50 Dead, 216 Injured in Taiwan's Most Serious Train Crash
United Daily News, April 3, 2021
On April 2, the Taiwan Railways Administration (TRA) saw a serious train accident with the most casualties in history. The No. 408 Taroko Express train carried a large number of homebound passengers to Hualien and Taitung for the Qingming Festival long weekend. The train drove on the East Main Line and at a distance of 50 meters to the Qingshui Tunnel, the train collided into a 10-ton crane truck that accidentally slid down from the bank slope above the railroad track. The train went out of control and derailed to the left, hurtled into the tunnel, hit the tunnel wall, leaving many carriages severely twisted and mangled.
The violent impact caused the 5th and 6th cars of the train to disjoin, and the 4th to 8th all stuck in the tunnel, causing 50 deaths, of which 49 were identified. They include one French citizen Charles Deguyenro, and two United States citizens Rey Su and Ying Ying Luo. Additionally, 216 people, including one mainland Chinese, one Australian and two Japanese, sustained injuries. The youngest deceased was only six years old.
At the time of crash, there were a total of 492 passengers, three crew members, and one cleaner. Eleven (11) of them were thrown out of the train or caught between the train and the mountain wall and died. Two got stuck under the vehicle. The 8th car in the front bore the brunt, hence the most casualties: 27 people died on the spot. The carriage was strewn with blood, broken limbs and debris. The scene was a complete chaos with heartrending screaming and crying like a purgatory on earth.
It was understood that the construction of an open-cut tunnel near the scene was contracted out by the TRA. The project has been under construction for two years. Although the construction work was suspended for the consecutive Tomb Sweeping holidays, the person in charge of the construction site surnamed Li still went there for site inspection. According to the preliminary investigation by TRA, it was suspected that Li recklessly parked the crane truck without tightly applying the handbrake and the vehicle slid down 20 meters along the bank slope and fell onto the rail. When the train driver saw the truck, it was too late to brake and smashed into it.
Rescuers from Taipei, Keelung, Yilan and Hualien immediately rushed to the scene. Minister of Transportation and Communications Lin Chia-Lung, Minister of the Interior Hsu Kuo-yung, and Premier Su Tseng-Chang also hurried to the crash scene one after another. Su listened to the briefing, looking livid and solemn all the while. Su also apologized and expressed regret to the people and stated that the relevant responsibilities would be looked into after the completing rescue work.
President Tsai Ing-wen also went to the TRA’s response center to learn about the situation. Tsai said that the government would continue to assist the families of the dead and injured, while calling on relevant authorities to thoroughly investigate the cause of the accident.
Railway transportation in eastern Taiwan was badly hit in the midst of the Qingming holidays. While the service of East Main Line was interrupted, and the West Main line barely maintained a single-track two-way operation. As of 6:30 PM that evening, the TRA had managed to run 45 trains slowly, with an average delay of 94 minutes. TRA expects to restore normal service on April 9.
Since the ill-fated No. 408 train was the first train for Taitung people to grab tickets and their seats were arranged in the 8th car as always. The accident caused a huge chaos in Eastern Railway transportation. Sun Ta-chuan, former vice president of the Control Yuan, could not help but sigh on Facebook: "This is really the sorrow of our Hualien and Taitung people."
Minister Lin stated that for the dead and injured, including their families, the government would do everything possible to expedite the rehabilitation work, whether it is medical treatment, bereavement benefit or aftercare.