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Last Updated: Monday, 26 December 2005, 03:01 GMT
Japanese train crash kills four
Derailed train
The crash happened in heavy snow and high winds
Four people died and 33 others were injured when an express train derailed in northern Japan and toppled over.

The first three carriages of the six-car express derailed at Shonai at 1920 (1020 GMT) as the train travelled in heavy winter winds.

Japan has seen some of its heaviest snow on record and the railway operator says bad weather may be to blame.

It is the second major train accident this year in a country once famed for its rail safety record.

The express train was travelling on a straight stretch of track through a rural area in Yamagata prefecture when it abruptly left the rails and ploughed into a farm building.

All four fatalities were at the front of the train. Rescuers were planning to lift the wreckage to find if there were more casualties trapped underneath.

Snow hazard

Winds of more than 70km/h were recorded in the area and experts say the wind may have got underneath the train as it crossed a bridge and lifted it from the tracks.

The train was travelling from Akita in the far north of Japan's main island to Niigata on the north-west coast.

Much of the area has been blanketed in snow in recent weeks and a heavy fall had delayed the train's departure by an hour.

A spokesman for the company, JR East, apologised for the accident and promised a full investigation.

In April a commuter train derailed and hit an apartment block in Amagasaki in western Japan, killing 107 people in the country's worst train accident for four decades.

The driver was suspected of exceeding the speed limit because he was running a few minutes behind schedule.

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