THE SUICIDE of a Taiwan Railway Administration ticket clerk on March 23 marked a tragic twist in a bizarre tale of sabotage on the South Link railway between Taitung and Kaohsiung.

Over the past two years, six separate incidents have seen track fastenings removed in Pingtung county. On June 21 2005 a train was derailed after fishplates had been removed, injuring 14 people. The saboteur left messages accusing TRA of corruption, but some reports suggested a possible financial motive with the track components being sold for scrap.

The attacks culminated in another derailment on March 17, when a six-carriage westbound express rolled down the embankment at Fang-shan after fishplates had again been removed. Out of 242 people on the train, three were seriously injured, including the driver and his assistant. Passenger Chen Shi was thought to have died from her injuries, but was subsequently found to have been poisioned.

Investigators established that Chen and her husband, TRA ticket clerk Lee Shuang-chuan, had also been on the previous train that had derailed. They were trying to ascertain whether Lee, who had worked as a track inspector, could have been involved in earlier incidents when local media named him as a primary suspect and he killed himself.

Investigations into the derailment are continuing, as it is not clear how Lee could have dismantled the track in the 76min after the passage of the previous train and still boarded the doomed express.