Wed, Oct 15, 2003 - Page 2 News List

Yingke railway crossing proves fatal yet again

DEADLY INTERSECTION Heavy traffic and a narrow roadway brought a swift end to a ninth-grade school trip, killing three children and injuring 38 other people

By Joy Su  /  STAFF REPORTER

A passenger train lies off the tracks after colliding with a tour bus carrying junior high-school students in Taipei County's Yingke township early yesterday morning. The accident left three dead and 38 injured.

PHOTO: LIN CHENG-KUN, TAIPEI TIMES

Three ninth-graders were killed and 38 other people injured when their tour bus was hit by a train at a railway crossing in Yingke, Taipei County, yesterday morning.

"A southbound train going 73kph crashed into a Lung Mao Co bus at 7:38am," said Hsu Ta-wen (徐達文) deputy director and spokesman of the Taiwan Railway Administration (TRA).

The bus had been unable to make it through the intersection because it could not pass a truck that was on the other side of the tracks and the driver could not reverse his vehicle because 11 other tour buses were lined up behind him.

The ninth-graders and their teachers had been headed to Kenting for a three-day graduation trip.

According to Hsu, the TRA had previously said the Yingke crossing was unsafe and in need of reconstruction. He said 16 people were injured in a similar accident at the intersection on July 20.

According to Hsu, the Yinge rail crossing was equipped with three different safety mechanisms -- a warning siren, a crossbar that comes down as a train approaches and an emergency button to notify train drivers of an obstructed crossing -- all of which were in working order.

The TRA installed the emergency buttons in June 2001 in an effort to make rail crossings safer. When the button is pressed, the train driver will be notified as far as 800m from a rail crossing.

Hsu said the emergency button at the Yingke crossing had not been pushed yesterday morning, leaving the train driver unaware of the situation until approximately 50m from the bus.

"The train would have needed 270m to come to a complete stop," he said.

Hsu said the TRA had asked the local government to changes to the crossing after the July accident because the roadway that crosses the rail tracks is too narrow and curves to one side.

"The Ministry of Transportation and Communications had set aside NT$15.8 million in July to subsidize the local government's reconstruction of the intersection," he said.

Hsu said the reconstruction project would widen the road from 8.4m to 20m and widen the intersection from 9.6m to 27m. He promised that a contractor would be found for the job by the end of the month, but he didn't say when work would begin.

TRA official Chen Shih-chang (陳世昌) said there were 40 such rail crossings in need of similar work, noting that the narrow intersections were not suitable for rapidly developing cities.

"The government has spent roughly NT$1.3 billion on similar construction in the past decade," Chen said.

Meanwhile, Premier Yu Shyi-kun ordered government agencies to issue compensation to the families of the victims.

"The premier learned of the tragedy soon after the accident took place. He then instructed the Ministry of the Interior, the Ministry of Education and Ministry of Transportation and Communications to handle the matter appropriately in accordance with related regulations," Cabinet Spokesman Lin Chia-lung (林佳龍) said at a press conference yesterday afternoon.

Lin also conveyed the premier's regrets over the accident.

The TRA said that should police investigations determine that the agency was at fault in yesterday's accident, it is prepared to pay NT$20,000 compensation to the families of the students who died and NT$6,000 to those who were injured.

The accident caused delays to 34 trains and 20,000 passengers. Officials say normal rail operations were resumed at 1:16pm.

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