Images: Executive Yuan/TRA

TAIWAN: Investigations have started into the management of engineering work following a fatal collision on Taiwan Railway Administration’s East Coast line north of Hualien on the morning of April 2.

Described as the island’s worst railway accident since a train fire in 1948, the crash killed 51 people and injured around 180.

According to TRA Deputy Director-General Feng Hui-sheng, the eight-car Taroko Express tilting train 408 from Taipei to Taitung had been carrying 492 passengers. Restrictions on standing passengers had reportedly been lifted to cope with increased demand during the four-day Tomb Sweeping holiday, when families traditionally return to their home towns to pay respects at the graves of their ancestors.


At around 09.30, the train collided with a runaway lorry near the entrance to Chingshui Tunnel. Having been derailed by the impact, the leading coaches were then severely damaged when they collided with the tunnel wall, before the train came to a stand with around five vehicles inside the confined single-track bore.

Feng said the two drivers had been killed in the initial impact. Some fatalities resulted from passengers being crushed inside the train, while others had been ejected from the coaches. Recovery of the injured was hampered by the severe damage to the train and the limited access within the horseshoe-shaped tunnel bore. However, all trapped passengers were reportedly freed by 18.30.


This section of line through Chongde in Hualien County runs on a ledge above the sea, with a series of tunnels through headlands in the cliff. When the route was upgraded and electrified in 2003, the second track was built further inland, with longer tunnels.

Work had been underway to construct a rockfall shelter over the inner track at the north end of the new Chingshui tunnel, which is further north than the older bore. Access to the worksite between the diverging running lines was via a steeply-graded track leading down from a road above the cliffs. TRA confirmed that a flatbed lorry used by construction workers had been parked unattended on the access road; this had somehow run away and fallen onto the outer track, 250 m ahead of the southbound train, which hit it just 6·9 sec later.


Investigators from the Transport Safety Board are trying to establish whether the vehicle’s brakes had been properly applied or whether there was a mechanical failure. Both the vehicle driver and the manager of the construction site have been questioned by local police, with the country’s prosecution service citing charges including causing death by negligence.

Deputy Transport Minister Wang Kwo-tsai told local media that the government was considering whether to require the use of protective fences to separate worksites from operational tracks in the future.