51 killed; 146 injured | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, April 03, 2021 / LAST MODIFIED: 01:13 AM, April 03, 2021

Railway tragedy in Taiwan

51 killed; 146 injured

At least 51 people were killed in Taiwan yesterday when a packed train collided with a vehicle on the tracks and then derailed inside a tunnel, in the island's worst railway accident in decades. 

Officials said the devastating collision was caused by a railway maintenance vehicle which slipped down an embankment above the tracks near the eastern coastal city of Hualien.

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"(The driver) was suspected of not pulling the parking brake tight enough so the vehicle slid 20 meters... onto the train line," Feng Hui-sheng, deputy director of Taiwan Railways Authority, told reporters.

Local media images from the scene showed the back of a yellow flatbed truck on its side next to the train just a few metres from the tunnel entrance.

The accident occurred on Taiwan's eastern railway line around 9:30 am (0130 GMT).

The eight-carriage train was packed with some 480 people heading down the east coast for the annual Tomb Sweeping Festival, a four-day public holiday.

The Taiwan Railways Agency said 146 passengers were sent to hospital in addition to the 51 confirmed dead.

A French national was among those killed while two Japanese and one Macau resident were injured.

One unnamed female survivor told TVBS news channel of trapped passengers -- some crying out for help, others unconscious.

"There were many people pressed under the seats and others on top of those seats too," she said.

President Tsai Ing-wen visited an emergency response centre in the capital Taipei, and said investigators would get to the bottom of how such a deadly crash could have occurred.

Pictures published by local newspaper UDN showed the front of the train inside the tunnel had been pulverised into a twisted mesh of metal.

Rescuers worked for hours to reach those trapped inside the tunnel and haul them out, using buzzsaws to slice through warped sheets of metal.

Footage released by the Taiwan Red Cross showed specialists with helmets and headlights had to use the roof of the stricken train to reach people inside the narrow single-track tunnel.

By mid-afternoon, officials said there were no people left inside the carriages but dozens of rescuers remained on site as evening set in, according to AFP reporters at the crash scene.

The annual Tomb Sweeping Festival is an especially busy time of the year for Taiwan's roads and railways. During the festival, people return to ancestral villages to tidy up the graves of their relatives and make offerings.

Friday's crash looks set to be one of Taiwan's worst railway accidents on record.

The last major train derailment in Taiwan was in 2018 and left 18 people dead at the southern end of the same line. The Apple Daily newspaper said the island's worst crash was in 1948 when 64 died. Another crash in 1961 killed 48, while a 1978 crash left 41 dead.   

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