At least 51 dead in Taiwan's deadliest rail disaster

A train collided with an unmanned truck that had rolled on to the track on Friday in Taiwan, leaving at least 51 people dead and dozens injured in the island’s deadliest rail disaster. Many passengers were crushed, while some survivors were forced to climb out of windows and walk along the train’s roof to safety. The truck’s emergency brake was not properly engaged, according to the government’s disaster relief centre, and the vehicle slid about 20 metres (65 feet) down a hillside.

Minutes later, the train’s lead car crashed into it, according to Railways Administration official Weng Hui-ping, just before the train entered a tunnel. The train, which was carrying more than 400 people, derailed near the Taroko Gorge scenic area on the first day of a long holiday weekend when many people were using Taiwan’s extensive rail system. Images from the scene showed the train’s cars wedged against the tunnel’s walls.

Part of the wall of one car had smashed into a seat.

Rescue workers are seen near the site in Taroko Gorge in Taiwan’s eastern Hualien 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. Mr Weng, of the Railways Administration, called the crash Taiwan’s deadliest rail disaster. An investigation has been launched, and Hualien police have interviewed one person, Mr Weng said.

At least 51 dead in Taiwan's deadliest rail disasterA section of the train is seen cordoned off near the Toroko Gorge area in Hualien (Chiang Ying-ying/AP)

With much of the train still inside the tunnel, many escaping passengers had to scramble out of doors and windows and scale the sides of the train to walk along the roof in darkness to safety.

One young man interviewed by Taiwanese media at a hospital said he had travelled with friends for the holiday but now had no idea where they were. “Everyone just went flying all over the place,” said the man, who only gave his surname as Chen and who was in a wheelchair, his arm in a cast. 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”.

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”.