Japan Railway companies are establishing emergency escape routes for passengers and strengthening communications, saying at least 653 kilometers of tracks over 31 routes are at risk of being submerged by tsunami.
The companies have been reviewing expected tsunami damage to their lines since the Great East Japan Earthquake on March 11 last year spawned a tsunami that submerged many trains in the northeastern Tohoku region. All passengers were evacuated from the trains before the waves hit, but many were lucky.
According to six JR companies, 432 km of lines at risk of tsunami are within the service area of East Japan Railway Co. But the areas in danger are expected to expand when the operators update their projections.
In JR East’s service area, the tsunami last year affected 400 km of railway tracks, although no damage had been expected for 195 km.
Central Japan Railway Co. (JR Tokai) revised its standards to project tsunami damage in December. The at-risk areas increased from 36 km to 80 km because the previous standards only covered areas where tracks were expected to be submerged for 50 cm or more.
JR East, together with local governments, has set up escape routes at 72 locations along the Hachinohe Line, which links southern Aomori Prefecture and northern Iwate Prefecture. The escape routes, which lead to higher ground, are the first set up by a JR company.
The tsunami affected 37 km, or 60 percent of the Hachinohe Line. A 31-km section reopened on March 17 after a one-year suspension.
An escape route near Uge Station in Hirono, Iwate Prefecture, consists of an 18-meter column of stairs from the tracks and a 128-meter gravel road that reaches higher ground.
“The Great East Japan Earthquake has brought home the importance of evacuating passengers as early as possible,” a JR East official said.
JR Tokai and West Japan Railway Co. have put up signs marking escape routes along the tracks of the Kisei Line, which runs in Mie and Wakayama prefectures.
The Great East Japan Earthquake also underscored the importance of securing a means of communication in times of disaster.
The earthquake stopped a four-car train at Shinchi Station in Fukushima Prefecture. With cellphone and radio connections cut off, a passenger learned on a mobile TV program that a tsunami warning had been issued.
The train was swallowed by the tsunami soon after the 43 people aboard evacuated on the instructions of crew and two policemen who happened to be aboard.
The transport ministry has called on railway operators to equip crew with multiple means of communication, such as radios.
JR Tokai has installed portable radios with power-generating functions on all trains. JR West has required crew working in tsunami-prone sections to carry radios.
JR companies project tsunami damage based on hazard maps prepared by local governments along railway lines.
According to the transport ministry, 40 percent of local governments along the coast have yet to prepare those maps. The areas where damage is expected will likely expand if these municipalities draw up their hazard maps.
In March, a government panel released new projections for tsunami from a powerful earthquake along the Nankai Trough, an oceanic trench that stretches off Japan’s Pacific Coast.
JR companies have been forced to review expected damage from a strong tsunami emerging from that temblor.
- « Prev
- Next »