Deadly train crash occurred after removal of project supervision: report

08/23/2021 04:38 PM
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CNA photo on Aug. 23
CNA photo on Aug. 23

Taipei, Aug. 23 (CNA) A deadly crash involving a Taroko Express train in Hualien in early April occurred less than 20 days after Taiwan Railways Administration (TRA) approved a contractor's request to cancel 24-hour manual supervision of a slope stabilization work project, a preliminary investigation report into the accident showed Monday.

According to the report released by Taiwan Transportation Safety Board (TTSB), the TRA agreed to cancel 24-hour supervision of the project site near Qingshui Tunnel, Hualien County on March 15, after the contractor said it had removed steel molds from the construction site.

The contractor made the request to cancel 24-hour manual supervision on Feb. 24, the report showed.

The No. 408 Taroko Express train, which set off from Shulin Station in New Taipei at 7:16 a.m. on April 2 bound for Taitung County, hit a crane truck on the tracks as it approached Qingshui Tunnel at 9:28 a.m. causing it to crash into the wall of the tunnel.

All eight carriages of the train derailed, killing 49 people and injuring more than 200, the deadliest train crash in Taiwan for decades.

The report said the construction work project started on April 26, 2019, and had originally been scheduled to be completed on June 18, 2020, but due to a change in design and water conservation the completion date was pushed back to April 26, 2021.

The train derailment took place just a few days ahead of the project being completed, without manual supervision of the work site in place, the report indicated.

According to the report, the train exited Heren Tunnel at 126 kilometers per hour at 9:28 a.m. on April 2 and headed toward Qingshui Tunnel. The driver of the train noticed the crane truck falling onto the tracks and slowed down.

He also tried to hit the brake and sounded the train whistle as a warning, but the train was still traveling at around 123 kph when it collided with the crane truck and derailed. The train hit the crane truck seven seconds after the driver spotted it, limiting his ability to avoid the collision, the report said.

It also noted that the track on the approach to Qingshui Tunnel goes around a bend which potentially affected the driver's ability to accurately judge the distance between the train and the crane truck. However, further analysis is needed to ascertain the impact of the bend, it added.

In addition, the report also found that although the TRA had already instructed the contractor to suspend slope stabilization work during the Tomb Sweeping Festival holiday, which started April 2 and would run through April 5, the owner of the crane truck, Lee Yi-hsiang (李義祥), failed to do so. Instead, he used the truck to delivery scrap tires to the construction site on April 2.

After Lee delivered the tires he was unable to restart the truck as its battery had died, the report said.

In an attempt to move the vehicle, Lee tied it to an excavator with a sling and tried to move the truck. However, the sling broke, causing the truck to roll part way down the slope and later onto the railway line, according to the report.

The preliminary report was made based on a recording device on the train and interviews with people involved in the accident, the TTSB said.

The TTSB said it also reviewed TRA safety management, construction management, construction work and interactions with contractors to determine whether any loopholes contributed to the accident, adding that it will make proposals to improve train transportation safety at a later date.

A comprehensive investigation report into the train crash is scheduled to be released in April 2022, the TTSB said. In March, the TRA handed down punishments to 12 personnel for their part in the Taroko express train crash.

In addition, the TRA has been reviewing and evaluating 25 railway systems that detect intrusions onto train tracks, 10 of which could be completed by the end of this year and 15 in 2022, according to The Ministry of Transportation and Communications.

(By Wang Shu-fen and Frances Huang)

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