Report into deadly train crash highlights 'unprofessional' worksites

05/10/2022 10:14 PM
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CNA photo May 10, 2022
CNA photo May 10, 2022

Taipei, May 10 (CNA) Unprofessional worksite practices and unclear contract stipulations were among a number of failures surrounding a train crash that killed 49 and injured 213 in April last year, the Taiwan Transportation Safety Board (TTSB) said Tuesday.

On April 2, 2021, the No. 408 Taroko Express Train derailed and crashed into the wall of the Qingshui Tunnel at 9:28 a.m. after hitting a contractor's crane truck that had rolled onto the tracks.

A TTSB report released Tuesday found that pressure from the Taiwan Railways Administration (TRA) to expedite already delayed construction had led to contractors ignoring instructions to suspend work on the day of the crash.

The TRA had cut the time available by enforcing a switch from daytime to nighttime construction on the project, and also asked contractors to halt work on April 2 due to the increased services on the line over the Tomb Sweeping Festival holiday.

According to the report, the derailment involved a series of unprofessional worksite practices, many of which were not clearly addressed in the contracts between the TRA and its contractors.

Before the crane truck rolled onto the tracks, the worksite director and a worker from contractor Dong Xin Construction were trying to jump-start the truck but failed to keep it fixed, the report said.

The report added that the workers, who carried neither a TRA radio nor emergency contact details, did not notify the TRA operations center.

TTSB's suggestions

The TTSB suggested future TRA regulations should require daily site notifications from contractors to reduce operational safety risks.

The TRA should also establish emergency notification procedures and provide contractors with training to communicate with trains via handheld wireless radio, it added.

In addition, the report advised that the TRA provide comprehensive training on how construction affects the safety of train operations to TRA contractors and auditors.

Meanwhile, the report also suggested that the TRA refer to international standards and consider specifying buffer zones in trains, such as the aisles and gangway connections, citing an analysis of the casualties.

According to the TTSB, a total of 10 deceased passengers with standing tickets were standing in gangway connections between carriages, accounting for 71.42 percent of all deceased passengers with known standing locations and accounting for 20.4 percent of the entire death toll.

The proportion of deceased passengers who stood in gangway connections was high, the TTSB said, contending the TRA did not effectively warn or limit passengers' stay in gangway connections or compartments.

Since the fatality rate among those with standing tickets was seven times higher than that of passengers with seated tickets, the TRA should consider reducing its current offer of 120 standing tickets for each Taroko Express or Puyuma Express train, which are known for their tilting features that enable a higher travel speed, the board said.

Family members' demand

Also attending the press conference, family members of the victims asked the government to establish a committee to follow up on how TTSB's recommendations are implemented so that the report does not end up being empty words.

Meanwhile, when asked about his position in a debate on whether to convert the TRA into a corporation to improve its safety performances, TTSB head Young Hong (楊宏智) said that he personally supported TRA's corporatization.

The TRA has failed to live up to people's expectations, Young said, even though the transformation may not solve its problem immediately, changes can introduce new opportunities.

(By Wang Shu-fen and Lee Hsin-Yin)

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