Huge death toll as packed train derails
At least 51 people have died after a packed train derailed in a tunnel in eastern Taiwan on Friday.
The train, carrying about 480 passengers, reportedly hit a maintenance truck in what has been described as the island’s worst rail disaster in at least four decades.
Another 146 passengers were hospitalised in addition to the 51 confirmed dead, according to the Taiwan Railways Agency.
A French national was among those killed while two Japanese passengers and a Macau resident were injured.
Local police said the truck slid down an embankment and struck the train before it entered the tunnel, however this is still being investigated. Rescuers scrambled to reach those trapped inside, while others crawled out of windows to safety.
The eight-carriage express train was travelling from Taipei to Taitung, carrying tourists at the start of a long weekend, when it came off the rails north of Hualien in eastern Taiwan at about 9.30am local time, Taiwan’s transportation ministry said.
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President Tsai Ing-wen’s office said she had ordered hospitals to prepare for a mass casualty event.
“In response to a train derailment in Hualien, Taiwan, our emergency services have been fully mobilised to rescue and assist the passengers and railway staff affected,” she said in a Twitter post on Friday.
“We will continue to do everything we can to ensure their safety in the wake of this heartbreaking incident.”
According to local news website UDN, the train driver is among those dead, with images showing the front of the train inside the tunnel had been pulverised into a twisted mesh of metal.
Other images of the scene showed the back of a yellow flatbed truck on its side next to the train.
“There was a construction vehicle that didn’t park properly and slid onto the rail track,” Hualien county police chief Tsai Ding-hsien told reporters.
“This is our initial understanding and we are clarifying the cause of the incident,” he added.
Feng Hui-sheng, deputy director of Taiwan Railways Authority, told reporters that the driver “was suspected of not pulling the parking brake tight enough so the vehicle slid 20 metres … onto the train line.”
Another live broadcast by UDN outside the tunnel showed at least two undamaged train carriages with rescuers helping passengers escape.
“It felt like there was a sudden violent jolt and I found myself falling to the floor,” an unidentified female survivor told the network.
“We broke the window to climb to the roof of the train to get out.”
One unnamed female survivor told TVBS news channel that trapped passengers could be heard crying out for help while others were unconscious.
“There were many people pressed under the seats and others on top of those seats too,” she said.
Local authorities are trying to manage traffic with the accident having occurred at the start of the busy annual Tomb Sweeping Festival — a long holiday weekend when Taiwan’s roads and railways are usually packed.
The crash is set to be one of Taiwan’s worst railway accidents in recent decades.
The last major train derailment in Taiwan was in 2018 and left 18 people dead at the southern end of the same line.
Another crash in 1991, saw 30 passengers killed and 112 injured after two trains collided in Miaoli.
Thirty were also killed in 1981 after a truck collided with a passenger train at a level crossing and sent coaches over a bridge in Hsinchu.
– with AFP