Reevaluate evacuation procedures to protect passengers from train attacks

Another incident has occurred in which passengers were attacked on a train where there was no place to flee. How can the lives of passengers be protected? Each railway company needs to reconfirm their emergency response procedures.

The incident took place on the night of Oct. 31. A man stabbed a passenger in the chest with a knife on a Keio Line train passing through Chofu, Tokyo, then scattered lighter fluid near the seat and set it on fire. Seventeen passengers were taken to the hospital.

The Metropolitan Police Department arrested a 24-year-old man at the scene, on suspicion of attempted murder. The man was quoted by investigators as saying: “I failed at work and my relationships with friends weren’t going well. I wanted to kill someone and be given the death penalty.” The entire picture of the incident should be clarified.

The incident took place on Halloween. The man also reportedly said that he thought “there would be a lot of people on board.” At first, some passengers mistook his actions for a prank. The situation can be said to have made it difficult for people around him to realize his behavior was not normal.

Passengers panicked as flames flared inside the car. Someone pressed an emergency call button as the train was traveling along, and the train made an emergency stop at the next station.

Because the train doors and platform doors were out of alignment, the driver tried to move the train forward. However, because a passenger used the emergency door handle in an attempt to open the train doors, the driver could not move the train and the misalignment could not be corrected.

The train crew decided not to open the train and platform doors to prevent passengers from falling. The passengers opened the windows, climbed over the platform doors and escaped out of the cars. It would not have been easy for the elderly or women to do so.

Emergency equipment ultimately failed to function effectively in a critical situation. Weren’t there any problems with the placement of station staff to help passengers evacuate or with the emergency response measures?

It is essential for Keio Corp., the operator of the railway service, to thoroughly examine the incident. Other railway companies also should reconfirm their procedures for evacuating passengers in case of an emergency.

There has been no end to incidents in which passengers have been attacked on trains.

In June 2018, an attacker killed a man and injured two women with a machete on a bullet train on the Tokaido Shinkansen line. In August this year as well, a man wielding a knife on an Odakyu Line train injured 10 passengers.

The man arrested in the Keio Line incident allegedly told investigators that he drew on the Odakyu incident. The Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry has instructed railway companies to heighten their vigilance at stations and inside train cars.

A system is being developed that uses security cameras and artificial intelligence to quickly detect suspicious behavior. It is difficult to completely prevent crimes like this, but railway companies must think hard about how to apply to their countermeasures the lessons learned from the recent string of incidents.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Nov. 3, 2021.