Driver of bullet train nods off at 170mph

Audrey McAvoy
Friday 28 February 2003 01:00 GMT

The driver of a bullet train in Japan is under investigation after falling asleep for nearly ten minutes at the helm. The train was travelling at 170mph with 800 passengers on board.

No one was hurt in the incident because the train was on autopilot at the time.

A spokesman for West Japan Railway, the operating company, said they were investigating why the driver fell asleep. "We are very shocked," said Kosuke Sugiyama. "Our business is all about passengers trusting us enough to travel on our trains."

Railway staff became suspicious when the train pulled into Okayama station, about 90 miles east of Hiroshima. It came to a halt about 100 metres before it was supposed to, leaving rear carriages outside the station.

They inspected the driver's car and found him asleep in his chair, according to a source at West Japan Railway. Staff knocked on the window but he continued to sleep. Eventually the conductor went inside the compartment and woke him up.

The driver, 33, told his superiors that he "had no memory" of what happened for a period of about eight minutes until he woke up.

A West Japan Railway spokesman said the driver had plenty of sleep and had not been drinking alcohol.

Police said the driver was under investigation for possible violations of the railway law and for causing danger due to professional negligence while driving.

Mr Sugiyama said this was the first time on record that someone had fallen asleep while driving a bullet train. The train was on autopilot at the time. Drivers normally take over and steer the train manually in the final stretch to a station.

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