Osaka airport train
Trains are operated by Japanese Railways (JR) — which a few years ago was divided into JR East and JR West — and numerous local train lines that generally service a specific region such as the Tokyo area or the Kansai (Osaka and Kyoto) region. The railroad is so confident that you will arrive at tour destination on time that sometimes passengers are given refunds if trains are late.

Japan has the world's busiest rail network. About 18½ million people use the trains everyday in Japan and 40 percent of the total passenger travel is on railway transport (compared to 90 percent on road transport in the United States). The East Japan Railway Co. operates the world's busiest train system, with 6.6 million passengers riding it every day providing revenues of $19.5 billion a year.

There are 26,000 daily train services in Japan.The total rail system, including the JR group and other railway companies, comprises approximately 27,000 operation kilometers, of which JR companies operate 70 percent of the total. During fiscal 2010, the system transported 22.66 billion passengers and 43.64 million metric tons of freight.

There are a lot of train freaks in Japan. The last runs of the original Shinkansen trains and overnight blue trains drew huge crowds. A large number of mothers were in the crowds as they brought their children to satiate their interest in trains. Tickets for the debut run of the new Tohoku Shinkansen Hayabusa’s were scalped for over $4,300 — 23 times their original price — each. Tickets for the run sold out in 20 seconds.

Websites and Resources

Good Websites and Sources: Good Photos at Japan-Photo Archive ; Seat 61 Seat 61 Japan Japanese Steam Locomotives ; Wikipedia article on History of Japanese Railroads Wikipedia ; Wikipedia on Train Accidents in Japan Wikipedia ; Maglev Magnetic Trains in Japan ; Books: “ Japan by Rail” by Ramsey Zarifeh (Trailblazers, 2001); “History of Japanese Railways” by Eiichi Aoli (East Japan Railway Culture Foundation, 2001)

Train Travel JR website: Japan Rail (JR) ; informative website on local trains Getting Around on Local Trains in Japan ; Japanese- and English-language website that tells users how long a journey will take, the cost and best connections Jorudan ; Japan Rail Pass site Japan Rail Pass ; Photos of Train Stations and Vendors at Japan-Photo Archive


Good Websites and Sources on Transportation: Good Photos at Japan-Photo Archive and ; Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism ; Statistical Handbook of Japan Transport Chapter ; 2010 Edition ; News

Early History of Japanese Railroads

old Red Express
In the old days many people walked when covering long distances. Horses were not widely used. Packhorses were sometimes employed to carry belongings. The first railway in Japan was constructed in 1872 between Tokyo and Yokohama. Built with British help using a British locomotive, it was a single track for a steam locomotive that traveled at a top speed of 20mph. The rails were set 1,067 millimeters apart, establishing the gauge that remains in use today (The Shinkansen rides on 1,435 mm gauge, the standard used in most of the world). It took 17 more years to link by rail the main cities along the old Tokaido (Eastern Sea Route), so that in July 1889 one could travel the entire way from Tokyo to Osaka by train. A single departure per day made the 515- kilometer (320-mile) journey in 20 hours.

Early locomotives were imported mainly from Britain, Germany and the United States. Japan didn’t begin making its own locomotives until the early 1900s. One of the first was the “Kudako Nebkei-go,” a tiny locomotive with 5.5 ton engine made what is now the IHI Corp. It originally carried coal to a navy base.

The successive introduction of diesel and electric trains shortened the time on this heavily shortened the time on this heavily traveled route to under 7 hours, and the Shinkansen (bullet train) eventually reduced the journey to under 3 hours. Until it was privatized and split into separate regional companies in 1987, the Japan National Railways (JNR) operated a nationwide passenger and freight rail network. Successors of JNR presently include the six passenger railway companies of the JR (Japan Railway) group, a freight railway company, and several affiliated companies.

Japan’s train network expanded from just four lines in 1880 to network that reached most of the country in the 1920s. Many early rail lines were private railway built by private developers to attract customers to their developments. Many lines had department stores and various kinds of attractions built at their main stations. During World War II, trains were put to use for the military and passenger service was cut back. In 1944, first class coaches, dining cars and sleeping carriages were banned. Train lines were badly damaged by bombing raids in the war.

Later History of Japanese Railroads

Japanese National Railways (JNR) was established in 1949 as a public enterprise to operate the state-owned train network. Passenger trains, with dining cars, observation decks and names like Swallow and Pigeon began operating in the 1950s. First class passengers were waited on by stewards and second class by flight-attendant-like stewards known as Swallow girls and Pigeon girls.

In the 1950s the first electric began running. In 1959 a Japanese train reached a speed of 100mph. As time went on trains lost some business on both the passenger and freight front with competition from automobiles, trucks, air transport, ferries and freighters. Pork barrel politics caused JNR go deep into debt.

JNR ruled as a monopoly until 1987 when it was broken into six regional JR passenger companies three on Honshu and one each on Hokkaido, Kyushu and Shikoku. These companies did well in the Bubble Economy era but have suffered during the economic downturn.

“Japan’s four main islands were at last joined by railway in 1988 when the undersea Seikan Tunnel linked Honshu to the northern island of Hokkaido and the Seto Ohashi Bridge linked Honshu to the island of Shikoku. Along with the development of automobile and air transportation, important railway services have gradually shifted to long-distance intercity transport, such as the Shinkansen, and commuter lines. Commuter lines carry people from their homes in the suburbs back and forth to work and school. Because of high land prices, many people have moved to the suburbs in search of affordable housing. More than 70 percent of office workers now commute aboard trains, and those trains are often packed to overflowing, although the level of congestion at peak commuter hours on the principal lines in the Tokyo area has fallen to 180 percent of normal capacity since peaking in 1965.

Train Service in Japan

The trains are very comfortable. Rather than having first and second class cars in the same trains there are different trains serving the same route that vary in quality and price. Some have reclining seats. Others have seats oriented face to face. Few trains have dining cars. Most have snack vendors who sell drinks and snacks from carts wheeled through the train cars. Many Japanese buy meals (especially bento box lunches), drinks, and water at the train station and bring it with them on he train.

Often Japanese train cars and engines are still in pretty good condition when they are retired and can still be used. The long-distance sleepers cars from long distance Ginga sleeper train and the overnight Moonlight Express train, both recently retired, were given to Malaysia as a gift after a request from the Malaysian government.

Much of the train system in Japan is automated. In some places there are completely unmanned stations. In Tokyo there are trains without drivers. The world’s first hybrid trains began operating August 2007, on the a line straddling Nagano and Yamanashi Prefectures. The electric motor-diesel hybrid trains uses rechargeable batteries that are charged whenever the brakes are applied, and diesel engine. Japan Railroad has tested prototype bodies that operated on a fuel cell and wants to have fuel-cell trains operating by 2010.

“Japan continues to recognize the many advantages of rail transport, including its convenience, energy efficiency, low pollution, and safety. In large metropolitan areas railways play a major transportation role and have an extremely large passenger population. Consequently, JR and the private railway companies continue to build new lines and increase capacity by adding tracks to existing lines. Railway system expansion is also being promoted through system diversification, with the addition of monorails and other types of railway technology. Railway companies are making a strong effort to increase the convenience of transfers and to improve station access for elderly and handicapped persons through the installation of elevators and escalators. [Source: Web-Japan, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Japan]

JR Trains

Newer Tokyo train
Japan Railways (the national railway system) maintains the world's most punctual, safe and speedy trains. They operate over 25,000 trains each day, including the famous Shinkansen bullet trains, which run at 120 mph or more to destinations all over Japan. Other slower JR trains connect nearly all major destinations in the country and they are also a good way to see to the Japanese countryside.

There are six seven JR companies that were created in April 1986 from the privatization of the bankrupt and debt-ridden Japanese National Railways. They have provided good, reliable service but are still largely propped up by the government. The three JR systems on Honshu will be fully privatized when Central Japan Railway is fully realized. The privatizations of JR East and West Japan Railway Co. are already complete. The three other JR firms need financial assistance to stay afloat.

Japan Railways operates five main types of passenger trains. They are, in descending order of rapidity and expense: 1) Shinkansen Super express; 2) Tokkyu (limited express); 2) Kyuko (limited express); 4) Kaisoku (rapid train); and 5) Futsu (local train). The first three kinds of trains generally have both reserved and non-reserved seats.

Some long-distance trains have sleepers, but generally the journeys are short and quick enough that you don't need one. There are long distance sleeper trains between Osaka and Niigata; Tokyo and Sapporo; and Osaka and Sapporo but many of the old sleepers’such as the Blue Train between Shimonoseki and Tokyo — have been closed down due to competition from planes and the Shinkansen.

The fast JR trains also offers superior class coaches called "green cars" and sleeping car trains on some routes. There is a surcharge for these services as well as for the Shinkansen, Tokkyu and Kyuko trains. Unlike the basic trains services, surcharge tickets are only good for one continuous journey. The two slower kinds of trains serve mostly as commuter trains. There are also regional train services.

Experienced maintenance workers can detect problems in the railways by the sounds made by passing trains and observe subsidence of track joints as little as a few millimeters by eye from 20 meters away. In the old days one of the most difficult things for drivers to learn was how to brake properly under different weather conditions with a variable number of passengers’so they didn’t overshoot the stop line. Technological advances have made braking much easier today than in the old days.

Problems with the Train System in Japan

train ticket machine
Beginning in 1971, Japan's subsidized national railway system began running up huge debts. By 1986, the debt reached $85 billion, an amount almost higher than the combined national debt of all of Africa's countries. Efforts to increases revenues and lower costs failed. Rate hikes only encouraged passengers to take takes planes and buses. Efforts to downsize were defeated by the unions.

Train lines that operate in mountainous areas often complain of the hazards caused by deer and goat-like serow — which can cause severe damage if struck by a train — and snakes and birds — which get caught in transmission lines and shut down the power to the trains. A Shinkansen was once halted after a collision with a serow. A number of trains have lost their power due to electrocuted snakes.

In 1999, large chunks of concrete fell from a railway tunnel in Kyushu. Investigations showed that the tunnels had been shoddily made. This raised doubts about Japanese infrastructure. Workers for JR West have been killed because they were hit by trains because no one informed them of schedule changes on the train lines they were working on.

The number of attacks by irate passengers on train station soared dramatically in the early and mid 2000s.

Every year a number of people fall off the platforms at train stations onto the tracks. Some of them are killed by oncoming trains. Some are drunks but others faint or suffer from dizziness or have some other problem. In August 2010, a university president died after being struck by a train after being accidently pushed onto the tracks by a man who initially was thought to be drunk. It turned out the man suffered a bout of dizziness brought on by high-blood-pressure medicine he was taking.

In August 2010, it was announced that barriers to prevent passengers from falling onto the tracks had been installed at 449 train stations in Japan.

Most accidents occur at crossings. The number of accidents on JR decreased from 900 in 1988 to 452 in 2004 mainly because of the introduction of bridges and underpasses that reduced the number of crossings. In March 2005, two women were killed by train at a manually-operated Tokyo crossing gate. The gate employee, which was held responsible, raised the gate after a local train crossed without realizing that a semi-express train was behind it.

Train Accidents in Japan

train derailed by
Niigata earthquake in 2007
In February 1978, a Torzai line train derailed on a bridge over the Arakawa River in Tokyo , injuring 21.

In December 1986, an out-of-service train plummeted off the Amarube railway bridge onto a factory along the Sanin Line in Hyogo Prefecture. The train’s conductor and five factory workers were killed. Strong winds were blamed for the accident. After that regulations restricting travel in high winds were enacted.

In May 1991, a JR train slammed head on into a train operated by Shigaraki Kogen Railway, killing 42 and injuring more than 600 in Shiga prefecture. The trains crashed on a single track railway. JR West refused to take responsibility for the accident until March 2003.

In July 2003, thirty-three people were injured when a train derailed during a heavy rainstorm near Isahaya, Nagasaki Prefecture. The accidents occurred when the front car hit a 130-kilogram rock which had fallen on the track. None of the injured had broken bones.

During the Niigata quake in October 2004 a Shinkansen bullet train derailed. It was the first time since the high-speed train was introduced that one derailed. About 150 people were on the train at the time. None were injured even though it was traveled at 125mph when the quake struck and was rocked from side to side by the quake. While the train was being put back on the track with a crane another earthquake hit. Full services was resumed 66 days later.

In November 2006 a train derailed in Okayama on track damaged by 100-ton 1.5-,meter high bolder loosened by landslide. The boulder is thought to have hit the track only a few minutes before the train arrived, coming around a blind curve. All 25 passengers on the train were injured.

1949 Mitaka Runaway Train Incident

Keiji Hirano of Kyodo News wrote: “On July 15, 1949, Hitotsubashi University freshman Sakuji Horikoshi was returning to his dormitory when he hopped off a late-night train at Mitaka Station in western Tokyo to have some quick noodles. He suddenly found himself in the middle of a disaster zone. An unmanned train started moving and plowed through the track-end bumper, proceeding into the station and adjacent structures, leaving six people dead and around 20 others injured. "The station filled with a roar. It was like the air raids and screams I heard during the war," said Horikoshi, who narrowly escaped the crash. "The scene was simply hell." He and others, including station workers, tried to rescue people, "but, oddly enough, U.S. military police quickly arrived and kept us away from the accident site." Six people were killed. [Source: Keiji Hirano, Kyodo News, December 24, 2011]

“Later, 10 union members of the now-defunct Japanese National Railways, nine of whom were members of the Japanese Communist Party, were arrested and charged over the crash, which became known as the Mitaka Incident. Prosecutors alleged the 10, including non-JCP member Keisuke Takeuchi, conspired to cause the runaway train. The unionists were claimed to have been angered by JNR's plan for massive dismissals during the Allied Occupation. Many in the railway's union ranks were communist-leaning, to the displeasure of the government and Occupation authorities.

“The Tokyo District Court rejected the conspiracy theory and only convicted Takeuchi, sentencing him to life in prison. The Tokyo High Court later overruled that punishment and sentenced Takeuchi to hang. The Supreme Court upheld this verdict in 1955. Although Takeuchi confessed several times that he was behind the crash, he later did an about-face and claimed his innocence. He filed a retrial appeal with the high court in 1956 but died of a brain tumor in January 1967 at the age of 45. The case against him was subsequently closed.

“But the incident is not forgotten, particularly by Takeuchi's oldest son, Kenichiro, 68, who is preparing to file for a Tokyo High Court retrial next spring to clear his father's name. Tokyo-based lawyer Shoji Takamizawa, 68, who is representing the son, became interested in the crash a few years ago while studying judicial records of the case. Among the documents was one detailing the high court's decision, which terminated the appeal process five months after Takeuchi's death while suggesting the documents submitted by his counsel would remain valid.

“Among the documents that have been found is one containing testimony from a third party who said Takeuchi was washing in a communal JNR bath at the time of the crash. This testimony was not weighed during his trial. Takamizawa, who is leading four other lawyers in the retrial bid, also plans to present new testimony from a traffic engineering expert who plans to issue a written opinion that it would have been impossible to activate the train in the way stated in the court's final judgment on Takeuchi. "The ruling on Mr. Takeuchi said the disaster was brought about only by him, but the upcoming paper will show at least two people had to have been involved in getting the train moving because its mechanical workings couldn't be manipulated by just one person," Takamizawa said.

“In summer 1949, two other mysterious incidents occurred involving the JNR. JNR President Sadanori Shimoyama was fatally run over by a train in Tokyo on July 5. Then on Aug. 17, a derailment occurred near Matsukawa Station in Fukushima Prefecture that was blamed on sabotage. The crash killed three JNR workers and led to the indictment of 20 labor union activists, who were all eventually acquitted. Shimoyama's death and the Matsukawa derailment remain mysteries, but the parties seeking to reopen the Mitaka Incident case hope to glean what really happened.

“Horikoshi, the ex-reporter, suggested the Mitaka Incident, and probably the Shimoyama and Matsukawa cases as well, were crimes cooked up by authorities during the Occupation to disgrace the communists. Japan and the United States had begun a crackdown on communist activities at that time as the Cold War heated up.

Hokkaido Train Tunnel Fire

In May 2011, passenger train in a Hokkaido got stuck in tunnel and caught on fire and filled with smoke but no evacuation order was given, leaving the 240 passengers to take matters in to their own hands to make their escape on their own. The accident occurred on the JR Sekisho Line of Hokkaido Railway Co. (JR Hokkaido) in Shimukappumura. After its fifth car derailed and apparently caught fire, the Super Ozora No. 14 express train made an emergency stop in the 685-meter-long Daiichi Niniu tunnel Friday night. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, May 31, 2011]

Forty of the passengers were taken to hospitals for treatment of burns and smoke inhallation, but there were no life-threatening injuries. The evacuation of a smoke-filled train was delayed by a company requirement that fires be visually confirmed before action can be taken but in the case of this accident the thick smoke that filed the train and tunnel prevented such confirmation.

According to JR Hokkaido, the operation manual requires visual confirmation of a possible fire when a warning light goes on in the driver's compartment. Upon confirmation, the manual instructs employees to lead passengers to safety. JR Hokkaido admitted there was a problem with its handling of the accident and said it would review its manual. The Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry also said it will check the manual and investigate whether the company dealt with the accident appropriately.

The limited express train made an emergency stop in the tunnel at 9:56 p.m., and the warning light in the driver's compartment illuminated. A 60-year-old conductor in the fourth car contacted a command center at 10:07 p.m., saying, "We should get the passengers off the train and outside the tunnel" as smoke was filling the cars. But the command center told him to wait and not open the doors for the time being because "in any case, the tunnel will be filled with smoke."

The conductor got off the train to determine the distance to the tunnel exit, while the driver, 26, also got off the train to check whether a fire had broken out. However, he could not see any flames due to the smoke. A JR employee who happened to be on the train contacted the company's command center at about 10:30 p.m., saying, "Smoke's filling up the train, but I can't see a fire." About the same time, passengers began to evacuate the train on their own, while employees assisted some of them.

JR Hokkaido finally confirmed there was a fire at 12:02 a.m. after receiving a report from the Hokkaido prefectural police. Investigators believe the casualties may have been much worse if evacuation of the train had not started until then. Train services between Shimukappumura and Shin-Yubari stations on the Sekisho Line resumed 59 hours after they stopped due to the accident.

Following the Manual, Suicide and Investigation of the Hokkaido Train Tunnel Fire

JR Hokkaido manual requires trains "to leave tunnels in case of emergencies and stop at a safe place." When an unusual incident occurs on a moving train, a screen in the operator's compartment displays the instructions, "Stop immediately," or "Stop at the next station" depending on the nature of the incident. When part of the train becomes overheated, a warning light illuminates, and the manual requires the driver to immediately stop the train. However, the warning light does not necessarily mean a fire has broken out. The manual therefore instructs the driver "to stop the train at a safe place and check the source of the heat."

Unlike JR Hokkaido, other JR companies do not require visual confirmation of a fire. Central Japan Railway Co.'s manual emphasizes the need to extinguish fires quickly even if they are difficult to see because of smoke. If the fire is not immediately put out, the crew must evacuate passengers to ensure their safety. West Japan Railway Co. also requires the crew to evacuate passengers if a fire cannot be immediately extinguished. All the companies urge drivers not to stop in a tunnel or on a bridge but to move a train to safer places in emergencies. However, there are no clear instructions of what to do when a train has stopped in a tunnel.

A preliminary investigation indicated that the fire likely started on the undercarriage of the train's fifth car, The investigation by Hokkaido Railway Co. (JR Hokkaido) and others indicated the fifth car of the Super Ozora No. 14 limited express may have derailed in the tunnel. The car may have gone off the tracks when it ran over parts that had fallen off the undercarriage of the fourth car of the six-car train, investigators said. At switch points about 750 meters ahead of the tunnel, a metallic part called the front rod was found to be lifted higher than the rails, which investigators say could also have derailed the fifth car of the train.

It is believed the fire occurred as diesel engine oil in tanks under the car caught fire from friction and sparks generated as the derailed car skidded on the rails. JR Hokkaido said all the cars of the train caught fire but the undercarriages of the fifth and sixth cars were the most badly burned, and their fuel tanks were empty. According to an official of the company, each car was equipped with a fuel tank that contained about 500 liters to 600 liters of light oil at the time of the accident. Investigators say it is also possible that parts that dropped from the fourth car punctured a tank of the fifth car, igniting its contents, as there was a pool of oil at the entrance of the tunnel and about a dozen metallic pieces, including pieces of thrust shafts, were scattered around. JR Hokkaido was ordered by the transport ministry to improve its business practices in the wake of the train derailment and tunnel fire. The railway operator was required to submit a report on remedial actions.

Hokkaido Railway Co. President Naotoshi Nakajima was found dead in waters off the coast of Otaru, Hokkaido by fishermen after leaving behind apparent suicide notes, according to the police. The 64-year-old Nakajima went missing after having been under stress dealing with a train derailment in May, officials of the railway operator, known as JR Hokkaido, said later in the day. The police later found his car on a street near a beach in the city of Ishikari which is adjacent to Sapporo, while several suicide notes to his family, acquaintances and company personnel were found at his home in Sapporo. [Source: Kyodo, September 19, 2011]

Train Accident in December 2005

In December 2005, a train derailed in Shonaimachi in Yamagata Prefecture, between Niigata and Akita, killing five people and injuring 32. The first three cars tumbled down an embankment, with the lead car hitting a hut, just after the train crossed a bridge over the Mogami River. in a blizzard. The driver said the train was lifted up by high winds. Questions were raised over what a train was doing operating in such severe weather.

The four dead passenger were in the lead car. One died of brain hemorrhage. Another had her abdomen crushed, Many others suffered from broken bones. The driver of the train suffered minor facial injuries. He said, “The train leaned to the left when it was caught by a gust of snowy wind from the right side after crossing the bridge. Something inside the driver’s cabin hit me. The train went dark and I became disoriented.”

On survivor told the Daily Yomiuri, “I was at my seat when I heard a huge noise, and my body was lifted and the lights went out. He lost consciousness and awoke lying next to broken window. He went outside but found the weather to be so cold and windy he crawled back in the train. More than 3000 police and firefighters showed up to help with the rescue.

The train was running at about 100 kilometers per hour when the accident occurred. There may have been strong vertical winds that may have lifted the train up as well as horizontal winds. The strongest gust recorded by the wind gage was 76 kph. If the gage senses winds above 72 kph a warning light is turned on. If the winds are above 90 kph the train is required to slow down to 25 kph. Only if winds reach 108 kph is the train required to stop running. Test showed that a wind of 126kph is needed to lift a train off the tracks. Some scientist think there may have been a micro burst.

Deadly Train Accident in Osaka in April 2005

April 2005, a JR West train traveling on the Fukuchiyama Line in the Osaka area derailed as it was going around a curve and slammed into the parking garage of a condominium building in Amagasaki in Hyogo Prefecture, killing 107 people — 106 passengers and the 23-year-old driver — and injuring 555 others.

The train was traveling at 116 kilometers per hour on a curve with a speed limit of 70 kilometers per hour. The driver had made some operational errors earlier in the day, including overshooting the stopping point on a platform by 70 meter and then backing up, in the process falling about 90 second bend schedule, at the last station before the accident site.

The seven-car train’s right wheels came off the track as it traveled around the curve causing the train to lean to the left side and overturning. The first car went into the parking garage. The second bent into an “L” shape around the building. The third scar slammed sideways into the second car and the forth slammed sideways into the third car. The last three cars remained on the track. Some passengers were trapped for hours.

The scene after the wreck was chaos. A nearby factory served as an emergency treatment center while a middle school became a heliport to airlift victims to hospitals. Due to a shortage of ambulances people used their own cars to take the injured to hospitals. The remains of the dead were put in a gymnasium. Friends and relatives of people thought to be on the train looked for them in the gymnasium.

Witness of the Train Accident in April 2005

One survivor in the first car told the Yomiuri Shimbun: “The train began shaking and immediately afterward a woman standing in front of me was thrown forward. Then a handrail and an overhead baggage rack were in front of me. I didn’t know what had happened. Around me was a passenger with a broken leg and another bleeding from the head. The entire carriage was a mess.” The survivor managed to crawl out of the train. Another said: “It was chaos inside. People were lying in the floor, or hanging off something...Some were unconscious or dead.”

A factory worker who saw the accident from his workplace said: “The train threw up dust and rumbled as it crashed into the apartment. I saw about 20 passengers heaped in the carriage, crying and moaning. About 30 of us pulled them, but all the while, I could hear others crying out.”

Causes of the Train Accident in April 2005

Tests and experiments confirmed that excessive speed cased the derailment and driver appearing to have been trying to make up for lost time. JR West was criticized for putting too much pressure on drivers. Drivers and workers who have made mistakes have been forced to undergo strict reeducation programs that include weeding and picking up rocks along the track and writing long essay in which they expressed regret for the errors they made.

A official report released in 2007 revealed that: 1) JR West had plans to install automatic system that would have slowed the train as it sped through the curves but failed to do so; 2) the driver didn’t apply the emergency brakes; 3) the driver likely entered the curve without applying the brakes because he was preoccupied with a radio exchange between the train’s conductor and operation center about the errors the driver had made earlier on; and 4) the driver routinely raced along near the speed limit.

A report determined that the threat of being forced to take a punitive training program played a part in train driver behaving the way he did. At the moment he failed to apply the brakes th driver was listening in the radio discussion between the conductor and the train control center, The driver had asked the conductor to be lenient in reporting the 732 meter overshot mistake and was listening to the conductor report the mistake. The driver had been disciplined before, writing essays reflecting o his mistake. JR West was also widely criticized for its handling of the incident. One survey found that a number of workers participated in a golf match, bowling outing and drinking party after hearing news of the disaster.

After the accident, trains travel times were lengthened slightly for safety reasons. The changes added an average of 21 second to rush-hour express train trips and 16 second to off peak rides, on the line where the accident took place.

Ex-JR-West head Maso Yamazaki was charged with bearing some responsibility for the 2005 crash. He had pleaded not guilty.In July 2009, he was indicted on professional negligence charges in connection with the 2005 train crash on Amagasaki. In October 2009, two JR West executives resigned after illegally obtaining a copy of draft of the report on the train accident. There were also reports that the company paid experts to deliver favorable testimony.

A report by the Japanese Transportation Safety Board condemned JR West for “prioritizing internal interests and taking excessive action to protect itself. This tendency led to the present consequences” and concluded “the accident could have been prevented if the train had been equipped with an automatic train-stop system.”

Ex-Jr Chief Acquitted over 2005 Derailment

In January 2012, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “The Kobe District Court found a former West Japan Railway Co. president not guilty over the 2005 train derailment on the JR Fukuchiyama Line that killed 106 passengers in Amagasaki City, Hyogo Prefecture. The focal point of the trial for Masao Yamazaki, 68, was whether the then senior official of the railway operator, who had not been involved directly in operating the train, would be found guilty of professional negligence resulting in death and injury. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, January 12, 2012]

“Handing down the ruling, presiding Judge Makoto Okada said the court cannot say "the defendant was aware of the risk of an accident at the site [where the derailment occurred]. "It was not possible for him to predict the risk so imminent as to instruct the installment of the Automatic Train Stop system," Okada said. Prosecutors had demanded a three-year prison term for Yamazaki.

“The court also pointed out that JR West's safety measures were insufficient. Three other former JR West presidents--Masataka Ide, 76, Shojiro Nanya, 70, and Takeshi Kakiuchi, 67--were indicted for professional negligence resulting in death and injury over the fatal derailment. The same three judges, including Okada, will take charge of their trials. After Yamazaki's acquittal, proving the three were criminally responsible for the case is expected to be difficult.

“The trial focused on whether the risk of an accident was predictable and whether the defendant should have instructed the installment of the ATS system, which is designed to automatically activate an emergency brake on a speeding train. The court therefore found it impossible for Yamazaki to single out the curve as a potential risk as JR West used many curved tracks.

The derailment took place on April 25, 2005, when a rapid train traveled around a steep curve at about 115 kph, exceeding the speed limit by 45 kph. “In December 1996, JR West replaced the 600-meter-radius curve with the current 304-meter-radius curve in for smoother connections to the newly opened Tozai Line. Prosecutors in the case against JR management argued the curve became more dangerous after the unprecedented step of halving its radius and an increased number of daily rapid trains, which ran at nearly 120 kph on a straight track shortly before the accident site. "Halving the [curve's] radius is rare, but there are a fair number of curves shorter than 304 meters in length, and the changes to the train schedule was intended to ease the tightness of rapid train operations," Okada said.

Image Sources: 1) Ray Kinnane 2) Seat 3) 4) Doug Mann Photomann 5) Earthquake Archives M. Yoshimine, Tokyo Metropolitan University 6)

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Daily Yomiuri, Times of London, Japan National Tourist Organization (JNTO), National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated October 2012

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