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Reuters/Kyodo News (Handout)

A passenger set himself on fire on a Japanese bullet train, causing two deaths and more than 20 injuries

By Svati Kirsten Narula

A 71 year-old man doused himself with kerosene and set himself afire on a speeding train south of Tokyo today, killing himself and one other passenger. More than twenty other people were hurt, suffering from burns and smoke inhalation.

The incident occurred in the first car of a Nozomi bullet train traveling from Tokyo to Osaka on Japan’s Shinkansen railway network, which has a top speed of 285 kph (177 mph). These were once the world’s fastest trains, and have long been considered the safest; there have been no fatal derailments or crashes in the line’s 50-year history, though fatal accidents have occurred and suicides are not uncommon—usually in the form of people jumping in front of trains or leaping from them at high speed.

Witnesses say the man had been acting strangely, pacing the car and trying to give away cash, before emptying a white plastic container of liquid on himself and some nearby seats. He was reportedly standing just outside the driver’s compartment. Fire spread quickly after he sparked a lighter, and passengers scrambled to move to the rear cars. Someone pushed an emergency stop button, halting the train on the tracks. Emergency responders attended to victims there before the train motored to the nearest station in Odawara, where all of its passengers got off. All trains between Tokyo and Nagoya were stopped for several hours.