A train derailed along a touristy coastal railway in north-eastern Taiwan on Sunday (Oct 21), killing at least 18 and injuring almost 170 others in the island’s deadliest rail accident in 27 years, Taiwanese authorities and media said.
The train, Puyuma Express 6432 with 366 passengers on board, went off the tracks between the Dongshan and Suxin stations in Yilan county, near Taipei, at 4.50pm, Taiwan Railways Administration (TRA) said.
As of Monday morning, at least 18 people were dead while 168 others were injured, of whom 10 were in serious condition.
At least one of those hurt was a foreigner, a 43-year-old American woman who was hospitalised with minor injuries, according to United Daily News.
The authorities were checking whether other foreigners were aboard the train, which was travelling from Taipei’s Shulin station to the eastern coastal county of Taitung, TRA said.
An estimated 30 to 40 passengers were initially reported to be trapped in the wreckage. By 9.30pm, all 366 passengers, dead or alive, had been removed or accounted for, TRA said.
President Tsai Ing-wen described the accident as a “major tragedy” in a tweet on Sunday evening. “We will use all our strength and efforts for the rescue,” she wrote on her Facebook page.
Hundreds of medics, firefighters and troops had rushed to the scene to take the injured, including the train driver, to hospitals and rescue those still in the carriages.
Photographs posted on social media showed all eight of the train’s carriages lying helter-skelter near the tracks at the accident site. Five had been flipped to their sides.
Purported photographs of the wreckage show bent stretches of the track piercing through the train’s windows.
A passenger identified only by his surname Ko told Apple Daily he heard sounds that went “pong, pong, pong” before a plume of smoke rose from the tracks. Many things then fell from the overhead compartments as the carriage he was in tilted by about 10 degrees.
Mr Ko said he and a friend managed to escape unscathed.
Another passenger, Mr Chen He-ren, told Central News Agency the train shook violently moments before it derailed. He added that the train braked several times on the tracks inexplicably before the accident happened.
Services in both directions along the route have been suspended following the mishap, stranding thousands of travellers.
At a press conference late on Sunday, Taiwan Railways Administration chief Lu Chieh-shen said the cause of the derailment was as-yet unknown and would be investigated. The train, which reaches maximum speeds of 150kmh, had been in service for just six years and only recently underwent comprehensive maintenance works, he added.
The Straits Times understands that Singapore’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs is monitoring the situation closely.
The Singapore Trade Office in Taipei is in touch with the local authorities and there have been no reports of Singaporean casualties so far.
Train derailments are not unusual in Taiwan, which has a mountainous terrain, but rarely are they as deadly as Sunday’s disaster.
It was the worst rail accident in Taiwan since 1991 when 30 passengers were killed and 112 injured after two trains collided in Miaoli.
In July, a train went off the rails in Pinghsi, New Taipei City, with no casualties.
In June 2016, two trains derailed in separate incidents in Hualien after tracks buckled under record heat. Only a few passengers were injured in those accidents.
Taiwan’s deadliest railway disaster happened on March 8, 1981, when a train plunged into a river after colliding with a truck in the northern Hsinchu county. At least 30 people died and 130 others were hurt.