Taiwan train crash: truck driver expresses 'deep remorse' over disaster

A maintenance worker whose runaway truck sparked Taiwan‘s worst rail disaster in recent decades made a tearful apology on Sunday as investigators said the train driver had little time to react to the collision.

At least 50 people were killed and more than 200 were injured in Friday’s crash, which sent a packed eight-carriage train hurtling into the sides of a narrow tunnel near the eastern coastal city of Hualien.

Investigators say the Taroko Express hit a truck on the line moments before it entered the tunnel. The vehicle slipped down a steep embankment and prosecutors are working to determine whether the driver either failed to secure the parking brake or if it had a mechanical failure.

On Sunday, the driver Lee Yi-hsiang read out an emotional statement.

“I am deeply remorseful and want to express my most sincere apologies,” he said, his voice cracking with emotion. “I will cooperate with the investigation by police and prosecutors to take the responsibility I should take.”

Lee, 49, was part of a team who regularly inspected Taiwan’s mountainous eastern train line for landslides and other risks. He was questioned over the weekend by prosecutors and released on bail by a court pending further inquiries.

Hong Young, chair of Taiwan Transportation Safety Board, told AFP that investigators were combing through the train’s recording devices as well as CCTV footage from the front car.

“According to the testimonies by some passengers, they heard the horn being sounded and it’s believed the train driver had spotted an object of obstruction on the track,” he said.

But the train driver – who was among those killed – would have struggled to stop a collision.

“It’s believed the train driver might have only had 10 seconds at most to react and there was not enough distance to emergency brake,” he added.

Some survivors reported that the train did not appear to slow down before striking the truck.

But Hong said others did notice violent vibrating before the collision, suggesting the train driver might have pulled the emergency break moments before impact.

As questions mounted over how packed the train was and why there were not fences on that section of the track, transport minister Lin Chia-lung offered his resignation on Sunday. But it was not accepted by the government, who said he should remain in place until the results of the investigation are known.

The crash has plunged Taiwan into mourning. Some survivors lost entire families and the youngest victim was just four.

A French national and two Americans were also confirmed killed.