Train Crashes in Eastern Taiwan, Killing 36, Injuring Dozens

TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) -
The train which derailed in a tunnel north of Hualien, Taiwan, Friday. (FACEBOOK @HUALIENFASTNEWS via REUTERS)

A vehicle rolled down a hill and smashed into a passing train, partially derailing it outside a rail tunnel in Taiwan and killing at least 36 people and injuring dozens. Survivors climbed out windows and onto roofs to reach safety in Taiwan’s deadliest railway disaster.

Officials in Hualien county said rescue efforts were continuing on the train that officials said was carrying more than 400 people. The crash occurred early on a public weekend along Taiwan’s extensive rail system that’s popular with people avoiding treacherous mountainous roads.

Most other people on the train have been rescued though emergency personnel were searching wrecked cars for “several people” who may be stuck in awkward places, railways news officer Weng Hui-ping said. He said the 36 confirmed dead was Taiwan’s deadliest railway disaster.

Weng said a construction site truck operated by the railway administration slid onto the track from a work site on the hillside above. The truck was off duty at the time. He said the speed of the train was uncertain when the vehicle crashed into it at 9:28 a.m. near the Toroko Gorge scenic area.

The train had only partially emerged from the tunnel, and with much of it still inside, escaping passengers were forced to scale doors, windows and roofs to reach safety.

Media footage and photos posted from the scene on the website of the official Central News Agency showed people climbing out the open door of a rail-car just outside the entrance to the tunnel. The inside of one car was pushed all the way into the adjacent seat.

In a tweet, Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen said emergency services “have been fully mobilized to rescue & assist the passengers & railway staff affected. We will continue to do everything we can to ensure their safety in the wake of this heartbreaking incident.”

Taiwanese Premier Su Tseng-chang said the Railways Administration would be required to immediately conduct checks along other track line to “prevent this from happening again.”

About 50 volunteers from the Tzu Chi Buddhist Foundation stationed at an aid tent near the crash site said children were among the dozens who escaped the train cars so far. They were treating minor wounds and offering lunches.

“We see people coming off the train and they look shaken and nervous,” said Chen Tzu-chong, at Tzu Chi team leader on site.

Taiwan’s last major rail crash was in October 2018 when an express train derailed while rounding a tight corner on the northeast coast, killing at least 18 people and injuring nearly 200.

In 1991, a collision in western Taiwan killed 30 people and another accident a decade earlier had also killed 30. Those were said to the worst previous crashes on the railway system that dates from the late 19th century.

Taiwan is a mountainous island where most of its 24 million people are squeezed onto flatlands along the northern and western coasts that is home to most of the island’s farmland, biggest cities and high-tech industries. The lightly populated east is popular with tourists, many of whom arrive along the coastal railway lines to avoid mountain roads.

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 west coast cities to the south.

The train involved in Friday’s accident, the Toroko No. 408, is one of Taiwan’s newer models and requires tickets to be reserved in advance with no standing allowed.