A truck driver and the transportation company he worked for must pay a record NT$210 million (US$6.76 million) in damages to the Taiwan Railways Administration (TRA) for their role in a fatal 2012 collision and express train derailment in the then-Taoyuan County, the Taoyuan District Court ruled yesterday.
The collision occurred on the morning of Jan. 17, 2012, when a gravel truck driven by Peng Jung-chuang (彭永莊) ignored warning lights and barriers coming down at a railway crossing near Pusin (埔心) Rail Station in the then-Yangmei City (楊梅) of Taoyuan County, colliding with a northbound Taroko Express No. 278 train, court documents and officials said.
The court found Peng and the company liable for the accident and ordered them to pay NT$210 million, the highest amount ever for such cases, for damages and repairs to the train, railway track and station facilities, along with medical expenses for those injured and ticket compensation for passengers affected by train delays on that day.
Locomotive driver Tsai Chung-hui (蔡崇輝) died in the collision, while 26 passengers and railway employees were injured, records showed.
Peng was unharmed, having jumped from the truck before it collided with the train, officials said.
A TRA assessment found that seven train carriages were seriously damaged in the incident. The train collided with Pusin Train Station and the locomotive was junked, the TRA said.
Peng was found guilty in the final ruling on his case in March of this year and sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison.
Local Chinese-language media reported that Peng is serving his sentence and does not have the money to pay the compensation, and the transportation company he worked for had registered capital of just NT$55 million.
“We cannot afford to pay this amount. Even if we sell the company, the money is still not enough,” a company official was quoted as saying.
A TRA spokesperson said a provisional injunction for the seizure of company assets had been lodged.
“We demand the compensation for damages, whatever amount we can recover from them,” the spokesperson added.
If the full amount is not recovered, the spokesperson said the TRA would ask the court to verify documents on the company’s collateral and debt obligations.
Many members of the public endorsed yesterday’s ruling, with some posting online that only orders for heavy compensation would dissuade truck drivers from running intersections and rail crossings on roads, practices which can lead to people being killed in high-speed collisions.
Netizens applauded the ruling, saying the judge “has guts” to serve “justice” for the locomotive driver and hurt passengers, as light sentences have previously been handed down with little or no deterrent effect.
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