Shinkansen fire: Ministry wants review of inflammable goods rules

Shinkansen fire: Ministry wants review of inflammable goods rules
Transport minister Akihiro Ota and JR Tokai Executive Vice President Shin Kaneko bow to each other at an emergency meeting in Tokyo.
PHOTO: Japan News/ANN

The transport ministry held an emergency meeting with executives of five JR firms about their bullet train lines and ordered a review of current regulations allowing passengers to carry limited amounts of inflammable materials, a day after a man's self-immolation aboard a running Tokaido Shinkansen train, which also resulted in a woman's death from smoke inhalation.

"Our objective is to secure an environment in which the public can use Shinkansen trains with peace of mind," Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Minister Akihiro Ota told the attendees at the outset of Wednesday's meeting. "Therefore, we must consider safety measures that take into consideration the possibility of terrorist attacks."

The passenger guidelines of Hokkaido Railway Co., which plans to start operating a Shinkansen line next spring, and four other JR companies currently stipulate that passengers are permitted to bring aboard up to three kilograms of such inflammable substances as gasoline and kerosene.

The Railway Operation Law bans the carrying of combustible goods in principle. However, a transport ministry ordinance allows for special exemptions, which have enabled railway operators to stipulate in their passenger guidelines that a small amount of inflammable materials is permitted.

"The guidelines were presumably made in light of actual conditions back in the days of the now-defunct Japanese National Railways, when it was normal to carry around kerosene for daily use," said an official of Central Japan Railway Co. (JR Tokai).

In addition to issuing an order for passenger guidelines to be reviewed, the ministry asked the railway operators to compile measures to improve smoke ventilation systems inside train cars and reinforce security for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, reporting on the areas as soon as possible.

But the ministry did not ask the firms to consider baggage inspection for all passengers as is conducted for flights, saying, "It would be difficult to do so, but it will be a subject for future consideration."

"We've already adopted various security measures," JR Tokai Executive Vice President Shin Kaneko told reporters after the meeting. "But we'll examine this case and see what else we can do to prevent a recurrence."

Regarding the evacuation that took place on Tuesday, Kaneko said, "We did our utmost."

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