Mon, Mar 03, 2003 - Page 1 News List

Alishan crash caused by human error

FORGETFUL A stopcock connecting the carriages' air brakes to the engine was not turned on, causing the train to go out of control as it went down a slope

By Melody Chen  /  STAFF REPORTER

Relatives of victims of Saturday's train accident perform a religious ceremony for the dead at the Alishan crash site.

PHOTO: YANG KUO-TANG, TAIPEI TIMES

Human error was the probable cause of the Alishan train accident on Saturday, Luo Chien-hsun (羅建勛), chief prosecutor of the Chiayi Prosecutors' Office, said yesterday.

Initial investigations showed that a stopcock which controlled the airbrake connection between the locomotive and the carriages had been inadvertently left closed.

The accident happened on Saturday afternoon when a four-carriage mountain train, packed with nearly 200 people, derailed shortly after leaving Alishan Railway Station. Seventeen people were killed.

The Council of Agriculture's Taiwan Forestry Bureau, which is responsible for the operation of the railway, said 156 people were injured.

"I have worked as a train driver for more than 20 years. It was the first time I met this kind of situation," the train's driver, Tsai Chen-sun (蔡振森), said yesterday.

"Three minutes after departing from Alishan Station, the train began traveling down a gradient. I felt clearly the train was speeding," Tsai said.

"I tried desperately to stop the train but the brakes failed. Then the train rammed into the mountain side," Tsai said.

Luo said the train brakes failed because the stopcock was closed.

"The two drivers and the conductor did not check the condition of the stopcock carefully before leaving Alishan Station," Luo said. "That's why the train's brakes failed when the train was traveling down the gradient."

Luo excluded the possibility that the train derailed because of overloading or track problems.

The Chiayi District Court refused a prosecutors' request to detain the two train drivers early yesterday morning. Nevertheless, Luo said the train's conductor and drivers would be sent before the court again on a charge of professional negligence.

Meanwhile, Huang Yu-hsing (黃裕星), director of COA's Forestry Bureau, held a press conference to respond to local media reports that the accident took place because the four-carriage train might be overloaded.

Some reports said that each carriage could only carry 25 passengers; therefore the capacity of the train should have only been 100 passengers whereas there were about 190 passengers aboard Saturday afternoon.

Huang said that the capacity of each carriage was in fact 40 seated and 10 standing passengers meaning that each train could carry 200 people.

There were certainly fewer than 200 aboard the train at the time of the accident, Huang said.

COA Chairman Lee Chin-lung (李金龍) apologized yesterday to the victims and their families and promised to increase the amount of compensation available.

"The family of each fatality can claim compensation as high as NT$7.1 million," Lee said. This compensation includes NT$4.1 million from the railway system's travel insurance and NT$2.4 million from the COA.

On top of this the COA will also give each family of a fatality NT$400,000 for a funeral and NT$200,000 condolence money.

The COA distributed yesterday a total of NT$8 million in compensation to families of the dead and the injured.

Moreover, Lee Jen-chyun (李健全), vice chairman of COA, said the operation of the railway will continue to be suspended until the cause of the tragedy is fully understood.

"The COA will also pay for every passenger's medical costs incurred in the accident," Lee said.

Also see story:

Chen visits Chiayi after train crash on Alishan

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