Japan bullet train stops 'scary' safety drills

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Japan has one of the world's most reliable railways and is known for its Shinkansen bullet trains

A Japanese railway firm has stopped an unusual training drill that required employees to crouch in tunnels while trains rushed past to "feel" the wind speed.

The West Japan Railway said the exercises were designed to improve safety awareness.

Trainee mechanics observed the trains which can hit speeds of 300km per hour.

The move to stop the practice, in place since 2016, comes after rising union pressure.

Japan is known for its high-speed rail network where bullet trains, or Shinkansen, power across the country at hundreds of kilometres per hour.

Participants in the safety training would crouch down in a trench, in-between two sets of train tracks, as bullet trains whizzed by.

Squatting in the ditches - which are around one metre deep and one metre wide - allowed the workers to "feel" the strength of the winds generated by high-speed trains, a company spokesperson said.

Some 240 trainee mechanics had taken part in the drills, which could last up to 20 minutes.

The firm was moved to start the exercises after an incident in 2015 where a metal part fell off a train, and loose bolts were thought to be to blame.

The company said it wanted to "improve their worker's skills of car inspection" and safety awareness after the accident.

But pressure from train workers unions to stop the practice had mounted.

The West Japan Railway Workers Union said it called on the company to stop the program eight times since last year.

Members told the union of their fears of injury from debris and concerns about exposure to dust.

"I was worried that the ballasts (stones and sand on the tracks) could come flying at me and hit me," one member said.

"I could not understand why such training was conducted... ", another member reported to the union.

People who had taken part described the drills as "scary" and "just like a public flogging," according to Japanese media.

"The wind pressure was enormous. I felt as if I had been pressed down from above, and it was scary. I wonder what the meaning of such training is," the Mainichi newspaper reported one participant as saying.

But the railway company said its decision to stop the exercises was not a result of outside pressure.

It will continue the drills from a new vantage point - employees will now observe the trains from outside the tunnel, behind a fence.

A spokesperson said the new sites were found "to be more effective for the training".

Reporting by BBC's Haruka Tsuboi in Tokyo