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    Derailment no damper on merriment

    It’s not fiddling while Rome burns, exactly, but it’s not unlike it enough to be very comforting:

    On the same day that the Fukushiyama Line derailment occurred, employees of JR West’s Tennoji Sector (in Tennoji Ward, Osaka) went to a company bowling party. At least 13 of the 43 who attended (including the chief of the Tennoji Sector) were aware that the derailment has caused multiple fatalities and injuries, an internal JR West investigation has revealed. Of those 13, 5 held an after-party at a bar-restaurant near the sector station.

    The last several days of Japanese news reports have been full of top JR West managers expressing sorrow and remorse over the derailment. One scene that was played over and over involved an elderly woman mourner at the makeshift memorial who began to heave and keen with grief; she was comforted by a younger woman who appeared to be her daughter. Immediately after–and I don’t think there was a camera cut–a JR West executive was shown bowing tearfully, his mouth working with apology.

    Of course, tearful remorse is a highly appropriate posture for a company that has just killed over 100 trusting passengers; indeed, it would be highly appropriate for the tearful remorse to go all the way down. Company policies appear to have encouraged the driver, at least tacitly, to endanger his passengers, and it’s possible that those who have been appearing as spokesmen on television are genuinely penitent.

    But there is no way in hell that anyone who had seen any 30 consecutive seconds of domestic news coverage after, say, 11:30 a.m. two Mondays ago could possibly have thought that the derailment was a minor accident that was under control. The body count was rising all day, and the aerial footage made it clear that several cars had been crushed.

    Of course, this is not the first revelation of shocking behavior by JR West personnel the day of the accident. There were two off-duty drivers on the train that derailed who left the scene to go to work:

    The information on the workers’ actions comes on the heels of news that two JR drivers were on the Amagasaki train when it derailed and smashed into an apartment block, but they left the scene to go to work as usual without helping any of the victims.

    It would have been one thing if fire and rescue workers had told them that they would just be in the way, or if their superiors had ordered them to their posts to ensure that no other passengers were endangered on running train lines; in fact, I’m surprised no one thought to cook up that latter excuse, since the cover-up wouldn’t have required anyone outside the company.

    And–wouldn’t you know it?–the derailment appears to have been a signal for employees at other rail companies to work like gangbusters to convince passengers that last week’s accident will not look like a fluke for long. In the past several days, one conductor didn’t open the doors properly and then opened them past the platform, and a driver admits that he sailed 170 meters past the platform because he was daydreaming while he was supposed to be applying the brakes!

    2 Responses to “Derailment no damper on merriment”

    1. Joel says:

      Thanks for this explanation. I caught this segment of the Fuji-TV News (the only one shown locally) but couldn’t figure out the particulars without subtitles.

    2. Sean Kinsell says:

      No problem. There’s something about the nature of these revelations that kind of rivets the attention, you know? Because I have a real uncharitable streak, I try to make a good-faith effort to think of possible extenuating circumstances when things like this come up. In this case, I can’t quite swing it, though. Even if those drivers were on the car or two that stayed on the tracks, surely they wondered where the front half of the train had disappeared to before going off to their regularly-scheduled jobs?

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