TOKYO (AP) _ Tokyo police are considering women-only rail cars to protect female riders from groping on crowded trains and subways.

Katsuo Hamano, the deputy chief of the Ueno Police Department in central Tokyo, suggested the sexually segregated cars as a way to prevent unwelcome fondling on Tokyo's packed commuter trains.

``We can only mete out punishment if the incident is reported, but there are many women who won't report it because of shame or fear. We need a countermeasure for them,'' he said.

Violent crime is relatively rare in Japan, but groping _ ranging from rubbing up against a victim to thrusting a hand under her clothing _ is an everyday occurrence, especially on packed commuter trains.

A women's group in Osaka, Japan's second-largest city, said three-quarters of women in their 20s and 30s who responded to a 1994 questionnaire reported encountering a groper at least once. The victims said that fellow passengers, even if they were aware of what was going on, almost never intervened.

Women's groups in the past have urged creation of women-only cars to address the problem. Police and officials from train and subway companies are now considering the idea, although they have no plans yet for implementing it, Tokyo police said.

The Chuo subway line in Tokyo experimented more than 10 years ago with a car just for women, Hamano said. Subway directors abandoned the idea because women said it wasn't worth the long walk down a subway platform to board the special car, he said.