Japanese railway workers check an overpass, keeping it safe for the "bullet train" below. (Kyodo)
Leaving over 100 people dead, the June 3, 1998, derailing of a German Intercity Express (ICE) high-speed passenger train gave quite a shock to railway authorities in Japan. Particularly shaken were Japan Railway (JR) companies, which operate their Shinkansen super-express trains (often called "bullet trains") at speeds of 200 to 300 kilometers (125 to 185 miles) per hour, on schedules timed down to the minute. Emergency inspections are being conducted on all Shinkansen trains and detailed information on the cause of the ICE crash is being compiled by these companies to help ensure future safety.
Immediate Inspection of Trains, Crossings
The ICE accident occurred when the train was traveling at 200 kph (125 mph). All cars except for the lead engine derailed, smashing into the concrete supports of an overpass and coming to rest in a mangled heap. A broken wheel on the first passenger car has been fingered as the direct cause of the accident. News of the catastrophe was taken very seriously by JR companies, which immediately implemented safety checks on their railways, conducting complete inspections of all Shinkansen cars and elevated crossings. Japan's Shinkansen trains began operation in 1964. In over 30 years of operations, the Shinkansen have recorded no fatal accidents among their more than 3 billion passengers. This legendary safety is supported by a multi-layered inspection and operation system. Regular inspections of the wheels, axles, chassis, and other parts keep trains in good working condition. There are four levels of inspection: those conducted every 2 days, every 30 days or 30,000 kilometers' (18,500 miles') traveling distance, once a year or every 450,000 kilometers (280,000 miles), and every three years or 900,000 kilometers (560,000 miles). Trains are inspected visually and by using ultrasonic and magnetic techniques to check...