Full-Day Suspension of Shinkansen Operations: Why Did It Take So Long to Restore Services?

Services on Shinkansen lines that are an important means of transportation to the Tohoku and Hokuriku regions were suspended for an entire day over a wide area. Why did it take so long to restore operations? Efforts must be made to investigate the cause and prevent a recurrence.

On the morning of Jan. 23, a power outage occurred while a Kagayaki Shinkansen train on the Hokuriku Shinkansen line — which started at Kanazawa Station for Tokyo Station — was passing through Saitama City, and the train made an emergency stop. As a result, services on the Tohoku, Joetsu and Hokuriku Shinkansen lines were canceled, and operations were suspended all day on both the inbound and outbound lines of the Tokyo-Sendai and the Tokyo-Takasaki sections.

The trouble affected 120,000 people, and about 350 passengers on the Kagayaki train were trapped in the cars for three hours after the emergency stop.

An overhead cable was hanging down nearby, pantographs on the train were damaged, and a train window was shattered. No passengers were injured, but just a single misstep could have resulted in a major accident.

East Japan Railway Co. (JR East) announced that the equipment supporting the overhead cables had been damaged. The train is believed to have come into contact with the overhead cable that had been dangling due to the damage. There is a possibility that the equipment had deteriorated with age.

The fact that two workers suffered burns when they were electrocuted during restoration work also cannot be overlooked.

Under what kind of system was the restoration work conducted? How was safety management carried out? As the accident involving the restoration workers became a factor that further delayed the resumption of services, it is essential for JR East to conduct a thorough investigation.

When there is a power outage in one location along a Shinkansen line, overhead cables in the surrounding areas also lose power. Since the Kagayaki train stopped at a point where the Tohoku, Joetsu and Hokuriku lines operate on the same set of tracks, the trouble hindered operations of other lines and resulted in a widespread suspension of services.

Among incidents on Shinkansen lines involving overhead cables, there was a case in which a bird came into contact with a pantograph. Rescue vehicles have been dispatched in the past alongside a stranded train to transport passengers. This time, however, no such measure was taken, and the stranded passengers walked along the tracks to a nearby station.

Efforts should be made to review the manuals for restoring operations and transporting passengers in the event of an accident or trouble on overcrowded sections of Shinkansen lines, among other measures. It will also be important to repeat training sessions so that operating companies can respond appropriately to emergencies.

It is hoped that they will take such steps as developing a system that can quickly detect abnormalities in overhead cables and other operating equipment.

During the entrance exam season, there should be many examinees who need to travel long distances by Shinkansen trains. The Hokuriku Shinkansen line also plays a role in transporting people who are going to support the areas affected by the Noto Peninsula Earthquake and people who are trying to vitalize the Hokuriku region through tourism.

The question is how to minimize the impact in the event of trouble.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Jan. 25, 2024)