A train packed with tourists collided head-on with another passenger train Tuesday in western Japan, and police said 42 people were killed and 402 injured.
Japan's worst rail accident in 19 years occurred on a 10-mile-long single-track line called the Shigaraki Highlands Railway in Shiga prefecture, near the ancient capital, Kyoto, and 230 miles west of Tokyo. Local railway officials said failure in a signaling device might have caused the crash.The front cars of both trains buckled on impact. Television footage showed one car jackknifed up into the air. Rescuers climbed ladders to reach the top of the wreckage.
Passengers were pinned between mangled seats, and rescuers used power saws and ropes to remove survivors from the twisted cars. Emergency crews carried away bloodied passengers on stretchers and on their backs.
"All of a sudden, I heard a thunderous bang and felt a tremendous shock in the back, and there were people screaming all over," a passenger in his 60s said in a televised interview.
"I didn't feel any brakes," said another unidentified passenger interviewed on television. "We just hit with a loud noise."
A farmer said he heard the crash at his home a mile from the accident site.
Most of the passengers on one train were tourists going to a world pottery festival in the town of Shigaraki, police said.
Shiga prefecture police said they did not know if any of the 42 dead were foreigners but said at least one of the 402 injured was. A police spokesman, speaking on condition of anonymity, identified the injured foreigner as James Cleanwood, 21, and said police were trying to determine his nationality.
Police said the injured - including many people who were seriously hurt - were were being treated at seven hospitals and clinics.
Chief Cabinet Minister Misoji Sakamoto said the government sent investigators to the scene.
A three-car express of the West Japan Railway Co. from Kyoto, packed with about 500 tourists -
240 percent of normal capacity - was headed to Shigaraki. Such crowding is common in Japan during holiday periods, for special events or in rush hours, even on the 125 mph "bullet trains."
At 10:35 a.m., the express collided with a four-car local train from Shigaraki en route to Kibukawa, the other end of the highlands railway. About 100 passengers were on the local train.
It was not immediately known how fast the trains were going when they collided. Rail officials said the maximum speed limit on the highlands railway is 50 mph.
The officials said the trains were supposed to have passed each other at a 100-yard-long siding about 11/2 miles from the accident site.
But because of the apparent fault with the signal, the local train left a nearby station 10 minutes later than scheduled and the other train failed to wait at the siding, the officials said. They spoke on condition of anonymity.
The accident site is on the curving foot of a mountain covered with a dense forest.
The highlands line belonged to the former Japan National Railway but was converted to private operation in 1987. The siding and extra signal were installed this year to handle the special trains to the pottery festival.