Rail News


November 19 , 2021

Passengers asked not to open doors on trains, except if assailant near

The Asahi Shimbun 
November 18, 2021 (Japan)

Although most train cars in Japan have an emergency lever to manually open their doors, passengers are advised to not pull it in a crisis and leave it to railway workers instead. 

However, as a recent stabbing rampage on a Keio Corp. train showed, even some railway operators concede there may be an exception if passengers feel their lives are in danger. 

During the panic on the Keio train on Oct. 31 as an assailant stabbed one person and tried to set fire to the train, one passenger pulled the lever. However, in this instance, the action trigged an unexpected result. 

Passengers were forced to open windows and climb out to flee the attacker. Seventeen people were injured in the incident and a 24-year-old man was arrested on suspicion of attempted murder.

Two minutes after the Keio train departed Chofu Station, a passenger pulled the emergency call button to inform the driver of the assailant. A minute later, a passenger pulled the emergency lever. The levers are located on the lower part of the passenger seat near a train car door.

According to Keio officials, once a door is manually opened at least 1.6 centimeters, a device on the train recognizes that a door has opened and automatically makes it impossible to accelerate.

No one on the Keio train tried to leave while the train was still moving, but the train came to a stop about two meters short of its designated spot at Kokuryo Station because pulling the lever slowed the train.

The driver did not immediately open the train doors to prevent passengers from falling where there was no station platform, but in the meantime, some passengers opened the train windows and climbed out.

As a result, it took about 10 minutes to evacuate all passengers after the train stopped at Kokuryo Station.

Railway companies do not recommend passengers use the emergency lever because of the possibility people could fall from the train or be struck by other trains in the area.

For example, East Japan Railway Co. only foresees use of the lever during natural disasters when trains come to a stop between stations.

Company employees have been instructed to first confirm no other rail traffic and then use a ladder to help passengers climb down. In most locations between stations, there is about a one-meter drop from the train car floor to the tracks.

One JR East official said, “The precondition is that a train staffer operates the lever, not a passenger, and we want passengers to obey the instructions of staff.”

But other companies also admit to a dilemma that may force passengers to operate the lever.

A similar stabbing incident occurred in August on a train operated by Odakyu Electric Railway Co. A company official said it was difficult to say to never use the lever especially when passengers feel threatened.

Keio officials also said there was no ban, but they hoped the lever would not be used “needlessly.”

All train companies agree that the emergency call button should be the first option for passengers.

Seiji Abe, a professor of transportation policy at Kansai University, said the emergency levers were installed primarily for use during earthquakes and fires and not to flee from criminals.

“There is a need for railway companies to compile manuals about when passengers can use the emergency lever, including for situations of having to open the door because their lives are in danger from an approaching assailant,” Abe said.

(This article was written by Takashi Ogawa, Masanori Isobe and Natsuki Edogawa.)


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