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Japan's train detrailment reaches 95; may rise further
Updated: 2005-04-27 18:38

Rescuers untangling Japan's worst train crash in decades uncovered body after body in the crushed cars Wednesday, bringing the death toll to 95, but grim work remained in accounting for the dozens still missing. A news report said the body of the driver may also have been found.

A probe into possible negligence by operator West Japan Railway Co. has focused on the actions of the 23-year-old driver, his lack of experience and suspicions that the train was speeding before it derailed and slammed into an apartment building on Monday.

Heavy machines are used to remove wreckage of a derailed commuter train April 27, 2005, at the site of the train that smashed into an apartment building in Amagasaki in western Japan.
Heavy machines are used to remove wreckage of a derailed commuter train April 27, 2005, at the site of the train that smashed into an apartment building in Amagasaki in western Japan.[Reuters]

At least 458 people were injured.

Rescuers at the crash site in Amagasaki, about 410 kilometers (250 miles) west of Tokyo, found at least 16 bodies on Wednesday, Hyogo prefecture (state) police said. They also found a body seated at the front of the train believed to be driver Ryujiro Takami, but that hadn't been confirmed, the Kyodo news agency said.

The death toll was expected to rise further, with police saying an unknown number of victims were still in the wreckage. West Japan Railway, or JR West, said 47 people have contacted them saying their relatives or friends may have been on the train and are unaccounted for.

Rescue workers used power shovels to peel away the twisted metal of the two worst-damaged train cars, flattened against the apartment building.

Transportation Minister Kazuo Kitagawa indicated the government would order JR West to review the way it operates after it completes its investigation into the accident.

``The driver had only 11 months of experience and we can only say that JR West's employee training and its tests to evaluate the suitability of drivers had problems,'' Kitagawa said in Parliament. ``I would like to issue instructions to them based on the results of our investigation.''

Amid rising concerns about train safety, a car in central Japan crashed into a train as it was passing through a rail crossing Wednesday morning. The car's driver was seriously injured and was taken to a nearby hospital, but none of the 130 passengers on the train were hurt.

Police, meanwhile, arrested the driver of a trailer for allegedly illegally entering a rail crossing north of Tokyo on Tuesday, where he got in the way of an express train that hit it and derailed.

To understand what went wrong in Amagasaki, authorities have been probing the offices of JR West to investigate the possibility of professional negligence.

Government investigators examining the accident site said they had found the train's ``black box,'' a computer chip that stores information about the time and train's speed in the final seconds before an accident. They said the contents would take time to analyze.

A survivor is rescued, nearly a day after a train accident in Amagasaki Tuesday morning, April 26, 2005. [AP]

National broadcaster NHK reported that police suspected the train was going 100 kilometers per hour (65 mph) when it hit the curve where it derailed _ well above the 70 kilometer per hour (43 mph) speed limit. JR West refused to confirm that report.

Investigators said the driver may have been shaken after overrunning the last station by 40 meters (130 feet) and falling 90 seconds behind schedule. Takami got his train operator's license in May 2004. One month later, he overran a station and was issued a warning for his mistake, railway officials and police said.

The seven-car train was packed with 580 passengers when it jumped the tracks near this Osaka suburb and plunged into the first floor of an apartment complex. The accident occurred at a curve after a straightaway.

Deadly train accidents are rare in Japan. Monday's accident was the worst rail disaster in nearly 42 years in this safety-conscious country, which is home to one of the world's most complex, efficient and heavily traveled rail networks.

A three-train crash in November 1963 killed 161 people in Tsurumi, outside Tokyo.

An accident killed 42 people in April 1991 in Shigaraki, western Japan.

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