It turns out a lot of different people are involved in the response team when a train hits a person in Japan.
The vast majority of the time, Japan’s incredibly efficient trains will get you where you’re going at the exact minute the timetable says you’ll arrive. But that near-perfect consistency makes delays all the more aggravating, and few are more frustrating than the ones caused by what are called jinshin jiko in Japanese.
Jinshin jiko literally means “human body accident,” and it’s a term used to describe any sort of incident in which a travelling train strikes a person who was on the tracks, whether due to honest misunderstanding, intoxicated staggering, or suicidal intent. When a jinshin jiko occurs, not only can it can shut down multiple lines, but they might be out of service for hours, with little in the way of even an estimate given to passengers of when they’ll be able to continue on their way.
So why does it take so long for train service to recover from jinshin jiko? An employee of Nagano Prefecture’s Shinano Railway recently took to his Twitter account to explain the lengthy and complicated process.
しなの鉄道(非公式) (@shinanorailway_) September 23, 2016
After pulling the emergency brake, the driver of a train involved in a jinshin jiko gets on the radio and alerts all other trains in the vicinity. Even if they’re not on the same line, they need to be kept out of the accident area, especially if they’re going to be using the same set of tracks where the lines overlap, so they need to come to a stop too. A message also has to be sent to headquarters, so that the staff there can get the ball rolling on coordinating the necessary response.
As the first employee on scene, the train’s driver must perform an initial inspection of the train, and also confirm if any passengers were injured during the collision or emergency stop. Meanwhile, headquarters is contacting the fire department, paramedics, and police department, as well as giving additional instructions to trains and stations affected by the accident. The railway company also dispatches specialized technicians to carry out a more thorough inspection, which might mean summoning them from home if the accident occurred on a weekend or in the middle of the night.
Once the fire and rescue workers arrive, they extract the person who was struck, who’s taken to a medical center if there’s still a chance of saving his life. If not, the body is turned over to the police, who then start their own investigation, which includes searching for any of the victim’s belongs or other items that have fallen or been left on the tracks. If the search is taking place at night, the lack of light can make this a very time-consuming undertaking.
Once the police are finished, then it’s time for the rail operator’s own team to step in, checking not just the train, but also the surrounding infrastructure and private property for damage. There’s also the task of cleaning and deodorizing the accident site, with a grisly variable being how fast the train was traveling when it struck the person. The faster the train, the wider the area that has to be cleaned, and thus the more time it will take.
It’s only when all that is finally done that the train get the go-ahead to start moving again. So even though there’s a protocol in place for dealing with jinshin jiko, the sheer number of steps that have to be performed by separate organizations means that even if railway employees know what stage of process things are at, they’re rarely in a position to estimate how much longer the whole thing is going to take. So the next time you’re irritated by a vague announcement that “Service will be restored as soon as possible,” try to remember that the rail operator is doing all it can to handle a very complex problem.