing 162 people.

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Investigators have focused on speeding by the twenty-three-year-old driver, Ryūjirō Takami (who was among the dead), as being the most likely cause of the accident. The driver had passed by a red light, 25 minutes before the disaster, and been brought to a halt by an Automatic Train Stop system (ATS). The train had also overshot the correct stopping position at an earlier stop at Itami Station, requiring the train to reverse, and resulting in a 90-second delay, about 4 minutes before the disaster. By the time the train passed Tsukaguchi Station, the delay had been reduced to 60 seconds.

Investigators speculate that the driver may have been attempting to make up this lost time by increasing the train’s speed beyond customary limits. Many reports from surviving passengers indicate that the train was travelling faster than normal. Plus, the driver might have been stressed because he would be punished both for having passed by a red light and for having overshot the platform at Itami Station. In mid-2004, the same driver had been reprimanded for overshooting a station by 100 meters, just 3 weeks after becoming a train driver. At the time of the disaster, he might have been thinking of the punishment he’d face, and not totally focused on driving.

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The Japanese culture is very strict when it comes to punctuality, with commuters often depending on near-perfect timing on the part of trains to commute to and from work on time. This is because at stations (including the train’s next scheduled stop, Amagasaki Station) trains meet on both sides of the same platform to allow people to transfer between rapid and local trains running on the same line. As a result, a small delay in one train can significantly cascade through the timetable due to the tightness of the schedule. Immediately after the rail crash occurred, some of the mass media pointed to the congested schedule of the Fukuchiyama Line as an indirect factor. In fact, cumulative changes over the previous three years had reduced the leeway in the train’s schedule from 71 to 28 seconds over the 15 minutes between Takarazuka and Amagasaki stations.

Drivers face financial penalties for lateness as well as being forced into harsh and humiliating “Nikkin Kyoiku” retraining programs. The final report concluded that the retraining system was the most probable cause of incident. This program consisted on violent verbal aggressions, forcing the employees to repent by writing extensive reports. Also, during these times, drivers were forced to perform minor tasks, particularly involving cleaning, instead of their normal jobs. Many see “Nikkin Kyoiku” not as a real retraining program, but as a punishment and psychological torture.

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The speed limit on the segment of track where the derailment happened was 70 km/h (43 mph). The data recorder in the rear of the train (the rear cars were quite new and equipped with many extra devices) later showed that the train was moving at 116 km/h (72 mph) at that point. Investigators ran a series of simulations and calculated that the train would derail on that curve if going at, at least, 106 km/h (66 mph). It is believed that, probably, as the driver was so stressed about the punishment he had received, he did not notice that the train was going way too fast. And when he did notice it, seconds before derailment, he used the service brake, instead of the emergency brake, to avoid another punishment, for the use of the emergency brake had to be justified.

Japanese building codes currently do not regulate the distance between train lines and residential buildings due to high confidence in the engineering of the rail system. Railway lines often pass close to residential buildings in metropolitan areas

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Category: Latest Episodes, Season 6, Train Disaster

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