Last Bodies Pulled From Train

Heavy machinery removes the wreckage as the front car of a commuter train crashing into an apartment complex appears in Amagasaki, western Japan, Thursday, April 28, 2005, three days after its derailment. AP Photo/Kyodo News

Rescue workers on Thursday pulled from the wreckage of Japan's worst train disaster in decades the uniformed body of the 23-year-old driver who is at the center of the crash investigation, bringing the death toll to 106.

Ryujiro Takami was 90 seconds behind schedule, and railway union leaders said Thursday that fear of punishment might have driven him to speed to make up for lost time, leading to Monday's crash in Amagasaki, about 250 miles west of Tokyo.

Japan's transport minister suggested that the government should more tightly regulate driver training and certification.

"I wonder if we should be leaving driver qualification to train operators," Kazuo Kitagawa told reporters. "Perhaps the government needs to be more actively involved in driver qualification and training."

Currently, aircraft pilots and ship captains must pass state exams to operate commercial flights and vessels, but there is no state exam to officially certify train drivers, according to Transport Ministry official Yoshihito Maesato.

Rescue workers, meanwhile, called off the search for bodies inside the train's wreckage, but will continue to scour the surrounding area for victims, officials said.

Rescuers said Tuesday that they believed a teenager extracted from the wreckage that day was the last one alive. They pulled out eight bodies Thursday, fire department officials said.

Workers will now begin moving the wrecked cars from the site, a local fire department official said on condition of anonymity.

Still, relatives of about 30 people held out hope that cleanup crews might still find more bodies, awaiting word at a city-run gymnasium being used as a temporary morgue.

Authorities probing the accident have searched the offices of the train's operator, West Japan Railway Co., over allegations of professional negligence. Investigators were also examining the train's "black box," a computer chip that stores information about the train's speed.

Makoto Kono of Hyogo Prefectural Police said that a body pulled from the first car of the wreck had been identified as Takami. He was clothed in his uniform.

Takami got his train operator's license in May 2004. One month later, he overran a station and was issued a warning for his mistake, railway officials and police said.
  • Francie Grace

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