One person was killed and 25 were injured in a railway collision yesterday morning that railway officials blamed on the driver of a truck that had stopped on a crossing.
The Taiwan Railways Administration (TRA) said it received a report at 8:42am that an accident had occurred at a railway crossing south of Pusin Railway Station (埔心) in Taoyuan County, involving a northbound express train heading from Tianjhong (田中) in Changhua County to Hualien and a gravel truck that was stuck on the tracks.
Train driver Tsai Chung-hui (蔡崇輝), 51, died at the scene as the No. 278 Taroko Express collided with the truck. Twenty-five passengers were injured and were sent to nearby hospitals. The locomotive was destroyed and three passenger cars derailed. The accident also caused delays for thousands of travelers during peak hours.
Truck driver Peng Yung-chuang (彭永庄), 39, managed to exit his vehicle before it was struck.
The tilting express train, which can reach speeds of 130kph, mainly carries passengers heading to the east coast.
“We lost a whole train in the accident,” TRA Deputy Director-General Chang Ying-huei (張應輝) said.
“Even though some of the carriages were undamaged, the train cannot function without a locomotive.”
Chang said the incident would only slightly disrupt the TRA’s operations during the Lunar New Year holiday, which starts on Sunday.
“The damaged train was scheduled to run only 30 times during the holiday period and will be replaced by a Tzuchiang-class express train,” Chang said, adding that passengers would not have to exchange their tickets.
Each Tzuchiang-class train has 404 seats, while a Taroko Express train has 376 seats, he said.
The only problem in using the Tzuchiang trains is that the driver will have to reduce speed on corners, which means that the trains will arrive at their destination 15 and 20 minutes later than their schedule, Chang said.
The TRA estimates financial losses from the accident at about NT$200 million (US$6.7 million), as railway tracks and signals were also severely damaged.
Chang said Tsai had been recognized several times for exceptional performance, adding that his family could be awarded NT$10.23 million in compensation for loss of life in the line of duty.
The TRA will also cover the medical expenses of the injured passengers, he said.
Chang said the TRA would seek restitution from the truck company, which is liable for the damage to the railway service as well as to the victims. The amount — about NT$220 million in total — could set a record for the highest claim the TRA has ever made over a railway accident.
While the truck driver insisted he crossed the railway tracks while the barriers were up, Chang said surveillance systems told a different story.
Records from the TRA showed there were two trucks passing through the railroad crossing at the time. Prior to the arrival of the Taroko Express train, a commuter train passed through the same railroad crossing and left at 8:29:28am. The barriers began to rise at 8:29:33am and were completely raised at 8:29:38am. The railroad crossing signals went off again at 8:29:46am and the barriers were lowered again at 8:29:54am. The collision occurred at 8:30:18am.
The truck driver was also seen exiting the vehicle and trying to remove the barriers.
“It is likely he did not keep his distance from the vehicle that crossed before him,” Chang said, adding that this could explain why the truck became stuck at the crossing.
The TRA said it hoped to resume two-way traffic on the Mountain Line by 11pm yesterday and full two-way traffic on all lines today.
About 70,000 passengers were affected because of the accident.
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