Taiwan train crash kills at least 50 people, leaves dozens injured
By Max Burman and Reuters
At least 50 people were killed and dozens more injured when a train derailed while partially inside a tunnel in Taiwan on Friday.
The National Fire Service confirmed the death toll and said 66 people had been sent to hospital as the island faced its worst rail disaster in decades. It earlier said 51 people had been confirmed dead.
The train’s young, newly married driver and the assistant driver were among the dead, the National Fire Service said.
“Many people were crushed under train seats in the collision. And there were other people on top of the seats. So those at the bottom were pressed and crushed and lost consciousness,” a passenger with gauze taped to her elbow told Taiwanese broadcaster EBC, which did not show her face or give her name.
“At the beginning, they still responded when we called them. But I guess they lost consciousness afterward.”
Taiwan’s Red Cross said it was helping to free passengers trapped in the crash.
“We will continue to do everything we can to ensure their safety in the wake of this heartbreaking incident,” Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen said on Twitter.
Images of the crash scene show some carriages ripped apart from the impact while others crumpled, hindering rescuers from reaching passengers.
Pictures showed passengers clambering out of windows and over the sides of the train to safety as rescue efforts continued at the crash site north of Hualien in eastern Taiwan.
The train had 8 carriages and was carrying around 350 people and was thought to include many tourists and people heading home at the start of a long holiday weekend, the fire department said.
The accident came on the first day of the annual Tomb Sweeping Festival, which lasts four days and sees people travel to their hometowns to pay respects at the graves of their ancestors and gather with family.
The Taroko express service traveling from the capital Taipei to the country’s southeast coast came off the rails while part of it was inside a tunnel, hitting the tunnel walls after apparently colliding with a truck that had slid off a road from a nearby construction site.
The official Central News Agency said the truck was suspected to have slid off the sloping road outside the tunnel and into the path of the train as its handbrake had not been engaged. The fire department showed a picture of what appeared to be the truck’s wreckage next to the derailed train.
“Our train crashed into a truck,” one man said in a video on Taiwan television that showed pictures of the wreckage. “The truck came falling down.”
Taiwan is a mountainous island where most of its 24 million people are squeezed onto flatlands along the northern and western coasts. The lightly populated east is popular with tourists, many of whom arrive along the coastal railway lines to avoid treacherous mountain roads.
The railway line from Taipei down the east coast is renowned for its tunnels and route that hugs the coast just north of Hualien where the crash occurred.
Taiwan’s extensive rail system has undergone substantial upgrades in recent years, particularly with the addition of a high-speed line connecting the capital Taipei with cities to the south.
The state-owned railways are generally reliable and efficient, but have had a patchy safety record over the years.
In 2018, 18 people died and 175 were injured when a train derailed in the island’s northeast. In 1981, 30 were killed in a collision in its north, while a train crash in 1991 killed 30.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.