Taiwan Train Derails in Tunnel, Killing at Least 36 People

It was the island’s deadliest railway accident in decades and reportedly happened after the train collided with a construction vehicle.,

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TAIPEI, Taiwan — A passenger train derailed in eastern Taiwan on Friday, killing at least 36 people and injuring 98 others, the authorities said, in the island’s deadliest railway accident in decades.

The eight-car Taroko Express train had been traveling from the Taipei area to the eastern coastal city of Taitung when it went off the rails around 9:30 a.m. in a tunnel just north of the city of Hualien. Several carriages hit the walls of the tunnel.

Rescue workers were trying to reach around 70 passengers who were still trapped in the wreck inside the tunnel, according to the Hualien County government.

The Taroko Express train is one of the fastest to traverse Taiwan’s east coast and typically travels at around 80 miles per hour. It had been carrying around 350 passengers at the time of the crash, the official Central News Agency said.

Friday was the start of the annual “Tomb Sweeping” holiday, a time when Taiwan sees a surge in travel. The crash occurred near Qingshui Cliff, a sightseeing destination popular among tourists who flock to see towering mountains and crystal-blue waters.

The death toll so far makes the train crash one of the worst disasters that Taiwan’s president, Tsai Ing-wen, has faced since she took office in 2016.

Within hours of the crash on Friday, Ms. Tsai said that the government had fully mobilized its emergency services to rescue and assist the passengers and railway staff affected.

“We will continue to do everything we can to ensure their safety in the wake of this heartbreaking accident,” she wrote on Twitter.

The authorities said they were still investigating the cause of the accident, but local news outlets reported that the train appeared to have collided with a construction vehicle, causing the derailment. Reports also said that the train driver had been killed, but that could not immediately be confirmed.

ImageA photograph released by the Taiwan Red Cross showing rescue workers in the tunnel.
A photograph released by the Taiwan Red Cross showing rescue workers in the tunnel.Credit…Taiwan Red Cross, via Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

A cellphone video filmed by a passenger and posted on social media showed what appeared to be a yellow trailer vehicle lying on its side next to the derailed train at the entrance to the tunnel.

“Our train crashed into this truck,” said the passenger in the video. He panned the camera to show a slope beside the tunnel. “The truck rolled down, and now the whole train is deformed.”

The police had taken in the operator of the construction vehicle for possible questioning, according to a police official in Hualien County who was reached by phone.

Most train services along Taiwan’s eastern routes have been suspended until Sunday morning.

Photos circulating online indicated the damage was likely severe. One image posted by United Daily News, a Taiwan news outlet, showed what appeared to be the train’s mangled control car on its side in the tunnel. The train’s conductor told a local television station that he had been on one end of the train when he felt what seemed like the emergency brakes being applied and a sudden jolt.

Other images and video footage showed passengers evacuating from the train as fire department and medical workers tried to enter the carriages inside the tunnel.

The island’s transportation minister, Lin Chia-lung, said in a statement on Facebook that he had ordered officials to set up a disaster response center and that he and other senior officials were rushing to the site of the accident.

In the last major train accident in 2018, 18 people were killed and 170 others injured after a train derailed in northeast Taiwan’s Yilan County on a coastal route popular among tourists.

Taiwanese investigators later found that the train had been going too fast and that the driver had manually disabled an automatic train protection system designed to prevent it from exceeding safe speeds.

But train accidents are still fairly rare in Taiwan, with the last crash of a similar scale taking place in 1981, when a train collision in Miaoli County, in the island’s northwest, killed 31 people.

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Local news media reported that the train appeared to have collided with a construction vehicle, causing the derailment.Credit…Formosa Television, via Reuters

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