The New Power Party (NPP) yesterday criticized an administrative investigation by the Ministry of Transportation and Communications into a deadly derailment in April, saying the probe failed to hold the Taiwan Railways Administration (TRA) to account for its “negligence” in ensuring the safety of the railway service.
The Taroko Express No. 408 on April 2 derailed in the Cingshuei Tunnel (清水隧道) after slamming into a crane truck that had slid onto the tracks, killing 49 people and injuring 245.
The crane truck was owned by a contractor hired by the TRA for construction to stabilize slopes along the railway line.
While the Taiwan Transportation Safety Board is in charge of investigating the causes of the crash, the ministry investigated the TRA for officials who should be held accountable. The ministry published its report on Sunday.
The administrative investigation should have probed United Geotech Inc and whether it had fulfilled its responsibility of overseeing construction work based on its contract with the TRA, NPP caucus whip Chiu Hsien-chih (邱顯智) said.
However, the TRA has said that United Geotech participated in the investigation as well, he said.
“What role did Geotech play in the investigation? Was it both the player and referee? The railway agency should offer a clear explanation to the public,” he said.
The report points to problems with the contractor, but does not mention any mistakes by the TRA, Chiu said, adding that this shows that the railway agency avoided the truth and has no intention of improving railway safety.
NPP deputy caucus whip Chen Jiau-hua (陳椒華) said the incident exposed the TRA’s “business as usual” attitude: blaming ground-level workers whenever accidents happen and having no intention of pursuing meaningful reform.
However, the report shows that a ministry task force had found in multiple on-site inspections that construction sites 2m above the railway track lacked guard rails, Chen said, but the TRA’s construction crew in Hualien left the issue unresolved.
Following the derailment of a Puyuma Express train in 2018, the Executive Yuan conducted a comprehensive review of the TRA’s operations and listed 144 issues that had to be addressed, Chen said.
One of the issues was to enhance safety along railway sections where there is ongoing construction nearby, but the ministry on March 16 last year removed the item from a list of closely monitored issues, Chen said.
If the ministry had regularly checked the TRA’s progress in addressing these issues, the Taroko Express crash would not have occurred, she said.
“After the Taroko Express incident, the TRA’s construction division chief in Hualien was given a major demerit. However, then-TRA deputy director general Du Wei (杜微) was promoted to director rather than being demoted. The Railway Bureau, which oversees the TRA’s operations, was not blamed for that incident either,” she said.
“This shows that senior officials at the ministry, the Railway Bureau and the TRA neither took full responsibility for what happened nor did they review root causes of the incident,” she added.
Wang Wei-chun (王薇君), who represents family members of people who died in the Taroko Express derailment, said that although the report was compiled on May 21, the families found out about it through media reports.
The ministry should have notified the deceased’s next of kin about the report first, she said.
“To them [ministry officials], 49 is nothing but a number,” she said.
On Monday, some relatives of the victims went to the ministry to submit a petition, but they were blocked by police, Wang said.
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