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JR East refused local gov't bus to rescue passengers on snow-stranded train

The JR Shinetsu Line train stranded by snow is seen from a Mainichi Shimbun aircraft, in Sanjo, Niigata Prefecture, on Jan. 12, 2018. (Mainichi)

NIIGATA -- East Japan Railways Co. (JR East) refused a microbus offered by the Sanjo Municipal Government to rescue the some 430 passengers stranded for about 15 and a half hours on a JR Shinetsu Line train stuck in the snow earlier this month, the company has disclosed.

At a press conference here on Jan. 19, general manager of JR East's Niigata Branch Office Masahito Imai said the railway operator had refused the offer from the Niigata Prefecture city because the bus was incapable of carrying all the passengers, and apologized for the company's error in judgment. He explained that the offer was understood as one piece of information about possible resources, and not as a plan to rescue the stranded passengers, who had to spend the night of Jan. 11-12 on the crowded train.

"We failed to collaborate properly with organizations involved. We tried too much to handle the situation alone," Imai said of JR East's response.

According to the Sanjo Municipal Government and other sources, the microbus belonged to the city's fire department and had a capacity of about 20 people. The suggestion to use the bus came from a firefighter who saw the passengers stuck standing on the train as they waited to be rescued. The plan was relayed to JR East via the Niigata Prefectural Government roughly seven hours after the train became trapped in the snow, at around 2:30 a.m. on Jan. 12. However, the railway company reportedly turned down the offer immediately.

JR East also announced on Jan. 19 measures to prevent any similar incidents in the future. Along with considering the use of taxis to rescue passengers if a train becomes stranded for a long period or in similar situations, the company said it would set up five more security cameras in the area to accurately grasp the amount of snow accumulation, among other plans.

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