Train Derails in Japan, Killing at Least 50
Scores Injured as Apartment Building Hit
By KOJI SASAHARA, AP
AMAGASAKI, Japan (April 25) - A packed commuter
train jumped the tracks in western Japan on Monday and rammed into an
apartment complex, crumpling passenger cars into twisted metal. At least
50 people were killed and 340 injured in the deadliest rail accident here
in four decades.
Investigators immediately focused on whether
excessive speed or the actions of the inexperienced driver caused the
crash in an urban area near Amagasaki, about 250 miles west of Tokyo. The
23-year-old driver had overshot the stop line at the last station before
Rescuers were trying to free four people found
alive in the wreckage more than nine hours after the crash, said Yoshiki
Nishiyama of the Amagasaki fire department. They were trapped in one of
the two worst-damaged cars, but their conditions were unknown.
The seven-car commuter train was carrying 580
passengers when it derailed at 9:18 a.m., wrecking an automobile in its
path before slamming into a nine-story apartment complex just yards away.
Two of the five derailed cars were flattened against the wall of the
building, and hundreds of rescue workers and police swarmed the wreckage
and tended to the injured.
''There was a violent shaking, and the next moment
I was thrown to the floor ... and I landed on top of a pile of other
people,'' passenger Tatsuya Akashi told NHK. ''I didn't know what
happened, and there were many people bleeding.''
The Amagasaki Fire Department said at least 50
people were killed. It was not clear how many of the dead were passengers
or if bystanders or apartment residents were among the victims. Train
operator West Japan Railway Co. said at least 343 people had been taken to
The accident was the worst rail disaster in nearly
42 years in Japan, which is home to one of the world's most complex and
heavily traveled rail networks. A three-train crash in November 1963
killed 161 people in Tsurumi, outside Tokyo.
Monday's accident was under investigation. ''There
are many theories but we don't know for sure what caused the accident,''
Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda said. ''The prime minister
instructed us to respond with urgency.''
Survivors said the force of the derailment sent
passengers tumbling through the inside of the cars. Photos taken by an NHK
reporter aboard the train showed passengers piled on the floor and some
clawing to escape from the busted shells of the cars. The derailed train
cars had smashed into the first-floor parking garage of the apartment
complex, NHK said.
Investigators struggled to come up with reasons for
the crash. Tsunemi Murakami, the train operator's safety director,
estimated that the train would have had to have been going 82 mph to have
jumped the track purely because of excessive speed.
He said it still was not certain how fast the train
was running at the time of the accident. The crash happened at a curve
after a straightaway, requiring the driver to slow to a speed of 43 mph,
Experts also suspected speed was to blame.
''If the train hadn't hit anything before derailing
... the train was probably speeding. For the train to flip, it had to be
traveling at a high speed. I would say it was going 50 kph (31 mph) above
the speed limit,'' Kazuhiko Nagase, a Kanazawa Institute of Technology
professor and train expert, told NHK.
The train operator apologized.
''Our most important task now is to rescue the
passengers from the accident and we are doing our best,'' West Japan
Railway Co. President Takeshi Kakiuchi told reporters.
NHK reported that the automatic braking system at
that stretch of track is among the oldest in Japan. The system stops
trains at signs of trouble without requiring drivers to take emergency
action, but the older system is less effective in halting trains traveling
at high speeds, NHK said.
The driver's inexperience may also have been a
factor. He only had 11 months on the job. He had committed a previous
overrun at a station in June 2004 and was issued a warning, officials
Authorities mobilized for a speedy rescue. The
central government in Tokyo dispatched Self-Defense Force soldiers to the
disaster scene to assist.
Deadly train accidents are rare in Japan. Five
people were killed and 33 were injured in March 2000, when a Tokyo subway
hit a derailed train. An accident killed 42 people in April 1991 in
Shigaraki, western Japan.
Copyright 2005 The Associated Press.
Japan train crash death toll hits 103
THE death toll in Japanís worst rail crash in decades rose to 103
after rescuers found six more bodies today.
It came as the government said it may need to start certifying train
drivers following suspicions that the inexperienced 23-year-old man at
the helm was speeding.
The death toll was expected to rise further as rescuers reach bodies
still trapped in the carriages which smashed into a block of flats in
Amagasaki, about 250 miles west of Tokyo, on Monday.
Japan's train death toll hits 104
From correspondents in Tokyo
April 28, 2005
From: Agence France-Presse
THE death toll in Japan's worst train crash
in four decades topped the 100 mark Thursday, with the discovery of
seven more bodies bringing the death toll to 104, the fire department
Rescue workers crawling through the most mangled remains of the train
wreck found the bodies of four women and three men Thursday morning,
said a fire department official in the western city of Amagasaki.
He said 57 men and 47 women had been confirmed dead and that rescue
operations would continue until any possible survivors from Monday's
crash were found.
Police said Thursday they believed they had found the body of the
23-year-old driver of the commuter train.