Train derails in Taiwan; at least 41 dead, dozens injured

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April 1 (UPI) — A train derailed in a tunnel in eastern Taiwan on Friday, killing at least 41 people and injuring many others, officials said.

The Taiwan Railways Administration said in a statement the eight-carriage Taroko Express train transporting some 350 passengers from the capital Taipei south to Taitung derailed in a tunnel north of Hualien city at about 9:30 a.m. local time.

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At least 40 passengers and the train driver were killed and 81 other passengers with injuries ranging in severity from minor to serious were sent to hospitals, it said, adding rescuers were still trying to reach two people trapped in the carriages.

The railway administration earlier said between 80 and 100 passengers had been evacuated from the first four carriages of the train but carriages five through eight were difficult to enter “due to deformation.”

It said when the train derailed, its carriages hit the walls of the tunnel.

Tsai Ing-wen, the president of Taiwan, said emergency services have been fully mobilized to assist with the rescue operation.

“We will continue to do everything we can to ensure their safety in the wake of this heartbreaking incident,” she said in a statement.

An investigation into the crash is underway, but Hualien County police said a parked construction vehicle whose hand break was not applied rolled down a slope and crashed into the moving train, causing it to derail, the official news agency CNA reported.

The vehicle was unnamed at the time of the accident and those at the construction site are under questioning, the authorities said.

Lin Chia-lung, minister of transportation and communications, said on his Facebook page that he has established a first-level disaster response center and forward command post.

He said he was on his way to the scene.

The derailment occurred on the first day of Qingming Festival, or Tomb-Sweeping Day, a holiday when more people than usual tend to travel.

The Taiwan Railways Administration said it has suspended most of it eastern services routes until the end of the Sunday.

In October of 2018, 18 people were killed and 171 were injured when a passenger train derailed in northeastern Taiwan.