Not exactly what you expect to happen at a railroad crossing with a gate.

If you read our series of articles about the process of getting a driver’s license in Japan without going to driving school, you might have noticed that there are some less-than-intuitive things they check for on the test. For example, even at controlled train crossings with a gate that comes down if a train is going to be going by, you’re required by law to come to a full stop, even if the gate is open. What’s more, the test administrators will mark you down if you don’t look both ways before proceeding, and if you don’t put your window down and listen for the sound of an approaching train while you’re doing this.

That might sound overly cautious, and even some Japanese people think it’s overkill. However, a recent incident that occurred in Osaka, seen in the video below, has reminded many people that all that “overkill” is better than being killed.

At around 6:30 in the morning on February 6, a car was stopped at a railroad crossing in the city’s Nishinari Ward, near Nishi Tengachaya Station on the Koya Line. When the fate went up, the car’s driver moved the vehicle forward, at the same time a train was passing through what was supposed to be a clear intersection.

Luckily, the driver of the train had noticed that something was amiss as the train approached the crossing and applied the emergency brake, slowing the train but not enough to stop it before it reached the intersection. Thought contact was made between the train and car, thankfully it wasn’t direct or forceful enough for a full-on-crash, and neither the car or train’s drivers, nor any of the 10 passengers on the train, suffered injuries.

▼ An alternate angle of the incident

The cause of the problem was determined to be a circuit breaker malfunction stemming from construction that had been carried out the previous night by Koya Line operator Nankai Electric Railway Co. to replace railroad ties at a site roughly 600 meters (1,969 feet) away from the intersection. Construction errors resulted in vibrations from passing trains adversely affecting the equipment’s ability to relay signals to the crossing gate, leading the gate to raise despite a train approaching. Nankai Electric Railway Co. has since corrected the issue, but doing so required stopping service on the line for some 10 hours.

▼ The crossing where the incident took place, from the perspective of the car’s driver

The startling videos have had online commenters thinking back to their driving school days and leaving comments including:

“Wait, that can actually happen?”
“They should include this in the videos they make you watch at driving school.”
“Now I get why they make such a big deal out of lowering your window and looking both ways.”
“I remember thinking ‘Why do I have to do that when there’s an automated gate?’, but this is the sort of thing they were warning us about.”
“You’d never expect that a train is going to be coming right as the gate goes up.”

Looking at the video, it’s not entirely clear how much or how little of the driving school-taught procedure the car’s driver followed, but it’s reminder that automated safety systems aren’t perfect, and so it’s always a good idea to be aware of your surroundings when behind the wheel, especially when there are much, much bigger vehicles possibly coming at you from the side.

Source: NHK News Web via Jin, Twitter/@nhk_bknews, YouTube/ANNnewsCH via Hachima Kiko
Top image: Pakutaso
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