The government has instructed West Japan Railway Co. to investigate why a driver of one of its bullet trains that hit and killed a man did not report any abnormal sound at the time, the transport minister said Friday.
"I have ordered JR West to study why the driver did not make a report and whether that was an appropriate decision or not," Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Minister Keiichi Ishii said.
"I sincerely apologize for the disruption to transportation and inconvenience caused to over 40,000 customers," said JR West Vice President Yoshihisa Hirano at a press conference on Friday, acknowledging that the driver forgot or misunderstood his duty to report a strange noise.
A Nozomi shinkansen train bound for Tokyo hit a man, identified as a 52-year-old caregiver from Fukuoka Prefecture, between Hakata and Kokura stations in the southwestern Japanese prefecture at around 2 p.m. on Thursday.
An unoccupied minivehicle was found on a road near the elevated railway track, which was accessible by a ladder and staircase, and there were signs of someone had intruded on the tracks. Police believe the man committed suicide.
The train hit the man inside a tunnel in the city of Kitakyushu, about 17 kilometers from Kokura Station.
The bonnet of the train was cracked in the incident. None of the roughly 200 passengers was injured.
According to the operator of the Sanyo Shinkansen Line, a station employee found smeared blood on the train's bonnet, which was cracked, when it stopped at Kokura Station but reported the matter to the operation center only after the train had departed.
JR West requires drivers to report abnormal sounds heard while trains are running to an operation center. The driver heard an abnormal sound but did not report it, judging from past experience that the train had hit a small animal, the company said.
JR West came in for criticism after a crack and oil leak were found on the undercarriage of a shinkansen train in December in the country's first serious bullet train incident.
Following the incident, JR West made its new policy clear that drivers must stop trains immediately if they hear strange sounds and are unable to confirm safety.