The recent deadly knife rampage on a bullet train on the Tokaido Shinkansen Line has highlighted the need for improved safety measures on trains as well as at stations.
A man suddenly slashed passengers on a Nozomi superexpress train on June 9 as it traveled through Kanagawa Prefecture, killing one person and injuring two others. Kotaro Umeda, who died in the incident, was slashed repeatedly as he tried to stop the assailant from attacking a woman. It is tragic that the victim's brave act led to his death.
Boosting safety measures, including those to prevent terror, are an urgent task for Japan as the 2020 Olympics and Paralympics in Tokyo draw near. Even though the latest case was an indiscriminate attack and hard to predict, Japan Railway group companies should get to the bottom of the incident and implement measures to prevent a recurrence.
Three years ago, a man fatally set himself alight on a Tokaido Shinkansen Line train, causing another passenger on the same train to die from smoke inhalation. The incident prompted JR companies to install more security cameras on carriages, and increase train patrols to look for suspicious people and items.
In the latest incident, however, the suspect hid his weapons, including a hatchet and a knife, in a backpack, showing that superficial inspections of suspicious passengers have their limits.
The most effective way to prevent an incident of this kind is to conduct strict security checks on passengers' baggage like those at airports. Some railway operators in Europe check the baggage of passengers before they board high-speed trains.
However, there are hurdles to such security checks for bullet trains because they transport far more passengers than their counterparts in Europe. Such full-scale inspections would require more personnel, eventually increasing fares. Moreover, passengers would be required to wait longer, an inconvenience. It may be unrealistic to carry out such strict security checks.
Still, safety is the top priority. Some experts have pointed to the need to develop new technologies such as sensors that can detect dangerous items at ticket gates. Railway operators should launch such efforts.
In addition, it is necessary to step up day-to-day efforts to ensure safety, such as increasing the frequency of patrolling train carriages and station platforms in a bid to find suspicious people and dangerous items. Railway operators need to gain cooperation from police in such efforts. Railway police officers board some bullet trains to guard passengers, but police should step up these measures.
More than 1 million people use bullet trains. Therefore, the operators of such high-speed trains have a duty to implement maximum safety measures.