West Japan Railway (JR West) was ordered on Wednesday to compensate train drivers and staff for forcing them to clean toilets and cut weeds as punishment for train delays and other lapses.
Japanese trains are world-renowned for their punctuality -- but strict and punitive management measures have also been cited as a factor behind Japan's worst train crash in decades, which claimed 107 lives in 2005 when a train belonging to the same firm derailed.
The Osaka District Court ordered JR West to pay a total of 6.2 million yen to 61 train drivers and other staff for its controversial practice of "nikkin kyoiku" or "dayshift education."
It involved re-training sessions for employees responsible for train delays, overrunning stops by several meters and other infractions.
Judge Satoshi Nakamura found JR West acted "beyond the company's discretion" when it ordered staff to clean toilets or cut grass and weeds.
"It infringed on personal rights and was illegal," the Jiji Press news agency quoted Nakamura as saying.
The judge also ruled that it was "inappropriate as a form of education" when JR West ordered an employee to attend re-training for over five months for running three minutes late at work, public broadcaster NHK said.
A total of 258 staff brought the lawsuit in 2006 -- the year after a JR West train jumped the tracks at a curve and ploughed into an apartment building, killing 107 people, including 23-year-old driver Ryujiro Takami.
There have been claims that Takami, who had been reprimanded for running behind schedule before, had been speeding because his train was running late again.
A government panel in a 2007 report cited "nikkin kyoiku" as a reason for the disaster. JR West vowed to improve management practices after the accident.© 2011 Agence France-Presse