Photo/IllutrationThe scorched roof of the train car after the freak accident Sept. 10 (Shingo Kuzutani)

  • Photo/Illustraion

Standard precautions to ensure passenger safety in the event of an emergency on rail tracks backfired when a train was forced to halt close to a burning building, and then caught fire.

The freak accident that halted operations on Odakyu Electric Railway Co.'s Odawara Line in Tokyo's Shibuya Ward on Sept. 10 was triggered by a blaze that broke out in a building that doubles as a boxing gym and dormitory for boxers right next to the tracks.

According to the railway operator and the Metropolitan Police Department, the first report of the fire in the Yoyogi 5-chome district reached the fire department at 4:06 p.m.

Firefighters at the site asked a police officer to stop trains while they tried to contain the blaze. The police officer activated the emergency stop button at a nearby railroad crossing about five minutes after the initial report of the fire.

All oncoming trains came to an emergency stop. The eight-car train in question was bound for Shinjuku Station, and became stationary just 3 meters from the blazing building.

In the event of a fire along rail tracks, Odakyu Electric's guidelines stipulate that the driver or the conductor must make sure to stop the train at a safe location.

In this incident, the driver noticed white smoke billowing, but did not realize there was a fire.

The driver assumed the emergency stop button had been activated due to a problem at the crossing.

When the driver disembarked from the train to check, he realized for the first time that the building next to the tracks was on fire.

The driver returned to his cabin, and manually lifted the emergency mode, and contacted Odakyu Electric's command center to ask for permission to restart the train.

The train was on the move eight minutes after it came to a stop. But by that time, the roof of the second car had caught fire.

The train crawled forward for 120 meters or so, and ground to a halt again after firefighters alerted the driver about the fire on the roof so the 300 passengers could spill out safely onto the tracks.

There were no injuries.

The intense heat caused the urethane resin overcoat, which was painted to insulate stainless steel cars from electrical components, to ignite.

The resin is mixed with flame retardant agent, but was no match for the immense heat.

(This article was written by Odaka Chiba and Kensuke Abe.)