The Taiwan Railways Administration (TRA) has only sought compensation in about 15 percent of the 516 deadly railway accidents between 2012 and last year caused by negligence by members of the public, a report published by the legislature’s Budget Center said.
The majority of the accidents were caused by people who ignored traffic signals when passing over railway tracks or railway crossings, but the TRA only sought compensation in 79 cases.
Although the TRA has procedures in place that allow it to hold trespassers legally accountable, it has failed to prevent railway accidents from happening and curb disruptive behaviors, the report said.
To reduce the number of accidents, the TRA should work on improving railway facilities, enhancing safety mechanisms and raising penalties against people who ignore traffic signals, the report said.
The agency would seek compensation if accidents damaged railway facilities or disrupted railway services, particularly if caused by motor vehicles, railway construction contractors or animals invading the railway tracks, TRA Director-General Jason Lu (鹿潔身) said.
However, the agency has had problems collecting compensation from people trespassing on railway crossings or attempting to commit suicide by lying on tracks, as people engaging in such disruptive behavior were often killed immediately, meaning the TRA was not able to hold anyone accountable, he said.
The TRA did not feel comfortable asking the families of the dead to pay compensation, Lu said, adding that for the past five years if a trespasser has been killed on the spot it has not sought compensation.
The agency also achieved limited success when seeking compensation from accidents caused by cattle straying onto railway tracks.
For an accident that happened in Hualien in 2014, when trains were disrupted by four cows straying onto railway tracks, the owner was asked to pay NT$1.31 million (US$43,577 at the current exchange rate).
As the owner was unable to pay the sum, the agency only succeeded in securing a certificate of claim over his assets.
This year, the agency attempted to seek compensation from a farmer in Taitung who left six calves untended, causing a railway accident.
The owner ended up paying just NT$40,000 in damages after several lawmakers intervened on his behalf.
The agency’s highest compensation claim so far concerns a 2012 accident, in which a Taroko Express train ran into a gravel truck trespassing on a railway crossing in Taoyuan.
The accident killed the train driver and injured 42 passengers. The TRA sought compensation of NT$313 million. A district court ruled in favor of the driver and the truck company, asking them to pay only NT$210 million.
The case is still being deliberated at the Taiwan High Court, the agency said.
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