TAIPEI, Taiwan – A passenger train derailed in eastern Taiwan on Friday, killing at least 36 people and injuring 98 others, officials said, in the island’s deadliest railway accident in decades.
The eight-car Tarko Express train was traveling from the Taipei area to the eastern coastal city of Taitung when it departed by train at around 9:30 a.m. in a tunnel north of the city of Hulin. Several vehicles hit the tunnel walls.
Rescuers were trying to reach about 70 passengers, who were still trapped in debris inside the tunnel, according to the Huilian County Government.
The Taraco Express train is the fastest to cross the east coast of Taiwan and usually travels at a speed of around 80 mph. The official news agency Central News said that at the time of the accident it was carrying around 350 passengers.
Friday was the beginning of the annual “tomb sweeping”, a time when Taiwan sees an increase in travel. The accident occurred near Qingshui Cliff, a scenic spot popular among tourists who come to see the vast mountains and crystal-blue waters.
The train accident is one of the worst disasters caused by the deaths so far, faced by Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, since he took office in 2016.
Within hours of the accident on Friday, Ms Tsai said the government had fully mobilized its emergency services to assist and rescue affected passengers and railway employees.
“We will continue to do everything to ensure their safety in the wake of this heartbreaking accident.” wrote On twitter
Authorities said they were still investigating the cause of the crash, but local news outlets reported that the train crashed into an under-construction vehicle, derailing it. Reports also stated that the train driver was killed, but could not be immediately confirmed.
Cellphone video filmed by a passenger and Posted on social media It was shown that a yellow trailer vehicle appeared next to the derailed train at the entrance of the tunnel.
“Our train crashed into this truck,” said the passenger in the video. He banned the camera for showing a slope next to the tunnel. “The truck rolled down, and now the entire train broke down.”
Police had taken the operator of the construction vehicle for a possible interrogation, according to a Hulien County police officer who arrived by phone.
Most train services along Taiwan’s eastern routes have been suspended until Sunday morning.
Photos circulating online indicated that the damage was serious. An image posted by the Taiwanese news outlet, United Daily News, showed that a car with control appeared on the side of the train in the tunnel. The conductor of the train told a local television station that he was at one end of the train when he felt emergency brakes being applied and a sudden jerk.
Other pictures and video footage showed passengers exiting the train as firefighters and medical personnel tried to enter the car inside the tunnel.
The island’s Minister of Transport, Lin Chia-Lung, said In a statement on Facebook, he ordered the authorities to set up a disaster response center and he and other senior officials were rushing to the accident site.
In the last major train accident in 2018, 18 people were killed and 170 others were injured. Train derailed A coastal route in Yilan County, northeast Taiwan, is popular with tourists.
Taiwanese investigators later found out that the train was going too fast and the driver manually disabled an automatic train safety system to prevent it from exceeding the safe speed.
But train accidents are still quite rare in Taiwan, with a final crash on a similar scale in 1981, when 31 people died in a train collision in Miaoli County, northwest of the island.