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Agencies
April 3, 2021

51 people killed in Taiwan rail crash

Top Story

A
Agencies
April 3, 2021

HUALIEN, Taiwan: At least 51 people were killed in Taiwan on Friday when a packed train collided with a vehicle on the tracks and then derailed inside a tunnel, in the island's worst railway accident in decades. Officials said the devastating collision was caused by a railway maintenance vehicle which slipped down an embankment above the tracks near the eastern coastal city of Hualien.

"(The driver) was suspected of not pulling the parking brake tight enough so the vehicle slid 20 meters... onto the train line," Feng Hui-sheng, deputy director of Taiwan Railways Authority, told reporters.

Local media images from the scene showed the back of a yellow flatbed truck on its side next to the train just a few metres from the tunnel entrance. The eight-carriage train was packed with some 480 people heading down the east coast for the annual Tomb Sweeping Festival, a four-day public holiday.

The Taiwan Railways Agency said 146 passengers were sent to hospital in addition to the 51 confirmed dead. A French national was among those killed while two Japanese and one Macau resident were injured.

The accident occurred on Taiwan's eastern railway line around 9:30am (0130 GMT). Pictures published by local newspaper UDN showed the front of the train inside the tunnel had been pulverised into a twisted mesh of metal.

Rescuers worked for hours to reach those trapped inside the tunnel and haul them out, using buzzsaws to slice through warped sheets of metal. Footage released by the Taiwan Red Cross showed specialists with helmets and headlights had to use the roof of the stricken train to reach people inside the narrow single-track tunnel. By mid-afternoon, officials said there were no people left inside the carriages but dozens of rescuers remained on site as evening set in, according to AFP reporters at the crash scene.

Due to a long history of deadly earthquakes, Taiwan has experienced rescue teams on permanent standby to deal with disasters and retrieve trapped people. People further back in the train were able to walk away from the crash comparatively unscathed.

The annual Tomb Sweeping Festival is an especially busy time of the year for Taiwan's roads and railways. Taiwan's eastern railway line is usually a popular tourist draw down its dramatic and less populated eastern coastline. With the help of multiple tunnels and bridges, it winds its way through towering mountains and dramatic gorges before entering the picturesque Huadong Valley.