Taiwan prosecutors said on Saturday they questioned the owner of an unmanned truck that rolled over a railroad track and caused the country’s worst rail disaster in decades that killed 50 people and injured 178, although no charges have been filed.
The train was carrying 494 people at the start of a long holiday weekend on Friday when it crashed into the construction truck that slid down a hillside onto the tracks, the Taiwan Railways Administration said.
Many passengers were crushed just before the train entered a tunnel, while some survivors were forced to climb out the windows and walk along the roof of the train to safety.
Authorities initially reported 51 deaths, but revised the countdown to one on Saturday.
The truck’s emergency brake was not set properly, according to the government’s disaster relief center.
The district attorney’s office in eastern Hualien County, where the train derailed, confirmed that it had interviewed the owner of the truck, among others, but was not ready to press charges.
Prosecution staff were visiting a morgue on Saturday to examine the bodies, said office spokeswoman Chou Fang-yi.
President Tsai Ing-wen visited hospitals near the accident rather than the site itself so as not to interfere with rescue work, her spokeswoman said.
“This heartbreaking accident caused many injuries and deaths. I came to Hualien today to visit the injured and express my condolences to the families of the deceased passengers,” Tsai said. “We will surely help them later.”
Tsai told reporters on Friday that he had asked the Transportation Safety Committee to carry out a strict investigation.
Transport Minister Lin Chia-lung said repairs will be accelerated.
“When something like this happens, I am very sorry and will take full responsibility,” Lin said after touring the site.
Train travel is popular in Taiwan
Workers pulled the two most backward cars off the tracks on Saturday morning. However, a third was unable to move before the tracks were repaired while the other five cars were still wedged into the tunnel. Two large construction cranes could be seen positioned alongside the train on a remote wooded cliff on the east coast of the island.
The operation should take place within a week, said Weng Hui-ping, head of the railway administration’s press team.
During the repairs, all east coast trains will run on a track parallel to the one damaged in the accident, causing delays of 15 to 20 minutes, he said.
The National Fire Service said among the dead were the young, newlywed train conductor and the assistant conductor.
The government’s disaster response center said it was the worst railway disaster since a train caught fire in suburban Taipei in 1948, killing 64 people.
Train rides are popular during Taiwan’s grave-cleaning holidays, which last four days, when families often return to their hometowns to pay their respects at the graves of their elders.
Taiwan is a mountainous island, and many of its 24 million people live in the plains along the north and west coasts that are home to most of the island’s agricultural land, largest cities, and high-tech industries. . The sparsely populated east where the accident occurred is popular with tourists, many of whom travel there by train to avoid mountain roads.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism