新幹線放火殺人 利便性損ねずに再発防ぎたい

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Try to prevent another Shinkansen fire while keeping train service convenient
新幹線放火殺人 利便性損ねずに再発防ぎたい

Taking steps to prevent a recurrence while also ensuring that passengers’ convenience is not compromised — this difficult task has come to the fore.

A passenger fatally set himself on fire inside a bullet train on the Tokaido Shinkansen line while it was in motion. A female passenger who was caught up in the incident also died. Twenty-six other passengers were taken to the hospital for treatment.

This is the first fire reported inside a Shinkansen car. The bullet train has boasted of its superb safety record since it began operating about half a century ago. That a passenger who just happened to be in the same car also died is terribly shocking.

The Kanagawa prefectural police are investigating the incident as a case of suspected murder and arson of an inhabited structure. The investigation will focus on unraveling the actions of the male passenger up until the crime was committed.

The response of the train crew after the fire started seems to have been appropriate for the most part.

After bringing the train to an emergency stop, the driver immediately grabbed an onboard fire extinguisher and started dousing the flames. A conductor followed the safety manual by quickly guiding fleeing passengers to cars toward the rear of the train.

The floors and seats of Shinkansen cars are covered with fire-resistant material. These fire prevention measures were a factor in preventing the damage from spreading even further.

There needs to be an investigation into why the female passenger was unable to escape the danger in time.

Some observers have suggested that the absence of smoke extraction devices on the train contributed to the car filling with smoke. Is there room for improving equipment installed on Shinkansen trains? Lessons learned from this incident must be used to improve safety.

Baggage check unrealistic

The man apparently started the fire after taking a plastic container containing an oil-like liquid out of his backpack.

Perhaps the only way to prevent people from bringing dangerous materials onto a Shinkansen is to conduct baggage inspections for every single passenger, just like the checks at airports.

However, one of the greatest attractions of the Shinkansen is the convenience of being able to board even after arriving at the station at the last minute before the train departs. This is something passenger planes cannot offer. It is not realistic to introduce baggage screening for Shinkansen trains carrying more than 1,000 passengers that operate on the dot at three-minute intervals during peak times.

The Japan Railways Group and the police should strengthen their cooperation and heighten the frequency of security patrols on station platforms and in trains.

Most cars on bullet trains that run on the Tokaido Shinkansen line have security cameras in the decks of the cars. These cameras do not film the area where passengers sit. Footage taken by these cameras is apparently used, in principle, for follow-up checks in the event of a problem.

We think JR should consider increasing the number of security cameras installed on Shinkansen trains to beef up the deterrent against onboard crime.

In May 2016, Japan will host a Group of Seven summit meeting (the Ise-Shima summit meeting). Tokyo is preparing to host the 2020 Olympics and Paralympics.

Preparing countermeasures based on the assumption that unforeseen situations — including a terrorist attack — could occur is an urgent task.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, July 2, 2015)Speech

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