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Mother of blind man killed in train platform accident calls for enhanced safety

OSAKA -- The mother of a blind man who was killed by an oncoming train after falling on the track at a station here earlier this month talked about her late son's love for trains in an interview with the Mainichi Shimbun, and said she hopes measures against accidents involving people falling from platforms will be thoroughly implemented across Japan.

"Because my son was a big fan of trains, I want the railway systems to be safe. I hope that train companies move forward with platform doors and other measures," said the 66-year-old mother of Tsunehisa Kondo, who was 40 at the time of the accident. Kondo, a Takarazuka, Hyogo Prefecture resident, died after being hit by a limited express train at Kawachi-Kokubu Station on Kintetsu Railway's Osaka Line in Kashiwara, Osaka Prefecture, on Oct. 16.

According to the mother, Kondo took a train to Nara to dine with two relatives who usually cared for him when he went out. The train that the three were on stopped at Kawachi-Kokubu Station to wait for the limited express train to pass. The relatives were playing close attention to Kondo as he stepped off the train. However, they lost sight of him for a moment, and in that moment he was struck by the express train.

Kondo lost the sight in both eyes due to an illness when he was 1. The young Kondo became interested in the sound of trains when he lived in the Tennoji area, in Osaka where JR, subway and private railway stations are located. He had traveled to Tokyo and other destinations by train and bus with his white cane.

His family says Kondo used to touch trains when he was at platforms and found trains stopped at stations. Kintetsu Railway Co. says the platform at Kawachi-Kokubu Station is tapered at its ends, and measures about 7.8 meters at its widest point. The platform near where the area Kondo fell is about 3 meters wide.

"He might have stepped out of the train to touch it but not noticed that that part of the platform was narrower," his mother says. "If there had been platform doors, he might not have fallen."

Although she is devastated by the tragedy, Kondo's mother says, "I think my son's death boosted a campaign to call for measures to prevent blind people and those with disabilities from falling victim to platform accidents. I don't want to see any more."

In response to the fatal accident at Kawachi-Kokubu Station, Kintetsu Railway has decided to move up a plan to install new tactile tiles to assist people with visual disabilities in all stations with 10,000-100,000 users per day from fiscal 2020 to the end of fiscal 2017. Regular tactile tiles only have raised dots, while the new tiles have a line raised by about 5 millimeters on the track side of the platform. People with visual disabilities will be able to recognize where the train tracks are by stepping onto the raised line. Existing tactile tiles at Kawachi-Kokubu Station, which services some 15,000 passengers daily, only have raised dots.

The Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism in 2011 requested train companies to install the tactile tiles with raised lines at stations with 10,000-plus users per day as soon as possible, as well as prioritize installing platform doors or the raised line tactile tiles at stations with 100,000 or more passengers.

According to Kintetsu Railway, of the operator's 280 stations (excluding cable car lines), 70 stations are subject to the new tactile tile project, and 40 of these have been completed. The company plans to finish installing the new tiles in seven stations, including Kawachi-Kokubu Station, by the end of fiscal 2016, and in the remaining 23 in fiscal 2017.

Railway companies across the country are moving to improve platform safety. Tokyo Metro Co. has been implementing the tactile tile improvement since 2003, after the subway operator decided to install the raised line tiles in all stations without platform doors. Tokyo Metro says the project has been completed in all 94 stations that needed such tiles.

According to transport ministry data, Tokyo-based Tobu Railway Co. and Saitama Prefecture-based Seibu Railway Co. had only completed installing the new tactile tiles at just over 30 percent of their stations handling 10,000 passengers or more daily as of the end of March 2015. However, the figure has since improved at both operators (70.4 percent at Tobu Railway and 82.1 percent at Seibu Railway). Seibu Railway plans to complete the tile installment by March 2019.

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