Five people were killed and 84 injured when a train was derailed on the scenic Alishan Forest Railway in Chiayi County yesterday, the Tourism Bureau said. Three of the dead were identified as Chinese tourists.
A full report of the casualties in the accident was not available as of press time as rescue work was still continuing.
Most of the passengers aboard the train were tourists from China. Alishan is one of the most popular destinations among Chinese tourists to Taiwan, rescuers said.
The Council of Agriculture (COA) said the accident occurred at 12:17pm when a large tree next to the tracks fell and hit the last car of the train. Four of the train’s cars were derailed, with two tumbling down the embankment.
The train was not overloaded with passengers, the COA said.
Aside from regular insurance purchased by Chinese travel agencies, families of the victims will be compensated NT$2 million (US$69,000) thanks to the insurance bought by Taiwanese travel agencies. Victims will also be compensated by the Forestry Bureau, which insures passengers boarding the train.
The Travel Agent Association said that 130 Chinese passengers on board, from Guangdong, Shandong, Sichuan, Henan and -Zhejiang provinces, had bought tours from five Taiwanese travel agencies — Harula Tour, China Glory Travel, Southwest Travel, Superior Smile and Styled Travel.
Tourism Bureau Deputy--Director General Wayne Liu (劉喜臨) and China’s Cross-Strait Tourism Exchange Association Director Liu Kezhi (劉克智) left for Alishan last night.
Tourism Bureau Director--General Janice Lai (賴瑟珍) said the bureau would assist the families of the Chinese tourists in traveling to Taiwan to handle the matter.
Yesterday’s accident occurred six months after 20 Chinese tourists died on the Suhua Highway. It also occurred as Taiwan is in the process of negotiating with China on the possibility of allowing Chinese tourists to visit as free independent travelers (FIT).
Lai said that the accident would not have any bearing on FIT negotiations, although it might affect the tourism industry in the Alishan area.
One of the important legacies from the Japanese colonial era, the Alishan Railway had a major derailment in 2003, killing 17 passengers and injuring 171.
President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) yesterday expressed grief over the accident and said government agencies would help with rescue work.
“I regret this deadly accident ... The Council of Agriculture vice minister has rushed to the site to help with rescue efforts. -Hopefully, we will find the cause of the accident soon,” Ma said at KMT headquarters while presiding over the Central Standing Committee as party chairman.
Ma left the meeting early to return to the Presidential Office to monitor the situation.
The Executive Yuan’s National Rescue Command Center, which coordinates disaster relief operations, said in a press statement that it had activated the nation’s emergency rescue mechanism immediately after learning about the accident.
Helicopters were used to fly the injured from a makeshift take-off and landing site at a parking lot where the tourists were gathered waiting for help to arrive, it said.
Premier Wu Den-yih (吳敦義) said he had asked authorities to conduct a thorough examination of the trees alongside the tracks to prevent a similar accident from occurring.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY MO YAN-CHIH, SHIH HSIU-CHUAN AND CNA