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Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Suicide

Keihan K-Tokyu人身事故

Last Wednesday, the K-Tokyu Express train bound for Demachiyanagi, in Kyoto, pulled out of Osaka's Kyobashi Station exactly on time at 5:36 pm and was comfortably full. The Keihan express trains are painted an elegant orange-red and yellow, and have a small painting on the front inside wall of each carriage and large picture windows. These carriages feel more like European inter-city trains than the usual point A to point B crush of Japanese rush-hour lines.

The conductor's baritone guided us through the stops until Kyoto in a brief announcement as we pulled out of Kyobashi. We were three or four minutes into our ride and easing into cruising speed when, suddenly, the sound of rocks--scattering violently or hitting the windows or skidding across the bottom of the carriage--made everyone duck reflexively and look around.

The lights then went out as the cable bounced from the overhead wire and against the roof above us. The car was nearly dark but for the emergency lights along the floor.

Using the the euphemism for suicide, the conductor came on again: "There has been an accident, and we are going to be delayed." His voice was calm, but the delivery was not silky smooth as it had been minutes before.

An awkward silence came over the carriage, and we all glanced out into the night. Nothing but rain-streaked windows and darkness.

People began text-messaging and calling home or friends to say they would be late. After several minutes the sound of a distant siren could be heard. The riders spoke in hushed voices in the darkness, and settled in for a long wait. The train finally started up after 25 minutes.

According to my brother-in-law, a driver for JR, "it is not a matter of if, but just a matter of time" before the train you are driving will kill someone.

At the bottom of page 33 of the next morning's Asahi Shinbun newspaper, there was a small article stating that "a 73-year-old woman who was on the tracks of the Osaka-Kyoto route of the Keihan Line was hit by an express train at approximately 5:40 pm and killed instantly. Trains were delayed up to 40-minutes, and 340,000 commuters were affected."

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