Shigaraki Train Disaster
The JR West special three-car train, 501D traveling from Kyoto to Shigaraki for The World Ceramic Festival, and the Shigaraki Kogen Railway (SKR) four-car railbus, 534D from Shigaraki to Kibugawa collided head-on between the Onodani Signal Station and the Shigarakinomiyaato Station. 42 people died and 614 were injured. Basic rules in the safety check procedures, which are the most critical in train operations, were neglected.
The accident happened at 10:35 (1:35 UTC) local time on May 14, 1991 on the SKR Shigaraki Line between Onotani Signal Station and Shigarakigūshi.
A special JR West rapid service train from Kyoto bound for Shigaraki had entered the Shigaraki Line at Kibukawa Station from the Kusatsu Line, transporting 716 passengers to the World Ceramic Festival that was being held in Shigaraki at the time.
Going in the opposite direction, an SKR local train had left Shigaraki and headed for Kibukawa, despite a red signal.
Onotani Signal Station was the only point on the single-track line where two trains can safely pass, but the JR West train had already gone past that signal station, as it was given a green signal despite the approaching SKR train.
The primary causes of the accidents were SKR officials allowing the eastbound SKR train to pass red signals and the failed interlocking that allowed the westbound JR West train to advance past Onotani Signal Station. Both SKR and JR West had independently made unauthorized modification to the signal system, which led to the confusion that prompted the SKR staff to send a train against a red signal, and the faulty wiring that showed the JR West train a green signal, when the approaching SKR train should have turned the signal to red.
SKR suspended passenger service while the Shiga Prefecture and Ministry of Transport conducted investigations, and service did not reopen until December 1991. When service resumed, the use of Onotani Signal Station as a passing point was discontinued. As a result, service frequency was reduced from twice an hour to once an hour, with operation in only one direction at any time.
JR West discontinued through train operations to the Shigaraki Line, while other Japan Railways Group companies similarly discontinued non-regular through train operations to private and Third Sector railway lines.
The World Ceramic Festival, which was to continue until May 26, was canceled the day following the accident.