TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) — The owner of a construction truck that caused Taiwan’s worst rail accident in decades, killing 48 people, apologized in tears while being led away from his home by police on Sunday. The unmanned truck’s emergency brake was not properly engaged, according to the government’s disaster relief center.
An investigation is underway as to how exactly Lee Yi-Hsiang’s vehicle slid down onto the tracks Friday from a nearby construction site on the mountainous coast of eastern Hualien county. The truck was hit by a passenger train carrying 494 people, which derailed just before entering a tunnel, crushing many passengers inside the mangled train carriages.
The death toll was revised down to 48 on Sunday, after rescuers initially said 51, then 50 people were killed. The changes came after some body parts were found to belong to one individual, a spokesperson for the Central Emergency Operation Center said. At least 198 people were injured.
“I have caused a serious accident on the Taiwan Railway Administrations’ Taroko train number 480 during this year’s Tomb Sweeping Holidays, causing deaths and injuries, to this I express my remorse and my sincerest apologies,” said Lee, who is also the construction site’s manager, his words muffled by a face mask and by emotion. “I will cooperate with the authorities’ investigation fully, and take responsibility.”
Prosecutors in Hualien county previously said they were seeking an arrest warrant for the truck’s owner, who was questioned along with several others.
The Hualien district court initially allowed Lee to post bail of 500,000 new Taiwan dollars (US$17,516), but that decision was reversed Sunday when a higher court in Hualien rescinded the lower court’s decision to allow bail, Taiwan’s Central News Agency reported.
President Tsai Ing-wen visited hospitals near the crash instead of the site itself so as not to interfere with rescue work, her spokesperson said.
“This heartbreaking accident caused many injuries and deaths. I came to Hualien today to visit the injured and express my condolences to the deceased passengers’ families,” Tsai said. “We will surely help them in the aftermath.”
Tsai told reporters Friday that she asked the Transportation Safety Committee to conduct a strict investigation.
Transportation Minister Lin Chia-lung said repairs will be accelerated.
“When such a thing happens, I feel very sorry and I will take full responsibility,” Lin said after touring the site.
Workers removed the two rearmost cars from the tracks Saturday morning. However, a third could not be moved before the tracks are repaired while the other five cars were still wedged into the tunnel. Two large construction cranes could be seen drawn up next to the train in a remote area on the island’s east coast.
The operation should be done within a week, said Weng Hui-ping, head of the railway administration’s news group. During the repairs, all east coast trains will run on a track parallel to the one damaged in the accident, causing delays of 15 to 20 minutes, he said.
The National Fire Service said the dead included the train’s young, newly married driver and the assistant driver. The government’s disaster response center said it was the worst rail disaster since a train caught fire in 1948 in suburban Taipei, killing 64 people.
Train travel is popular during Taiwan’s four-day Tomb Sweeping holiday, when families often return to their home towns to pay respects at the gravesites of their elders. It’s also an opportunity to take a vacation.
Taiwan is a mountainous island, and most of its 24 million people live in the flatlands along the northern and western coasts that are home to most of the island’s farmland, biggest cities and high-tech industries. The lightly populated east where the crash happened is popular as a tourist destination, and the railway line is known for its beautiful natural scenery.
About the photo: Rescue workers remove a part of the derailed train near Taroko Gorge in Hualien, Taiwan on Saturday, April 3, 2021. The train partially derailed in eastern Taiwan on Friday after colliding with an unmanned vehicle that had rolled down a hill, killing and injuring dozens. (AP Photo/Chiang Ying-ying)
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