April 26, 2005 in Nation/World

Death toll in Japan train crash at least 73

Associated Press

fast facts

Train was late

» A surviving crew member told police he “felt the train was going faster than usual,” Japan public broadcaster NHK reported.

» That echoed comments by passengers who speculated the driver might have been speeding to make up time lost when he had overshot the previous station by 25 feet and had to back up. The train was nearly two minutes behind schedule, media reports said.

AMAGASAKI, Japan – The death toll rose to 73 today in Japan’s deadliest rail crash in decades as crews pulled more victims from the wreckage.

Investigators focused on whether excessive speed or the driver’s inexperience caused the train to derail and slam into an apartment building.

The seven-car commuter train carrying 580 passengers left the rails Monday morning near Amagasaki, about 250 miles west of Tokyo. It hit an automobile before plowing into the nine-story complex, injuring more than 440 people.

Investigators hope to recover a data recorder that could hold details on the train’s speed and how it was being operated. Officials said no cause has been ruled out but added that investigators suspect speed and the driver’s experience.

The driver – identified as Ryujiro Takami, 23 – is unaccounted for.

He got his train operator’s license last May. A month later, he overshot a station and was issued a warning, officials said. Passengers said he also stopped too far past a station platform Monday just before the crash.

The crash occurred on a curve with a speed limit of 43 mph. Tsunemi Murakami, safety director for train operator West Japan Railway Co., estimated the train would have had to have been traveling 82 mph to have jumped the track purely because of excessive speed.

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