Sakuragichō Train Fire

A disastrous train fire occurred at the Sakuragi-cho Station on the Keihin-Tohoku line when a MOHA-63 train touched a sagging overhead wire and sparks caused a fire, killing 106 and injuring 92 passengers trapped in the railcars.

Although the direct cause of the train fire was a stringing construction accident, heavy casualties were due to the train operators' inadvertent control input. The passengers were trapped inside the railcars because the operators deactivated the pantograph, locking all doors, and the window structures did not permit evacuation (the middle panel of the three-panel window was fixed to the frame).

This train fire at Sakuragicho Station (Yokohama) on the Keihin Line happened when a short circuit occurred in the overhead catenary during power maintenance work. The electric sparks set fire to an arriving train and the conflagration spread quickly to take the lives of 106 people and leave another 92 injured. Although the faulty overhead maintenance work was the initiating factor, the high death toll was aggravated by use of highly flammable materials and poor design conforming to low wartime standards. To save the cost of glass, the windows were too small to escape from and there was no through passage along the length of the train. Finally, the electrically operated doors could not be opened when the power had been cut.

On the day in question maintenance crews were renewing the insulators of the overhead wires when at 13:38 a hanging wire (from which the contact wire is suspended) was accidentally cut allowing the contact wire to hang down. Four minutes later a 5-car MOHA-63 train approached from Yokohama station and changed lines 50 metres before Sakuragichō but the pantograph of the leading carriage became tangled in the hanging contact wire. The driver attempted to lower the pantograph but it fell sideways and hit the wooden carriage causing sparks which started a fire on the roof which rapidly spread to the rest of the carriage.

The 150 people travelling in the carriage were unable to open the electrically operated doors. The connecting door to the second carriage only opened inwards, impossible with the crowd of panicking passenger inside. Finally the windows in the carriage were too small to escape through. They were therefore trapped; the first car which was constructed right after the war of combustible materials was completely consumed within ten minutes, killing 106 and injuring 92 more.