Multiple Train Collision at Mikawashima - Paper Example

2021-07-08 19:04:21
7 pages
1870 words
Sewanee University of the South
Type of paper: 
Case study
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This paper gives a review of the multiple train collision at Mikawashima that claimed the lives of 160 passengers and left 256 passengers injured. The analysis of this paper is based on ethical theories including Deontology, Utilitarianism, Existentialism, Cultural Relativism and Ethical Egoism.


In 1992, a multiple collision occurred in Mikawashima. The event occurred 350m east of the Station of JNR. The collision involved multiple trains where a freight train on the outbound of the Joban freight line collided with passenger trains that were on the outbound and inbound of the Joban lines. In the event, 160 passengers were killed while 296 passengers were injured.


The first collision

The first collision involved a freight train 287 that was traveling to join Mikawashima Station main line. The train was traveling from Switchyard and was bound for Mito on the outbound Joban freight line at 21:36. While approaching the main line, the operator missed the red signal that was supposed to make the freight line wait for a 2117H train that was on the main line to leave the station. The freight train went through onto the safe siding at 21:36:30. However, the loco and first tanker wagon derailed blocking the main outbound passenger line and made the signal connected to the safety siding to activate the fail-safe device.

The second collision

For the second collision, a 7-car passenger train 2117H departed 4 minutes behind schedule from the Mikawashima Station at 21:36 and was bound for Ueno Station. However, at 21:36:40, the passenger train struck the derailed freight at a speed of 40km/h. The main inbound passenger line was blocked by two cars that had derailed. The safety siding provided a good cover and therefore prevented a devastating accident from occurring. For this reason, only 25 people were injured. In fact, the passengers of 2117H were able to open doors using the emergency handle and walked towards Mikawashima Station on the inbound line. 100m from the accident site, there were two operators at the Mikawashima East Signal Station. However, the two operators were too busy confirming and reporting to the manager that they did not stop the departure of the next passenger train.

The third collision

The second collision was followed by a third collision that was very devastating. The passenger train 2000H that was bound for Ueno after 5 minutes and 50 seconds of the second collision arrived on the main inbound passenger line. The train ran over people that were escaping from the accident site and collided with train 2117H that were derailed. Train 2117H first car was smashed while the second through to the fourth cars were derailed. This resulted in a total of 296 people being injured while 160 people were killed in the accident.


The freight train operators missed the red signal and therefore were the direct cause of the collision. According to Lacewing, basing the action of the two operators failure to identify the red signal is justified (1). The Deontology Theory as explained by Kant is a matter of duty (Lacewing 1). As such it was the duty of the operators to ensure that the red signal is observed and that at no time should there be an accident that would jeopardize lives of passengers. It is the moral duty for the operators to perform their duty to the latter in the right manner (Lacewing 1). On the other hand, Ethical Egoism contradicts the judgment created on the basis of the deontology theory. Questions may arise whether or not the train operators were dealing with personal issues that made them miss the red signal. In such a case, their actions are justified by the theory of Ethical Egoism. The theory of Ethical Egoism allows each person to pursue things according to their liking and hence according to own self-interest exclusively (Rachels 65).

The Existentialist Theory conforms to the Deontology Theory on this subject matter. The existentialist theory makes the two operators guilty or bad (Greene 1). According to Greene, though every human being should experience freedom, they also should take full responsibilities for others (1). As such the train operators should have taken better care to observe the red signal knowing that their job reduces the risk of trains being involved in an accident and especially human beings should not suffer from their negligence.

The safety siding was, however, functioning well and prevented the train from entering the main line. Important to note is that the automatic train stop device that could have stopped the train was not available. Following this development, responsibility is seen as the cause of the accident. In this case, people responsible for ensuring that the automatic train stop device was working are questioned. Their action not to install or repair the automatic train stop device is based on the theory of Existentialist can be viewed as bad (Greene 1). The same conforms to the theory of Deontology. However, judging the train operators and the people charged with ensuring proper functionality of the automatic train stop device, it cannot be assumed that their action were wrong. As such, the Deontology Theory is undermined by the intentions of the adversaries (Lacewing 1). The Deontology Theory argues that we should not judge an action without reference to the intention of that action (Lacewing 1). The train, however, landed in the safety siding which can always be attributed to the theory of existentialist as good (Greene 1). In another context, the Theory of Utilitarianism takes into consideration the safety side as a good move to maximize goodness. The Theory of Utilitarianism argues that the facts about a subject right or wrong actions are accorded to the overall goal to maximize well-being (Eggleston and Dale 452). As such, the safety side would have caused fewer casualties as compared to the fact that the train would have had a collision with a passenger train in the main line. Such a collision would claim many lives in each train.

Further, although the train landed in the safety siding, the train was traveling at high speed and could not stop. It, therefore, derailed and blocked the down passenger line. After 10 seconds, the second collision of train 2117H and the freight train occurred. With the safety of the siding, only 25 people were injured saving lives and minimizing the overall damage which conforms to the Utilitarianism Theory (Eggleston and Dale 452).

A third collision followed which was more devastating. The magnitude of accident would have however been reduced if the operators were not too busy responding to their managers. Passengers opened the emergency door and were walking to the station when the next inbound train 2000H collided, running over people, smashing the first car of the train 2000H and derailing the second through to fourth cars. The departure of the train could have however being delayed of the situation by the stationmaster, but this was not the case since time was wasted in a while relaying information. In this scenario, operators have linked again to the cause of the accident. However, their actions are justified based on the Deontology Theory. The general reaction of the operators was based on their duty to communicate with the stationmaster on the current demanding situation (Lacewing 1).

Their action is also justified in accordance with the general conduct required by an organization in reporting cases that warrant great attention. In addition, the Ethical Egoism Theory allows the operators to conduct themselves in the manner they did. It can be presumed that the operators had a duty to the master station, to keep them informed on any development on the railway tracks. As such, the operators were thinking of themselves and their duty and possibly they would get to keep their jobs (Rachels 65). However, their actions are highly criticized based on the theory of Existentialist. According to Existentialist Theory, the operators should have concentrated on the passengers safety rather than their own needs (Greene 1). The action of the operators was also against the Utilitarianism Theory. Operators should have overlooked the consequences would follow in case attention and guidance were not given to the passengers (Eggleston and Dale 453).

It cannot be refuted that the passengers could have also been the cause of the accident. The passengers opened the emergency door and walked on the railway tracks on their way to the station. First of all, the passengers were reacting to the traumatizing scenario and out of common sense had to flee. However, according to the Cultural Relativism Theory, a culture group should be judged according to their cultural values (Rosado 4). It can be presumed that the passengers are familiar with the fact that railway tracks are meant for trains given the existence of trains in the locality. As such, a culture of keeping of the tracks should have been emphasized. Cultural Relativism can however not limit the passengers course of action, given the disturbing experience after the first collision.

Immediate Action

Many considerations should be provided before the direct cause of the accident can be determined and favorable immediate actions given.


Two main countermeasures were developed following the accident. The first one was installing an automatic train stop device (ATS) on all Japanese National Railways. The purpose of ATS is to stop the train by automatically activating the brakes wherever a train passes through the red signal. The other countermeasure was achieved by adjusting the operation policy of railway. This was achieved by adjusting the only stop the train when it is necessary to stop the train immediately when any magnitude of accident occurs. Also, a radio communication system was installed in the trains to facilitate communication between the train operators and the stationmaster.


The collision between the outbound passenger train and the freight train derailed following missing of the red signal was unavoidable. However, the multiple-train collision was as a result of the failure of the railway crew to stop train 2000H from departing. The 5 minutes window between the second and the third collision would have been enough for the railway crew to stop train 2000H and hence stop the collision.

Additionally, the safety plan impaired the ability for the signal operators to stop the trains given the risk involved. It is also presumed that the railway crew was not well trained to curb the situation.


Priority should be given to stop traffic when an accident occurs on the scale of the accident is established.

Training of operators in dealing with an emergency should be emphasized and their discretion in dealing with the emergency obtained.

Although a railway operation policy of stop the train immediately when any magnitude of accident occurs was formulated following the Mikawashima accident, the same policy contributed to a train fire accident ten years after. The accident occurred when a passenger train stopped in Hokuriku Tunnel in response to an emergency. As a result, proper training of operators should provide them with a prejudged decision in response to the circumstances provided rather than as highlighted in any given manual or guidelines.


A similar multiple train collision occurred on October 26, 1943, at 18:40. The accident occurred near Tsuchiura South Signal Box on Joban line at Tsuchuira Station. Although not much was reported because it happened during the period of war, Mikawashima accident would have been prevented by improving the safety plan response to Tsuchiura accident. The Tsuchiura accident was aggravated by lack of emergency doors though they were later installed following the train fire on Keihin-Tohoku...

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