Taiwan train driver had less than 7 seconds to respond before crash, investigators say

Lawrence Chung
·3-min read

The driver in Taiwan’s deadliest train accident had less than seven seconds to respond before his train smashed into a runaway truck last week, killing him and at least 49 others, and injuring 211 people, investigators said on Tuesday.

They also said the flatbed truck still had its engine running before it slid down an embankment from a construction site above the tracks, landing just metres in front of a railway tunnel.

The eight-carriage Taroko Express was packed with 494 passengers when the accident happened on Taiwan’s east coast, near Chongde in Hualien, at 9.28 am on Friday. The train was headed to Taitung from New Taipei City at the start of a four-day holiday.

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It hit the truck which had landed on the tracks just a minute before the train passed through Jenho Tunnel and was about to go through Chingshui Tunnel, the Taiwan Transportation Safety Board said.

“The train was travelling at 125km [78 miles] per hour … and the truck was only 250 metres [820 feet] ahead after the train passed through Jenho Tunnel,” safety board chairman Hong Young told reporters.

“That means the driver only had less than seven seconds to respond when he saw the truck,” Young said, adding that the train driver had tried to brake and sounded the horn before the collision.

Young said the left side of the train’s first carriage was ripped off in the impact, killing the driver and his assistant. Four other carriages stuck in the tunnel were seriously damaged.

Workers inspect damaged train carriages at the site of the accident in Hualien on Tuesday. Photo: AFP
Workers inspect damaged train carriages at the site of the accident in Hualien on Tuesday. Photo: AFP

“From our investigation, we have also discovered that the truck engine was running before it rolled down to the track,” Young said.

Construction site boss Lee Yi-hsiang has claimed that he had applied the truck’s brake after parking it on the slope.

Lee, who has been detained and was denied bail, earlier told prosecutors he had just wanted to inspect the site during the holiday, when his company was not allowed to carry out any construction work according to its contract.

Also on Tuesday, a funeral was held in Hualien county for Yuan Chun-hsiu, the 33-year-old train driver killed in the crash, with his relatives later taking his ashes back to his hometown Taichung by train.

Transport Minister Lin Chia-lung paid tribute to the driver at the memorial service, saying his ministry would grant the highest honour for Yuan and that his family would receive the maximum amount of compensation.

“He upheld his duty until the last minute by applying the brake and honking the horn, which helped to reduce the casualties,” Lin said of the train driver.

Lin earlier offered to resign, saying he took full responsibility for the crash, but has been asked to stay on for now.

Taiwanese legislators have called on the government to make changes to the Taiwan Railways Administration to prevent more accidents from happening.

In 2018, a Puyuma Express train derailed in northeastern Yilan county, killing 18 people and injuring 170. Thirty people were killed in a train crash in Taiwan in 1981.

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