Rail News

7 days ago

Expert: Packed station during bullet train delay grew ‘dangerous’

The Asahi Shimbun
January 20, 2023 (Japan)

Less than two months after a crowd crush in Itaewon in Seoul killed 159 people, terrified passengers at Shinagawa Station in Tokyo feared a similar occurrence was about to take place.

“I thought it would become a second Itaewon. I had a fear of death,” one male passenger said of the congestion on Dec. 18 during a lengthy bullet train delay.

On that day, Central Japan Railway Co. (JR Tokai) suspended the operation of the Tokaido Shinkansen between Tokyo and Shin-Osaka stations for about four hours because of a power outage.

After the service resumed, passengers flooded concourses at some stations, most notably Shinagawa Station. However, no major accidents or incidents were reported.

But JR Tokai has launched an investigation to determine if its handling of the delay was appropriate.

A 31-year-old male company employee said he was on the concourse at Shinagawa Station at around 8 p.m. that day.

He said he heard many passengers say, “It’s not safe.”

The man boarded a Shinkansen at Shin-Osaka Station and was returning to Tokyo Station when he heard an announcement that encouraged passengers to get off at Shinagawa Station before the final stop, Tokyo Station. That was because of the heavy congestion at Tokyo Station.

So he disembarked at Shinagawa Station. Shinkansen platforms are located on the lower level at Shinagawa Station. Passengers use an escalator or stairs to descend to the level or go up to the main level. 

The man said the area was packed and he could not move at all and was barely able to see his feet amid the crush. To add to the congestion, there were many passengers pushing roller bags.

He saw passengers who got off a train that newly arrived at the station trying to take an escalator up to the concourse. The crowd, however, made it impossible for anyone to move.

People were yelling, “Stop the escalator!” and “It can be like the accident in South Korea,” the man said. 

He added, “It was like blowing air into a filled balloon.”

After about 20 minutes, he saw station staff. The crowd started moving slowly, and he managed to escape the area through a service door guided by station staff.

JR Tokai said a power outage occurred at around 1 p.m. between Toyohashi and Nagoya stations. A hardware of the wiring short-circuited and broke the wiring, JR Tokai said.

The operation of all Shinkansen between Tokyo and Shin-Osaka stations was suspended for the recovery work, affecting 110,000 passengers.

JR Tokai resumed operations at around 5 p.m. Shinkansen that had been stopped en route started moving toward Tokyo in succession. 

That caused a backup of bullet trains near Tokyo Station and a delay in passengers arriving at their final destination.

So, JR Tokai urged train crews to encourage passengers to disembark at Shinagawa Station if possible.

The rail company did not restrict the entry and exit of people at the ticket gates at Shinagawa.

As a result, Shinagawa Station was filled with swarms of passengers at least for 30 minutes from 8 p.m.

JR Tokai said it did not receive a report of any injury or sick person. The company said it is still investigating the cause of the backup of passengers.

But it said many passengers gathered near the ticket gates, trying to check for train updates or getting refunds.

Toshihiro Kawaguchi, a professor at Kansai University who specializes in the mechanism of accidents involving crowds, said walking is impossible when the crowd density exceeds five people per one square meter.

He said he saw video footage capturing the Shinagawa Station situation and that it appeared that the density at the station was at that level and it was “extremely dangerous.”

He said JR Tokai should have shared the information about the station situation with train operators in real time and created pedestrian paths for passengers getting off trains.

He said people finding themselves in a similar situation should “head back while they can find sufficient space to do so or stay where they are.”

“Please secure a space where they can move before they cannot move,” he said.


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