A 110 call was made at around 8:15 p.m. Saturday reporting that a Seaside Line train operating under a new driverless system had traveled in the wrong direction at Shin-Sugita Station in Isogo Ward, Yokohama.
The resulting accident injured 14 passengers, though none of the injuries were life-threatening, according to the Kanagawa prefectural police.
The accident involved a five-car train that originated at Shin-Sugita Station and was traveling to Namiki-Chuo Station.
The company that operates the third-sector railway line, Yokohama Seaside Line Co., held a press conference early Sunday morning.
According to the company, about 50 passengers were on the train when the accident occurred. The train began moving in the opposite direction it was supposed to travel until it struck a buffer stop about 20 meters away at a speed of about 6 kph.
No abnormalities had been found during a visual inspection of the train on Thursday, the company said.
“It’s possible that something went wrong with the system. There hadn’t been any accidents involving injury or death since the line opened. I apologize to the people who were injured. We will investigate the cause,” the company said.
After the accident, numerous fire-fighters, police and others rushed to the platform to help convey the injured to the hospital.
A 46-year-old company employee who was riding on the second car said he was struck hard on the arm and thigh.
“I was sitting in my seat. About five seconds after it felt like we had departed, there was a collision and I went flying. Children were crying and it was chaos inside the car,” the man said, adding that he saw three other passengers bleeding from their heads.
A woman who lives nearby expressed surprise. “I thought the driverless Seaside Line was safe,” she said.
The Seaside Line runs for about 11 kilometres between Shin-Sugita Station and Kanazawa-Hakkei Station in Kanazawa Ward, Yokohama. It opened in 1989.
The Japan Transport Safety Board sent two railway accident investigators to the scene, where they began investigating the cause of the accident early Sunday. The Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry said it is working on confirming the details of the accident through reports from Yokohama Seaside Line and other sources.
The line’s new transport system uses automatic train operation (ATO) and other technology to control driverless trains with rubber tires on a dedicated track.
In addition to the Seaside Line, the system has been adopted by lines including the Yurikamome line on the Tokyo waterfront, the New Tram in Osaka and the Port Liner in Kobe.
East Japan Railway Co. has been testing an ATO system on the Yamanote Line since late last year.
The transport ministry has determined that the new transport system “can execute driverless operation at a high level of safety” and has made appeals to overseas customers.
However, there have been accidents. In 1993, a driverless New Tram train went out of control, injuring more than 200 people. In 2006, a driverless Yurikamome train was involved in an accident when a tire fell off.
“The cause is unclear, but we may need to verify the safety of the system,” a senior transport ministry official said regarding the latest accident.