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    More on train derailment

    The number of deaths from Monday’s train derailment has reached 91. The Mainichi English edition has a good roundup of the rumors that are flying around about possible causes of the accident. From the very beginning, reports have emphasized that the driver was young (23) and that, having overrun the platform at the previous station and had to back up to let passengers board and get off, he might have been speeding to stay on schedule. Also (I didn’t see this in the Mainichi article), he was driving a relatively old train with an emergency brake system that’s somewhat less sensitive than those on newer models. That doesn’t mean it was substandard, but it could mean that it was part of the combination of factors that made this a disaster rather than a close call.

    As to questions by Western reporters about whether this shakes Japanese people’s faith in the rail system–well, I doubt it. If one of the major airlines had a crash (especially JAL), I think there would be a real hue and cry. Air safety violations have been in the news a lot lately, so there’s an existing sense that there’s something wrong with the system. An accident would validate that.

    The last train crash–actually, it was more like a sideswipe–happened five years ago. There are way, way, way, way more commuter rail departures than airline departures in Japan, and my sense is that people just figure that, even in the best-run systems, there’s going to be an accident some time. Of course, it could come out that JR West was skimping on safety measures in order to keep to schedules. I haven’t heard any evidence of that, mind, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility. In that sort of case, there might be something of a fuss raised, though the only way for the market to punish the company would be for lots of people and businesses to move off its rail lines. (Is that the best way to say 沿線?) Such a mass movement seems unlikely.

    My guess is that most people are hoping that the first suggested factor turns out actually to have been the decisive one: the driver, who had a history of overruns and other little problems, tried to catch up with the line schedule by speeding and unfortunately chose exactly the wrong stretch of track to do it. That would let just about everyone off the hook. We’ll have to see.

    2 Responses to “More on train derailment”

    1. susanna says:

      As soon as I heard about the derailment, my immediate thought was, “Could Sean be on it? Or anyone he knows? Could he be in the building that was hit?” I’m very glad that apparently none of those things were true. Very sad about the ones who died or were injured, though :(.

    2. Sean Kinsell says:

      Thanks for worrying…uh, that’s a weird way to put it, but you know what I mean. It was about midway between Tokyo and Atsushi’s city; I have friends in the Kyoto-Osaka-Kobe area, but they’re fine.

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