A Taiwan express train carrying nearly 500 people left the tracks as it passed through a tunnel (2) on Friday, killing at least 50 people. Another 146 people were injured in the crash, already considered the island’s biggest rail disaster in decades.
The results, published by the Taiwan National Fire Agency, are still provisional.
The tragedy took place north of the city of Hualien on the east coast of Taiwan, a tourist region. Tourists, the train driver and returning passengers were killed for the start of a long, traditional feast, during which it is customary to tend the graves of family members.
Local press claims several people were traveling on foot as the train was overbooked which made the impact even greater – passengers were violently thrown at the time of the crash.
At the scene of the accident, Transport Minister Lin Chia-lung said the train was carrying around 490 people, more than 350 firefighters initially reported.
Pictures show cars destroyed by the impact and other parts of the train were dented, making it difficult for rescuers to help the injured, although by mid-afternoon local time it was not ‘there were more stranded passengers. “People fell on top of each other,” one survivor told local television. “It was scary. There were whole families there.”
The train, which was traveling from the capital Taipei to the island’s southern city of Taitung, is believed to have derailed after colliding with a truck that left a construction site in the area and slipped on a slippery road. According to the Central News Agency, a state vehicle, the police took away the driver to clarify the accident.
“There was a construction vehicle that was not parked properly and slipped on the train tracks,” Haiien County Police Chief Tsai Ding-hsien told reporters. “This is our first conclusion and we are trying to clarify the cause of the accident,” he added.
Passengers in the back of the train, meanwhile, managed to escape the crash relatively unscathed. “I felt a sudden, violent shake and fell to the ground,” a woman told a television station. “We broke the window to get on the roof of the train and get out.”
Taiwan’s mountainous east coast is a popular tourist destination. The railway that winds the coast passes through several tunnels. The link with Taipei was opened in 1979. The island’s railways are generally considered reliable and efficient, but have had an uneven safety record over the years.
In 2018, 18 people died and 175 were injured in a train derailment in northeast Taiwan. In 1981, 30 died in a collision in the north. Another train crash in 1991 killed 30 people. According to Hong Kong’s Apple Daily, the island’s worst accident dates back to 1948, with 64 deaths.
The most recent accident with a higher death toll than this Friday occurred on October 31, 2019, in Pakistan, where a train fire in Punyab province left at least 74 dead.