A passenger train smashed into a vehicle on its tracks and partially derailed outside a rail tunnel in Taiwan on Friday, killing at least 36 people and injuring dozens. Survivors climbed out windows and onto roofs to reach safety in Taiwan’s deadliest railway disaster.
Officials in Hualien county said rescue efforts were continuing on the train reportedly carrying 350 passengers. The crash occurred early on a public weekend, and Taiwan’s extensive rail system is popular with people avoiding treacherous mountainous roads.
Most other people on the train have been rescued though rescuers are searching wrecked cars for “several people” who may be stuck in awkward places, railways news officer Weng Hui-ping said. He said the 36 confirmed dead was Taiwan’s worst-ever in terms of death toll.
Weng said a construction site truck operated by the railway administration slid onto the track from a work site on the hillside above. The truck was off duty at the time. He said the speed of the train was uncertain when it crashed into the vehicle at 9:28 a.m. near the Toroko Gorge scenic area.
The train had only partially emerged from the tunnel, and with much of it still inside, escaping passengers were forced to scale doors, windows and roofs to reach safety.
Television footage and photos posted by people at the scene on the website of the official Central News Agency showed people climbing out the open door of a railcar just outside the entrance to the tunnel. The inside of one car was pushed all the way into the adjacent seat.
In a tweet, Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen said emergency services “have been fully mobilized to rescue & assist the passengers & railway staff affected. We will continue to do everything we can to ensure their safety in the wake of this heartbreaking incident.”
The accident came on the first day of the four-day Tomb Sweeping Festival, an annual religious festival when people travel to their hometowns for family gatherings and to worship at the graves of their ancestors.
Taiwanese Premier Su Tseng-chang said the Railways Administration would be required to immediately conduct checks along other track line to “prevent this from happening again.”
Taiwan’s last major rail crash was in October 2018 when an express train derailed while rounding a tight corner on the northeast coast, killing at least 18 people and injuring nearly 200.
In 1991, a collision in western Taiwan killed 30 people and another accident a decade earlier had also killed 30. Those were said to the worst previous crashes on the railway system that dates from the late 19th century.
Taiwan is a mountainous island where most of its 24 million people are squeezed onto flatlands along the northern and western coasts that is home to most of the island’s farmland, biggest cities and high-tech industries. The lightly populated east is popular with tourists, many of whom arrive along the coastal railway lines to avoid treacherous mountain roads.
Taiwan’s extensive rail system has undergone substantial upgrades in recent years, particularly with the addition of a high-speed line connecting the capital Taipei with west coast cities to the south.
The train involved in Friday’s accident, the Toroko No. 408 is one of Taiwan’s newer models and requires tickets to be reserved in advance with no standing allowed.