Truck fell onto track less than 2 minutes before fatal train crash
Taipei, April 6 (CNA) The Taiwan Transportation Safety Board (TTSB) has deduced that the fatal collision between a Taroko express train and a crane truck on April 2 occurred less than two minutes after the truck fell onto the track near the entrance to the Qingshui Tunnel in Hualien County, eastern Taiwan.
The organization, which is independent of the government, announced at a presentation in Taipei Tuesday the findings of its investigation into the accident that killed 50 people and injured over 200.
Its results were based on data and video chips retrieved from the train's drive recorder and its automatic protection and control and management systems.
TTSB Chairman Young Hong-tsu (楊宏智) said that from this data, the board found that excavators and crane machines were operating at a construction site above the scene of the accident before it occurred at 9:28 a.m. last Friday.
Video images show that a crane truck was running down an incline at the construction site when it ran off the dirt road at a turning point, where it got stuck in the roadside bushes and its engine stalled. The vehicle then slid down to the railway track below, Young said.
After cross-matching the various images retrieved, the board found that the southbound Taroko express train operated by the Taiwan Railways Administration (TRA) collided head-on with the crane truck less than two minutes after the vehicle fell on the track, shunting the truck's cab and the crane attached to it into the tunnel not far ahead.
The collision caused part of the eight-carriage train, which was running at over 100 kilometers per hour, to derail and pile up in the tunnel, Young went on. The train finally came to a halt some 320 meters away from the tunnel entrance, he added.
According to the information provided by the TTSB, the crane truck entered the construction site above the northbound section of the Qingshui Tunnel at 8:49:59 a.m. Friday, carrying a load of waste tires.
At between 9:20 a.m. and 9:25 a.m., other vehicles were seen moving toward the crane truck and at 9:28:50, smoke and dust could be seen flying up from the site of the accident.
Images from the train's trip recorder show that it left the Heren Tunnel at 9:28:38.5. The driver hit the emergency brake at 9:28:43.6 and the train collided with the crane truck at 9:28:45.5 before hitting the left side of the entrance to the Qingshui Tunnel at 9:28:46.6, when the recorder stopped running.
Based on this information, Young said, the board deduced that the collision must have happened only a little over a minute after the truck slid down the hill.
"There was only about seven seconds for the train driver to respond," because by the time he spotted the fallen vehicle, the train was estimated to be a mere 200 meters away, the expert said.
Young further pointed out that the fully loaded train weighed about 358 tonnes at the time of the accident, while the truck was only 7.5 tonnes.
The train should have been able to push the obstacle away easily if it had been running in an open space, but because it was so close to the tunnel entrance and because the driver was forced to hit the brakes only a very short distance before entering the narrow tunnel, he said, the train ended up derailing.
As to the widely asked question of whether or not the crane truck's parking brake was engaged or if its brake system was functioning normally, Young said this would probably never be known because the vehicle had already been smashed beyond recognition.
Young said that the TTSB could only confirm that the truck fell on to the track after its engine stopped, based on the data and information it had collected.
The board could not elaborate upon exactly when the truck driver left his vehicle or why and when the truck slid down to the track, because those facts are part of an ongoing criminal investigation, he added.
Meanwhile, the Hualien District Court on Tuesday seized the assets of the truck driver, Lee Yi-hsiang (李義祥), Lee's company, Yi Hsiang Industry Co., and Tung Hsin Construction Co., the contractor of the construction site, to prevent them from transferring their savings, real estates and vehicles to other parties.
The action was taken two days after the TRA requested the seizure as it is preparing to file suit demanding compensation from the truck driver and contractor suspected of being responsible for the deadly crash.
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