A person has burst into flame on the high-speed bullet train between Tokyo and Osaka, causing at least two deaths and a number of injuries. All trains on the route were halted after the incident.
Japan Rail is characterising it as an apparent act of self-immolation. Police are investigating.
“We have been informed that there was a passenger in a car on the train who covered him or herself with oil and set it on fire,” a spokesperson for Japan Rail told French news agency AFP shortly after the incident.
The BBC reported later that a male passenger, said to have been aged 71, had suddenly poured fuel over himself in the first carriage of the train, produced a lighter and lit it. Most of the 1000 people aboard the train fled the smoke-filled carriages when the train made an emergency stop.
Officials have given no indication of the man’s motives but are said to be treating the incident as a bizarre suicide.
One unidentified witness said the man had been carrying a petrol container with a spray attached and had “sprayed liquid across the seats and then all over himself and then set himself on fire”.
Japan’s famous bullet train is the safest in the world and has not recorded a fatality since it started operation more than 50 years ago. While tragic, a passenger setting himself on fire is not classified as a railway accident – though how someone carrying a petrol can and spray equipment was allowed to board is a factor the police will no doubt investigate.
The other passenger who died, a woman, was reportedly found at the other end of the carriage and may have died from smoke inhalation.
The high-speed Nozomi shinkansen was travelling between Tokyo and Shin-Osaka on the Tokaido line when the incident occurred, according to Kyodo News.
Last year a man died after setting himself on fire in a park in central Tokyo, the BBC noted.
Written by Peter Needham