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Fatal fire on airtight bullet train exposes lapses

53 Comments
By MARI YAMAGUCHI

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It was the first fire in the train’s 50-year history. Experts say it was a wake-up call to something more disastrous, potentially a terrorist attack, and it’s time to step up risk management ahead of the G-7 summit in Japan next year and the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

This is a result of the "heiwa boke" syndrome that permeates much of society here. Hopefully more than talk is the result.

Japan has been, thankfully so, been insulated within the country from terrorist actions, they only happen in "gaikoku-land" and if this incident serves as a wakeup call then something good may occur from the needless deaths that happened.

Get it right!

3 ( +5 / -2 )

I'd rather take the risk than have to go through airport style security every time I take a train.

28 ( +27 / -2 )

We always hear that the Shinkansen has a flawless safety record on passenger fatalities but if it turns out that the victim's death from smoke inhalation was partly due to a design flaw, does the record no longer stand?

-11 ( +6 / -17 )

It's sad that another passenger was killed and people were injured by the smoke, however things could have been MUCH worse,and it is a good wake up call for them to create better security and operational measures.

2 ( +5 / -3 )

Japan should be on the alert even though 20 years have lapsed since the Tokyo subway sarin attack in 1995.

2 ( +4 / -2 )

We always hear that the Shinkansen has a flawless safety record on passenger fatalities but if it turns out that the victim's death from smoke inhalation was partly due to a design flaw, does the record no longer stand?

A crazy suicidal pensioner's crude actions (no pun intended) will not shake my confidence in the dedication and hard work of all the good people at JR Central.

15 ( +16 / -2 )

@JohnDigsJapan

The Shinkansen has an absolutely spotless record. It is the safest highspeed rail system in human history. There has never been a single fatality. You don't win a prize for telling me it's still safe. The question is whether this is fatality number one, because it would be a significant event in the history of the Shinkansen if it was.

0 ( +4 / -4 )

The pattern to be observed is that most of these deadly incidents are by local residents and not foreign attacks.

Difficult to anticipate but raises the need to consider not only the obvious - external threats - but also home-grown, internal risks. We can no longer ignore or assume, "muri, kanke nai" - no, that won't happen here." It just did. Consider even the remote, very possible.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

The question is whether this is fatality number one, because it would be a significant event in the history of the Shinkansen if it was.

There has been more than one fatality. A girl jumped in front of an Akita Shinkansen, but ir you refer to deaths not involving suicides, there was another one..

According to Wikipedia:

" Injuries and a single fatality have been caused by doors closing on passengers or their belongings; attendants are employed at platforms to prevent such accidents. "

1 ( +3 / -2 )

This mean it must be like in north africa where every passenger baggage need to be screen before entering important building.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

If Shoko Asahara was smarter than he thought, this is where he would have targeted.

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

If terrorists such as IS, besides the local breed, ever wanted to cause chaos and death in Japan there would be almost nothing to stop them and it would be devastating. In a perfect world, which it isn't anymore, the Shinkansen is a perfect way to travel. Japan needs to understand it is in this imperfect would. There are a number of train systems in the world that resemble or rival the Shink. What are their security arrangements? I can't help but think in Japan racial profiling (can't profile for nutcase suicides) might be part, unofficially, of any such system... but what will happen for the Olympics??

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

I always thought "inflammable" meant "easily catches fire". Since when did this change to the complete opposite meaning? It could have disastrous consequences if for some it has.

5 ( +7 / -2 )

inflammable ceilings and seats

The seats won't catch fire but the ceilings will burn easily. Moonraker is quite correct.

JT editor?

3 ( +4 / -1 )

There have been no fatalities attributable to the Shinkansen itself. Yes, a man was killed in 1995 while rushing the train after the doors had closed, it was held that his own negligence caused the death, not JR or the Shinkansen (it's on Wikipedia as well). Of course, suicides aren't counted.

If JR doesn't accept responsibility for compensating the victims in this case, presumably a court may have to decide if all of the responsibility lies directly with the prepetrator and how much (if any) lies with JR.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

It's unfair to criticise the train company, the Shinkansen's safety record is better than any other train. This old psycho could have done the same anywhere, on a bus, in a supermarket, in a cinema.... What should we expect, x-ray checks everywhere? The part about the ventilation system and intercom is valid though, that should be upgraded in case of a real accident.

10 ( +10 / -0 )

@ Moonraker

Wow, I've completely misunderstood the meaning of 'inflammable' through my entire life! Thank you for pointing it out.

A dictionary says that 'Nonflammable' is correct way to say something is NOT flammable.

6 ( +6 / -0 )

They need to at least protect against people carrying dangerous materials in baggage- probably more risky than deliberate acts of violence. Given the burdensome garbage rules, there is probably a lot of it going on.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

Scope for several critical updates but there can never be 100% security.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

It's a weird quirk of the English language that flammable and inflammable mean the same thing.

7 ( +8 / -1 )

If there was more than one passenger on this train (which I am sure there was) then the other passengers should be ashamed of themselves for allowing another passenger to die needlessly. I am sure if someone had assisted the female passenger nobody, except the miscreant who started the fire would have died. What an absolute A-Hole for doing that on a bullet train and causing some innocent persons death. This world is really full of whack jobs!

1 ( +4 / -3 )

"Flammable" is the modern usage of the word.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

It's time we realize we must give up our freedoms to guarantee the safety of people, especially women and children. The government should protect us by installing airport-grade x-ray machine, body scanners and random checks. Especially now that they Olympics are near. It might be a good idea to have the same checks at bus stations as well. Terrorism is a way of life now and we must understand that. It is more important to protect our children than keeping our freedoms. I would rather have the Shinkansen be late and delayed every time than risking such a brutal attack. Frankly I am also in favor of bag screening at government buildings, night clubs, restaurants and everywhere possible. I would not hesitate a second to allow the government to also check all emails and electronic communications of everyone if this meant protecting our women and children. Changing our society like this, by increasing the security measures, will help us with the war against terrorism, even though it might mean giving up our freedoms. I have confidence that our government will protect and use our data and their new powers in the best interest of society. Hopefully one day Japan will be like every other country out there, a beautiful melting pot of people of all races and religion living in harmony. Perhaps even as good as the United States.

-12 ( +2 / -14 )

Inflammable can be misinterpreted as an antonym of flammable and so taken to have the opposite meaning to that intended. Where such confusion might arise, especially where this may be a safety hazard, one may prefer to use flammable or another synonym, but that being said inflammable is not the opposite of flammable.

The article says the unfortunate woman 'choking to death' on the smoke. In English we'd more likely write suffocated or asphyxiated.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

All that needs to be done is to make the fire extinguishers conspicuous enough for people to use them to facilitate their escape into the adjacent car(s). If someone is bent on mayhem, there's not an awful lot that can be done to prevent them.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

The security kabuki industry must be drooling over this opportunity.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

@upintheair

It might be a good idea to have the same checks at bus stations as well.

you mean like at every bus stop? End up being quicker to walk but that's probably dangerous too! Being killed by a falling roof tile, wild pig or run away bicycle. Better stay in bed 24/7 then.

10 ( +11 / -1 )

Inflamable, nonflammable, what difference does it make? Sound like a bunch of ALT's doing a sausage swinging festival!

-8 ( +3 / -11 )

Blind spots! The world is currently in a state of terror paranoia so everything needs to be "blind spot"-safe! In actual truth this can happen everywhere. So they need to check passengers for carrying any kind of suspicious liquids onto trains now otherwise incidents like this cannot be fully locked out. Unlike falsely assumed by Shinkansen operators this event should not change the save impression of bullet trains that a normal, non-paranoid person has.

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

It can happen in a bus or an elevator or a tunnel. Security is not always the answer unless you want to live in a world where every movement is monitored for criminal activity.

6 ( +6 / -0 )

Upintheair, I'm sorry to hear that the terrorists have won in your book.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

If some nutter is hell-bent on doing something crazy there isn't much anyone can do to prevent it. You might be able to stop them doing it in a certain location but they'll just do it somewhere else instead.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Is it true that he asked or suggested some people leave the area? Sure, people need to be vigilant, but agree that this could happen on a bus, local train or in an elevator... Not really feasible to have high level security in all of these instances.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Is it true that he asked or suggested some people leave the area?

On the news they were saying he tried to offer some woman 1000 yen, then told her to leave after she refused to take it.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

M3M3M3: If I recall correctly there was a man killed in construction on one of the lines working in a tunnel, not to long ago, but this also was not counted towards a death related to Shinkansen. Just keep in mind while you tote their record as being perfect that TEPCO and other companies like it also claim no deaths have occurred because of the nuclear disaster or whatever their company is pushing. There are was to blame it on something else.

-1 ( +3 / -4 )

I hope they don´t overreact and throw the baby out with the bathwater. Baggage checks for every shinkansen ride would be an incredible hassle. Yes, this accident does point to one safety flaw, so that should be addressed. A system of batteries that supplies power for airconditioning for 20 minutes or so if overhead power is cut off can not be that hard to design, can it?

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Let's all just stay awake every night worrying about all of the things that could happen.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

-6

Good| Bad

upintheairJul. 05, 2015 - 11:21AM JST

It's time we realize we must give up our freedoms to guarantee the safety of people, especially women and children. The government should protect us by installing airport-grade x-ray machine, body scanners and random checks. Especially now that they Olympics are near. It might be a good idea to have the same checks at bus stations as well. Terrorism is a way of life now and we must understand that. It is more important to protect our children than keeping our freedoms. I would rather have the Shinkansen be late and delayed every time than risking such a brutal attack. Frankly I am also in favor of bag screening at government buildings, night clubs, restaurants and everywhere possible. I would not hesitate a second to allow the government to also check all emails and electronic communications of everyone if this meant protecting our women and children. Changing our society like this, by increasing the security measures, will help us with the war against terrorism, even though it might mean giving up our freedoms. I have confidence that our government will protect and use our data and their new powers in the best interest of society. Hopefully one day Japan will be like every other country out there, a beautiful melting pot of people of all races and religion living in harmony. Perhaps even as good as the United States

I want to smile. Tell me you are joking and that your attempt at humour has fallen flat. Or really make me laugh and tell me you are serious.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

The various JR companies should increase conductor numbers and have them walking the aisles more often and make what changes they can for ventilation of smoke etc.

But I hope they don't institute more than random checks of baggage etc. The thought of having to arrive early and stand in line for security checks on trains make me think I'd maybe rather walk or stay at home. But that's not an option as nearly all my traveling is for business.

I tend to be unable to avoid falling asleep when on a Shinkansen but I make myself nervous by that because I think I should stay alert in case of someone running amok with a knife or something. Hopefully this incident will make passengers more apt to keep an eye out for strange behavior.

But in the end there's no way to make the world perfectly safe. This incident has reminded me of the Takefuji arson incident in which five employees of a money lender were killed and four seriously injured. It was a horrible case. But think what the world be be like if that had led to baggage checks for everyone entering any shop or office. It just isn't reasonable of feasible and who would want to live like that.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Windows cannot be opened, and doors open only when the train fully stops, which takes several minutes.

Yet, in a country with strict gun control and low crime rate, security is lax — no identification or baggage checks required.

How is this different to any other country? No one checks my baggage on domestic journeys in England. The doors won't open until the train stops and the driver pushes the button... Hardly a Japan/shinkansen-specific problem. The thing is to have a clear understanding that of a fire breaks out, the car should be immediately evacuated by moving to another one and keeping any interconnected doors closed.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

A.N.Other, quote "All that needs to be done is to make the fire extinguishers conspicuous enough for people to use them to facilitate their escape into the adjacent car(s)."

Would passengers know the difference between a fire extinguisher for an electric fire, and one for gasoline, for example? (The recent fire in Taiwan was made worse by someone shooting a fire extinguisher at it.)

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Instead, they say increased police patrols and random baggage checks of foreigners could be more effective.

This sentence will probably be closer to the truth.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

The thing is to have a clear understanding that of a fire breaks out, the car should be immediately evacuated by moving to another one and keeping any interconnected doors closed.<

Except, if they cut power on the Shinkansen you can't get out of the car because the doors are automatic and require power to operate. The best that woman could have done is move as far away from the source of smoke as possible, but that likely wouldn't have helped much because of how the connecting doors work. She'd still be in the same car.

Upintheair....you're on crack. How is allowing access to all your electronic data possibly going to keep women and children safe. It would be just the opposite. And the U.S. has this little thing in the judicial system that allows that people are innocent until proven guilty. Sounds like you want a Minority Report world. No thanks.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

No to airport style security. 100ml of liquid and all that.

Come to think of it though, there actually has been a terrorist attack on trains in Japan before, the Sarin attack on the subway in 1995. In that attack, people did open the windows on the subway trains, which no doubt saved some lives. If the power that drives the Shinkansen's ventilation shuts down when someone hits the emergency button, that's a definite oversight.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Would passengers know the difference between a fire extinguisher for an electric fire, and one for gasoline, for example? (The recent fire in Taiwan was made worse by someone shooting a fire extinguisher at it.)

Valid point. Until about 15 years ago, all U.K. fire extinguishers were colour coordinated according to their contents, red for water, blue for dry powder, black for CO2, cream for foam and green for halon. And so on. This of course meant that one could recognise the contents of the extinguisher at a distance without having to inspect it. Then an EU committee, fresh from drafting legislation on the curvature of bananas, decided that all fire extinguishers should be red, irrespective of contents. Morons. The upshot of this is that it is now very easy to use the wrong kind of extinguisher and get everyone killed in the process.

Make all the extinguishers in the cars dry powder. It'll work on most fires, and unlike CO2 won't freeze off digits if improperly used.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

Police haven’t determined the motive, though Japanese media quoted neighbors as saying Hayashizaki had repeatedly complained that his pension was barely enough to live on.

The LDP trickle down economics claims another victim who takes another with him as he departs. This is an example of the human cost of income inequality in Japan which is growing quickly under LDP leadership starting when Hashimoto raised the sales tax to 5% and accelerating now under Abe. The number of Japanese on welfare has doubled in the last 15 years thanks to the winner dog/loser dog strategy of Koizumi and the LDP.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

One fatality in just over 50 years, although sad, is still an excellent safety record. JR should, however, stop using inflammable ceilings immediately and change to nonflammable materials.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Thanks to this stupid #@$#$! We'll probably have TSA checks at Shinkansen stations now, making it a pain rump ride on trains. Thanks a-hole! Good riddens!

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Why have random baggage checks of foreigners when it was a Japanese citizen in this instance that cause the problem?

As always, easier to blame someone else than one's self.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Considering how rare these events are I would suggest doing nothing and just accept that the incident happened and that going forward whatever future events that might occur are acceptable.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

What surprises me is no one is talking about why this elderly man killed himself? Japan is excellent about screening and keeping undesirable people out and a terrorist attack happening here is so unlikely that is my opinion after 21 years of living here.

Now getting back to this elderly man so many people are calling him crazy and or condemning him but let us look at his life and what the JAPANESE GOVERNMENT is doing to the elderly. The Government has been slashing pensions every year, increasing their health care costs and raising taxes making it impossible anymore for so many to survive that the suicide rate among the elderly is increasing year by year due to their hardships. This man begged for help from his local government office they turned him away, he asked his landlord for a decrease in his rent but was denied and he was so tired of not being heard he wanted his last breath stand for something. Was it right? Of course not, but when you isolate people their sanity is not right and this man clearly was all alone with no one on his side. Do I have compassion for the woman that died, yes, but how did she get stuck between 2 doors?

Finally, everyone is panicking about the Shinkasen and that there should be a baggage check for real? Then we should check everyone with a large baggage who is going to take the subway and or a JR train if this going to be done because all trains in this country are soft targets. Does anyone remember the Sarin Gas attacks and Aum Cult?

2 ( +2 / -0 )

I'd rather take the risk than have to go through airport style security every time I take a train.

People always say that........... until somebody dies............. then they sue or demand officials resign.

If people are willing to take the risks, then don't sue or demand resignations.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

"arson on the train was little anticipated."

That is a new one, to be sure.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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