Amagasaki rail crash
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Aftermath of the Amagasaki rail crash
|Date||25 April 2005|
|Location||Amagasaki, Hyogo Prefecture|
|Rail line||Fukuchiyama Line|
|Operator||West Japan Railway Company|
|Type of incident||Derailment|
|Cause||Overspeed on curve arising from harsh penalties for lateness; retraining system|
The Amagasaki rail crash (JR福知山線脱線事故 JR Fukuchiyama-sen dassen jiko?, lit. "JR Fukuchiyama Line derailment") was a fatal railway derailment 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 prefecture (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 Tsurumi rail accident in which two passenger trains collided with a derailed freight train, killing 162 people.
Train details and crash
The train involved was train number 5418M, a limited-stop "Rapid" commuter service from Takarazuka to Dōshisha-mae. It was a seven-car 207 series electric multiple unit (EMU) formation consisting of a 4-car set and a 3-car set coupled together as shown below, with car 1 leading. The train was carrying approximately 700 passengers at the time of the accident.
|Numbering||KuHa 207-17||MoHa 207-31||MoHa 206-17||KuHa 206-129||KuMoHa 207-1033||SaHa 207-1019||KuHa 206-1033|
The front four cars derailed completely, with the first car ramming into the parking of the apartment building and the second car colliding into the external wall of the building becoming almost completely compacted by the third and fourth cars, which were themselves pushed from the rear by the fifth car.
Investigators have focused on speeding by the 23-year-old driver, Ryūjirō Takami (who was among the dead), as being the most likely cause of the derailment. 25 minutes before the derailment, Takami had run a red light, causing the Automatic train stop (ATS) to bring the train to a halt. The train had also overshot the correct stopping position at an earlier stop at Itami Station, requiring him to back up the train, and resulting in a 90-second delay, about 4 minutes before the disaster. By the time the train passed Tsukaguchi Station at a speed of 120 km/h, the delay had been reduced to 60 seconds.
Investigators speculate that Takami 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. Ten months before the crash, Takami had been reprimanded for overshooting a station platform by 100 meters. In the minutes leading up to the derailment, he might have been thinking of the punishment he would face, and not totally focused on driving.
The West Japan Railway Company is very strict when it comes to punctuality, and commuters often depend on near-perfect timing on the part of trains to commute to and from work on time. This is because at stations (including the derailed train's next scheduled stop at 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 for the rest of the day 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 retraining program, known as "Nikkin Kyoiku" ("dayshift education," including weeding and grass-cutting duties during the day) retraining programs. The final report officially concluded that the retraining system was one probable cause of incident. This program consisted of violent verbal abuse, 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 saw the process of "Nikkin Kyoiku" as a punishment and psychological torture, and not as driver retraining. The driver had also received a non-essential phone call from the general control station at the time he was rounding the bend. 
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 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 any speed over 106 km/h (66 mph). It is believed that Ryūjirō Takami was so stressed about the inevitability of going back into "Nikkin Kyoiku" due to the two infractions from earlier (the red light he'd overrun and the platform overshoot) that he did not notice that the train was going too fast. And when the driver did notice it, 4 seconds before the derailment, he used the service brake, instead of the emergency brake, to avoid another infraction, 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.
Amongst other things, the Ministry of Land and Transportation asked all railway companies to update their automatic stopping systems so that trains brake automatically to slow down as they approach sharp curves.
It is believed that a contributing factor in the accident was the JR West policy of schedule punctuality. As a result of this, Masataka Ide, JR West adviser who played a major role in enforcing the punctuality of the company's trains, announced that he would resign in June 2005 at the company's annual shareholder meeting, with the company's chairman and president resigning in August.
The section where the crash occurred, between Amagasaki and Takarazuka stations, was re-opened for service on 19 June 2005. The speed limits were reduced from 120 to 95 km/h (75 to 59 mph) for the straight section and from 70 to 60 km/h (43 to 37 mph) for the curved rail section around the accident site.
According to the investigations carried out by the Hyōgo Prefecture police, out of the 107 deaths, at least 43 (27 men, 16 women), including the driver, were in the first car, at least 45 (22 men, 23 women) were in the second car, and at least one was in the third car. This information was determined by questioning 519 of the approximately 550 injured passengers.
On 26 December 2005, Takeshi Kakiuchi officially resigned from the presidency of JR West in a move intended to take responsibility for the accident. Kakiuchi's successor was Masao Yamazaki, who previously served as the railway's vice president, based in Osaka. While Kakiuchi's resignation came a day after another serious accident on JR East, officials at the railway did not make any explicit connection between the recent accident and the resignation.
Although a number of senior officials resigned their posts with JR West, ostensibly to take responsibility for the accident, many were later given senior positions with affiliated companies.
On 8 July 2009, West Japan Railway Co. President Masao Yamazaki was charged with negligence. On the same day, he announced at a press briefing in Osaka that he would resign, "so the company can operate normally." Yamazaki will remain a member of JR West's board.
On 11 January 2012, Yamazaki was found not guilty of professional negligence by judge Makoto Okada of the Kobe District Court, saying the accident was not sufficiently predictable to merit a finding of guilt. The court, however, criticized JR West for faulty risk assessment of the curve where the accident happened.
Too fast around sharp curve
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Failure to check speed after stop and proceed
- Australia Glenbrook train disaster, 1999 – 7 killed
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- Seconds From Disaster – Runaway Train – season 6, episode 7
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|Wikinews has related news: Japanese commuter train derails, apartment building smashed|
- Aircraft and Railway Accidents Investigation Commission Official report (agency has since merged into the Japan Transport Safety Board)
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