Video shows safety concerns at JR East
11/25/2005 By HIROYUKI ISHIMAE The Asahi Shimbun
West Japan Railway Co., whose corporate culture was blamed in part for the train derailment disaster in Hyogo Prefecture in April, is apparently not the only company in the JR group to have routinely neglected safety in favor of profit, according to a documentary.
"Rail warning--The Amagasaki accident and JR East," produced by video production and distribution company Video Press, reveals a similar attitude within East Japan Railway Co.
Through interviews with 14 employees of JR East and related firms, directors Akira Matsubara and Yumi Sasaki say they have turned up various safety concerns, most of which echo those that were raised after the April 25 Takarazuka Line derailment in Amagasaki that killed 107 people.
During the 43-minute documentary, a train driver expresses grave doubts about JR East's ability to design lighter train bodies.
As it is, the man said it feels as if train carriages are rocking violently and lifting off the tracks when a particularly strong wind is blowing.
The driver also blasts the company for its extremely tight train schedules. Even in a curve, trains must run at full speed to avoid being late, he says. This practice was believed to have been one of the factors that led to the train disaster earlier this year.
Job cuts pose another safety concern, the footage suggests.
Routine track maintenance checks dropped dramatically after the former Japanese National Railways were privatized, according to one company employee who said that damaged railroad ties and screw bolts are generally not replaced immediately.
Most of the 14 interviewees are from JR East's Chiba Branch Office, which oversees a line that is in competition with a private railway line--as is the Takarazuka Line.
A track worker employed by a secondary subcontractor to JR East says nightly work on railway lines is rigorous. Often, he says, there is no time to complete safety checks after finishing the work.
"If we are told a train is coming, we can do nothing but remove our tools from the tracks. I think they are making us do too much."
In the final minutes of "Rail Warning," the directors hold Britain up as an example of the perils of railroad privatization.
In London, there are growing calls for the government to nationalize the railway network following the 2000 derailment of a train on a suburban line that left four people dead, the video says.
A crack in rail tracks that had been pointed out six months prior to the accident was the apparent cause.
"Rail Warning," which was previewed in September, is another Matsubara and Sasaki collaboration after "Be More Human--Kokuro's 15-Year Struggle" which they produced in 2001.
The film featured former members of the Japanese National Railways' labor union, known as Kokuro, after its breakup when JNR was privatized.(IHT/Asahi: November 25,2005)