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    Japan Experiences Worst Train Crash in Decades

    Rescuers gather around the wreckage of a derailed commuter train in Amagasaki
    Japan's worst rail accident in more than four decades has left at least 50 people dead and as many as 300 injured.

    The seven-car express train carrying nearly 600 commuters derailed near Kobe Monday morning, slamming into an automobile before the front of the train hit a high-rise apartment building.

    Japan's Self Defense Forces were called in to help free the injured, some of whom were still trapped inside the crumpled cars hours after the accident.

    The cause was not immediately known, but investigators said they were focusing on the speed of the train.

    A woman passenger says the train seemed to be traveling much faster than usual before the crash, and that scared her.

    The injured overwhelmed hospitals in Kobe and surrounding communities. Some were treated at a makeshift trauma center set up in a tent at the scene. A shortage of stretchers led rescuers to dislodge train seats to carry the injured.

    Aerial shots broadcast on Japanese television showed four of the train cars overturned with the first two wrapped around the corner of the apartment building.

    Japan's Transportation Ministry has established a crisis management headquarters to deal with the incident.

    Japan Railways West, at a news conference, identified the train's driver as a 23-year-old man who had been on the job only eleven months. Company officials say the train derailed on a curve between two stations as it was heading to the small spa town of Takarazuka.

    The railway's president, Takeshi Kakiuchi, expressed his sorrow at the accident, but said there were more important matters to worry about at the moment than how the accident occurred.

    Mr. Kakiuchi says the first priority is to rescue those who are trapped.

    Japan has one of the world's most sophisticated and congested rail networks, but it has an admirable safety record.

    Monday's accident is Japan's worst train crash since a wreck in suburban Tokyo in 1963 killed 161 people.

     

     


    Steve Herman

    A veteran journalist, Steve Herman is VOA's Southeast Asia Bureau Chief and Correspondent, based in Bangkok.

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