Transportation minister apologizes again for train crash tragedy

04/07/2021 10:46 PM
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Lin Chia-lung (center). CNA photo April 7, 2021
Lin Chia-lung (center). CNA photo April 7, 2021

Taipei, April 7 (CNA) Minister of Transportation and Communications Lin Chia-lung (林佳龍) on Wednesday once again publicly apologized for the casualties resulting from Taiwan's deadliest train accident in seven decades and said he submitted his written resignation to take responsibility for the incident.

Lin and deputy transport minister Chi Wen-jong (祁文中), who concurrently serves as acting head of the Taiwan Railways Administration (TRA), faced questions from lawmakers at a legislative Transportation Committee hearing on the April 2 Taroko Express train crash.

Before the hearing started, all the committee members and officials present observed a one-minute silence for those who were killed and injured when the No. 408 Taroko express train slammed into a crane truck that fell onto the track near the entrance of Qingshui Tunnel in Hualien County, eastern Taiwan.

The collision caused part of the eight-carriage TRA train, carrying 494 passengers and a crew of four, to derail in the tunnel, resulting in 50 deaths and more than 200 injuries.

"The accident is the worst railway accident in Taiwan in 70 years. It is also a heartbreaking tragedy for the nation," Lin said at the hearing.

The transport minister again offered his heartfelt apologies to those who lost loved ones, on behalf of the Ministry of Transportation and Communications (MOTC) and the TRA. Lin said he will shoulder full responsibility for the crash and spare no effort to ensure such a tragedy never happens again.

Lin said he submitted his resignation a day earlier, after informing President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) and Premier Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) of his intention to step down, to take political responsibility for the accident.

The minister added that he is ready to face oversight by the Legislative Yuan and hopes the TRA can become a better government institution through rational discussion and research into ways to improve its operations.

Lin initially apologized on the day of the accident involving the No. 408 Taroko Express train that was traveling south from Shulin in New Taipei to Taitung County in southeastern Taiwan.

An initial investigation has found that a crane truck owned by contractor Lee Yi-hsiang (李義祥) and parked at a construction site above the southbound track, slid down an incline onto the track just minutes before the train approached.

The TRA is building an open-cut tunnel over the northbound track which runs parallel to Qingshui Tunnel through which the southbound track runs.

At Wednesday's legislative hearing, opposition Kuomintang lawmaker Hung Meng-kai (洪孟楷) questioned Lin about security at the construction site, displaying a detailed design plan that directs contractors to keep the southbound and northbound tracks free from obstruction.

Hung said the design plan, which was approved two years ago, clearly indicates there were safety concerns over the possibility of objects falling from the construction site onto the tracks.

The data indicates that the MOTC, contractors and other relevant personnel are all liable for the train crash, he said, and promised to send the data to prosecutors as evidence in their probe into the accident, which he described as a "human disaster."

Hung blasted the fact that no protective measures were taken at the construction site, despite many endorsements by the TRA and contractors pledging to observe the safety measures in the construction plan.

The Transportation Committee approved a motion at Wednesday's hearing to organize a team to review all documents relating to contracts over the past five years signed with contractors involved in the train crash, as well as information on the adjacent construction project.

The document review team, formed in line with the Act Governing the Legislative Yuan's Power, will be tasked with digging out the facts of the accident and looking into who should be held liable for it, according to the legislative committee.

(By Yu Hsiao-han and Elizabeth Hsu)

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