From WEEKLY MDS No.887, May 20. 2005 issue logo

Train Derailment Accident of JR West / Privatization Kills

Train driver not culpable

The derailment accident on the Fukuchiyama Line of the West Japan Railway Company (hereinafter referred to as JR West) eventually developed into a catastrophic disaster, leaving 107 persons dead and 460 injured. On May 5, the Aircraft and Railway Accidents Investigation Commission (ARAIC) under the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transportation, the organization in charge of investigation into the cause of the accident, asserted that the primary cause was human error such as speeding by the train driver. In order to submit a report on measures for preventing accident recurrences, reportedly the ARAIC will continue investigation of psychological pressure from JR West that may have affected the train driver.

For this case, is it really appropriate to place the responsibility of the accident on the deceased train driver while merely criticizing JR West's corporate culture for its irresponsible attitude? No, absolutely not. The accident is a typical example that shows how global capitalism sacrifices passengers' lives and safety by intensifying competition through the state's privatization policy and profit-centered management. . As evident in the handling of the 1991 train accident of Shigaraki Kogen Railway, JR and the government have been getting away with their fault by shifting the blame to operating personnel or affiliated companies whenever an accident occurs. Their escape from responsibility must not be tolerated any more.

The party responsible for casualties - global capitalism

The recent accident was an inevitable consequence of the current trend. Prior to the accident, it had been pointed out repeatedly that privatization of public transportation systems would invite a lower priority on safety and a higher risk of disastrous accidents.

Since its birth as a result of the 1987 division and privatization of Japan National Railways, JR West has been consistently giving priority to commercial performance in order to survive in the competition with the existing private railway companies, promoting overcrowding train diagrams, speeding and downsizing. As no delay in train operation was tolerated, "recovery operation" was forced and workers that "caused" any delay were subjected to penalties (such as salary cuts, demotions and mental abuse called Nikkin kyoiku (literally meaning "day-to-day in-service education"). The accident site was in a critical section where it was a norm among train drivers to catch up with the diagram by operating at the design speed limit of 120 km/h. The deceased train driver was not the only one that practiced overspeed.

Another noteworthy aspect of this accident is that the passenger casualty rate was exceptionally high at 97%. This is a result of the company's accelerated introduction of lightweight train bodies for the purpose of speeding in train operation and cost reduction at the expense of safety. The lighter the train body is, the higher the derailment risk grows. Should an accident occur, the train body would not escape disastrous crash. Trains are no longer safe vehicles.

The train accident caused by JR West has proven how disastrous the result can be when the principle of market mechanism characteristic to global capitalism, as represented by Toyota's corporate strategy, is introduced without any cushion into the public transportation segment that directly involves our lives. In effect, the accident was homicides under privatization committed by global capitalism.

Enhancing democratic regulation

To pursue the primary cause of the accident means a struggle to recover safety of the public transportation systems through blocking the promotion of their privatization. Even after the accident, overrun/overspeed troubles have been occurring on JR East's Joban Line and in a curved section between Tokyo and Shinagawa on JR Tokai's Shinkansen Line. JR West is not the only one that must be questioned.

While global capitalism has driven privatization of railways in nations around the world, serious accidents have occurred and caused the outcome of the privatization to be reviewed. In the U.K., three large-scale railway accidents occurred in sequence, and recovery of state ownership became a focus in a Parliament session. Likewise, we should envision re-nationalization of JR units with enhancement of democratic regulation under the initiative by users and workers.

The struggle to pursue the in-depth cause of the Fukuchiyama Line railway accident has just started. Do not tolerate hiding of accidents and troubles and demand the authorities to perform thorough disclosure of information. Link that struggle with voice from the local communities, victims of the accident, JR shareholders, citizens groups, and with the struggle of the plaintiffs of the lawsuit against Japan Railway Construction Public Corporation over the discharge of union members by the company. (May 9)

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