51 killed in Taiwan's deadliest rail disaster

A train collided with an unmanned vehicle that had rolled down a hill on Friday in eastern Taiwan, leaving at least 51 people dead and dozens injured in the island’s deadliest rail disaster. Some survivors were forced to climb out of windows and walk along the train’s roof to safety. The crash occurred near the Toroko Gorge scenic area on the first day of a long holiday weekend when many people were using trains on Taiwan’s extensive rail system.

The train had been carrying more than 400 people.

Rescue workers near the site in Toroko Gorge in Taiwan’s eastern Hualian region (National Fire Agency Department via AP)

“Many people were crushed under train seats in the collision. And there were other people on top of the seats. So those at the bottom were pressed and crushed and lost consciousness,” a passenger with gauze taped to her elbow told Taiwanese broadcaster EBC, which did not show her face or give her name.

“At the beginning, they still responded when we called them. But I guess they lost consciousness afterward.” The National Fire Service confirmed the death toll — which included the train’s young, newly married driver and the assistant driver — and said more than 100 people were injured.

The service earlier said all passengers had been accounted for, but a spokesperson later said there may be more bodies trapped in the cars and the death toll may still rise. Railways Administration official Weng Hui-ping Weng Hui-ping called the crash Taiwan’s deadliest rail disaster. Mr Weng said a construction truck operated by the railway administration slid onto the track from a work site on the hillside above.

No-one was in the truck at the time. An investigation has been launched, and Hualien police have interviewed one person, Mr Weng said.

51 killed in Taiwan's deadliest rail disasterThis image made from a video released by Ministry of the Interior shows the train having come off its tracks (Ministry of the Interior/AP)

With much of the train still inside, many escaping passengers were forced to scramble out of doors and windows and scale the sides of the train to walk along the roof to safety. Taiwan is a mountainous island, and most of its 24 million people live in the flatlands along the northern and western coasts that are home to most of the island’s farmland, biggest cities and high-tech industries.

The lightly populated east is popular with tourists, many of whom travel there by train to avoid mountain roads.

51 killed in Taiwan's deadliest rail disasterPassengers climb onto the roof of the derailed train (hsnews.com.tw via AP)

In a tweet, Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen said emergency services “have been fully mobilised to rescue & assist the passengers & railway staff affected. We will continue to do everything we can to ensure their safety in the wake of this heartbreaking incident.” The crash came on the first day of the four-day Tomb Sweeping Festival, an annual religious holiday when people travel to their hometowns for family gatherings and to pay their respects at the graves of their ancestors.

Taiwanese Premier Su Tseng-chang said the Railways Administration would be required to immediately conduct checks along other track lines to “prevent this from happening again”.