Forty-three injured in train derailment in Miaoli County

The China Post staff and agencies

A train derailed and tilted to its side when it passed a bridge Friday, throwing four passengers through broken windows onto a river bank and injuring 39 others who were bounced around inside the cars.

Four of the south-bound train’s nine cars tilted to their left side on the Nankang Creek Bridge as the train skidded to a halt in Miaoli County’s Tsaochiao township at about 1015 a.m., police said.

Television footage showed the rear wagons of the Chukuang train hanging precariously from the edge of the overhead tracks, the wheels mangled by the force of the impact.

Dozens of passengers fell inside the cars. The impact threw three women and one man through the broken windows down onto the river bank 10 meters below, police said.

They were taken to nearby hospitals where they underwent surgery for broken ribs and other injuries, police said.

The other injured passengers were also taken to hospitals for treatment of cuts and bruises, they added.

“The train wasn’t running smoothly, and suddenly it was shaking violently. Before we knew what was going on, the train overturned,” said passenger Wang Ying-sheng, who was riding on the fifth car. The derailing threw train services on the mountain line into disarray, and the state-Taiwan Railway Administration (TRA) said they would not be resumed until today. The TRA said the accident might have been caused by twisted tracks, but further investigations would have to be conducted. TRA chief engineer Huang Ming-jen told a press conference in the afternoon that the train driver discovered that the tracks were twisted but was unable to stop the train in time. He suspected that loosened foundations might have twisted the tracks. But he did not rule out the possibility of the train’s faulty suspension system.

He said it was unlikely that heat was the cause of the problem.

The TRA said that 13 minutes before the mishap, another train had just passed the same spot and everything seemed normal. Transportation and Communications Minister Yeh Chu-lan, who visited the victims at a number of hospitals, ordered the TRA to complete the investigation in a week. She offered each injured passenger NT$20,000 in consolation money, and promised further compensation.

TRA Director Huang Der-chyr was cutting short his business trip in Japan and was returning to Taiwan to handle one of the worst train accidents in Taiwan history, officials said. Tsaochiao township has been the site of a few fatal train accidents over the past 25 years. In 1976, two trains collided, killing 29, and injuring over 100. In 1991, two trains also collided, killing 30 and injuring over 100. According to passenger accounts in yesterday’s mishap, the sixth car of the train began belching white smoke before the train’s emergency brake was applied and, seconds later, the train derailed.

The locomotive, along with the first, second, third, seventh and eighth cars, derailed. The fourth car tipped to one side, and the fifth and sixth cars ended up hanging precariously on the edge of bridge. Only the ninth car remained on the track.

The TRA has quickly mobilized large cranes to try to remove the cars trapped on the bridge, trying to resume services as soon as possible. The mountain line train traffic between Chunan and Changhua has been suspended because of the accident, and all trains have been redirected to the coastal line.