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Japan train conductor worked with stomach pain for 30 mins before hospitalization

The Tsukuba Express logo is seen in this file photo taken on Nov. 9, 2019. (Mainichi/Koji Yoshioka)

MITO -- A lone crew member on a Tsukuba Express (TX) train connecting Japan's capital to the eastern prefecture of Ibaraki continued working for over 30 minutes on an Oct. 3 morning service after complaining of pain from what later turned out to be kidney stones, it has emerged.

    The general command center that manages the line's services was apprised of the situation. Because the crew member maintained that he could work, he continued to ride on the train despite it having left later than scheduled. After he switched with another conductor, he was taken to hospital by ambulance.

    The line's operator, Tokyo-based Metropolitan Intercity Railway Co., has said that "there was no issue in terms of safety." But a public transportation safety expert has asserted that the incident was a "result of a situation where it's difficult for workers to come forward with problems."

    The train involved in the case drives automatically. Crew members are reported to be primarily involved in the opening and closing of doors, visually checking for foreign objects on the tracks, and operating the trains in emergency situations, among other duties.

    TX trains run from Tsukuba Station in Ibaraki Prefecture to Akihabara Station in Tokyo. According to the railway company and others, the conductor was posted to a train leaving the Ibaraki Prefecture city of Moriya's Moriya Station at 9:35 a.m., on a service bound for Tsukuba Station. At 9:48 a.m., the crew member reported to the general command center that he was suffering abdominal pain, but stated himself that he would be able to continue working.

    He continued toiling on the train after its arrival at Tsukuba Station, which then switched to a Tokyo-bound service. Three stops on at Midorino Station in Tsukuba, his condition had deteriorated, and the train was seven minutes late leaving the station. Still, the crew member continued to work alone on the service until an emergency changeover at Miraidaira Station in the city of Tsukubamirai at 10:22 a.m. He was subsequently taken to hospital by ambulance, and reportedly diagnosed with kidney stones.

    The operator's PR department explained, "The trains have automatic control equipment to prevent collisions, and the driver in this instance was paying close attention to what was ahead of the train, meaning there was no safety issue. Had the individual involved asked to be switched out, he would not have been made to ride."

    (Japanese original by Toru Morinaga and Takashi Miyazaki, Mito Bureau)

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