OSAKA--West Japan Railway Co. will suspend a training program in which employees are made to crouch in a dark tunnel buffeted by the winds of a Shinkansen whizzing by overhead.

The program, introduced in February 2016, was intended to raise safety awareness among employees in charge of car inspections.

However, JR West decided to relocate the training site after one of its labor unions insisted the practice was risky.

Tatsuo Kijima, president of JR West, said Oct. 24 that trainees will observe an operating Shinkansen from behind a fence next to a track outside a tunnel from November.

“We have been paying due attention to safety, and the program itself is necessary,” he said. “We will make further efforts to improve safety awareness and skills of car inspection technicians.”

According to JR West, car inspection workers crouched inside an underground maintenance path 1 meter deep and 1 meter wide between the two tracks so they could “feel” the strength of the winds that a Shinkansen generates and the speed of the bullet train.

To ensure their safety, the trainees wore hard hats and protective goggles and were accompanied by track maintenance workers.

JR West said it decided to change the training site because procedures necessary to conduct the program in a tunnel and ensure safety are time-consuming.

The company also said it wants trainees to visually check undercarriages and pantographs in the bright light as part of the program after a bullet train with a cracked undercarriage continued operations in December.

The training program started after a passenger was injured when an aluminum cover fell from a Shinkansen in a tunnel in Fukuoka Prefecture in August 2015.

One of the causes is believed to have been loose bolts that hold the cover in place.

The training mainly targeted officials of JR West's Hakata Sogo Sharyosho rail yard and was held on 29 occasions, with 240 workers participating in total.

In the April 2016 issue of the rail yard's bulletin featuring a photo of the training, one worker shares an impression of the experience, saying, “I felt fear, with the train running at 300 kph.”

The West Japan Railway Workers Union, one of the unions for JR West employees, called on the company to abolish the program on Oct. 18, its eighth such request since last year.

“Exposing employees to danger is a problem,” said a senior union official. “Workers have been forced to undergo the training program as a sort of punishment for the accident.”

While Central Japan Railway Co. allows trainees to watch a passing Shinkansen from behind a fence next to a track outside a tunnel, East Japan Railway Co. and Kyushu Railway Co. have employees observe the bullet train in operation from platforms of stations where trains do not stop.