Taiwan: Dozens killed as train crashes and derails in tunnel

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media captionWatch: Rescue efforts after the train derailment

At least 50 people have been killed and dozens more injured after a train carrying nearly 500 crashed and then derailed in a tunnel in Taiwan.

The eight-carriage train reportedly hit a construction vehicle that had slipped onto the tracks at the tunnel's mouth.

Rescuers combed badly damaged carriages inside the tunnel to find survivors, some of whom smashed windows to flee.

The train, from the capital Taipei to Taitung, was carrying people travelling for a long-weekend annual holiday.

Many people may have been standing because the train was so full.

The 408 train is one of the fastest deployed on a network that is generally considered safe. It can reach speeds of 130km/h (80mph).

Friday's crash is Taiwan's worst rail disaster in decades. President Tsai Ing-wen has sent her condolences to the families of the victims and ordered an investigation.

image copyrightReuters
image captionSome passengers exited on to the roof to escape

The latest reports from the National Fire Agency say 494 people were on the train, with 50 dead and 66 injured and taken to hospital.

'Sudden violent jolt'

The crash took place at about 09:00 local time (01:00 GMT).

Some people at the back of the train were able to walk away unscathed, while 100 were rescued from the first four carriages. Many of the dead, injured and trapped were in four crumpled carriages inside the tunnel.

"It felt like there was a sudden violent jolt and I found myself falling to the floor," one female survivor told Taiwan's UDN. "We broke the window to climb to the roof of the train to get out."

Another rescued woman said: "My whole body fell to the floor. I hit my head and it started bleeding."

A 50-year-old survivor told Apple Daily she saw many people trapped under their seats and when she walked out of her carriage she saw bodies everywhere.

image copyrightReuters
image captionPictures showed people in less affected carriages walking along train tracks with their belongings

Local media reports say the train driver is among the dead.

Images show a large, yellow flatbed truck lying at the side of the tracks. A construction project has been under way near the north end of the tunnel.

It is not known how the vehicle slipped down the embankment.

Survivors on stretchers

Other pictures showed people walking along the tracks with their belongings as they were evacuated from less badly affected carriages.

Other survivors were being carried away on stretchers with their necks in braces.

image copyrightEPA
image captionThis image appears to show the yellow flat-bed truck at the side of the tracks

Taiwan Premier Su Tseng-chang visited the crash site on Friday afternoon.

UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said on Twitter: "I offer my sincere condolences to all those affected by this morning's rail accident in Taiwan."

Map

Enough focus on safety?

Analysis by BBC's Cindy Sui in Taiwan

Taiwan has an impressive transportation network, including more than 1,000km of railway tracks. The trains transport more than 200 million passengers each year.

Accidents are rare, but this latest derailment - if it was indeed caused by a construction vehicle parked on a nearby slope sliding onto the tracks - would add to a number of recent incidents that have been blamed on negligence and/or human error.

They include:

  • a train derailment in 2018 caused by a faulty speed alert system and a driver busy talking to the command centre who failed to slow down before entering a curve - 18 people died
  • a number of deadly fires inside factories that have housed unsafe dormitories for workers
  • a bridge collapse in 2019 caused by lack of maintenance, which killed four migrant fishermen in a boat
  • a chemical explosion in 2014 caused by neglect of underground pipelines - 32 people died

This latest accident once again raises questions about whether Taiwan is placing enough importance on safety and preventing accidents.

Many of those on the train are believed to have been travelling to celebrate the Tomb Sweeping festival - a time when people pay their respects to the dead by visiting the graves of family members, sprucing them up and making offerings to their spirits.

The island's worst crash in recent history was in 1991, when 30 passengers were killed and 112 injured after two trains collided.

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