HUALIEN COUNTY, Taiwan – Taiwan prosecutors on Saturday filed for an arrest warrant for the owner of an unmanned truck that rolled onto a railroad track that caused the country’s worst train disaster in decades. 50 people were killed and 178 injured.
The train was carrying 494 people at the start of a long holiday weekend on Friday when it crashed into the site trailer, which slid down a slope over the tracks, the Taiwanese railway administration said.
Many passengers were knocked down just before the train entered a tunnel, while some survivors were forced to climb out the windows and safely walk over the roof of the train.
Authorities initially reported 51 deaths but corrected the countdown at one on Saturday.
The truck’s emergency brake was not properly applied, according to the government’s disaster relief center.
Yu Hsiu-duan, attorney general in eastern Hualien County, where the train derailed, said they were seeking an arrest warrant for the owner of the truck, who was questioned along with several others. She did not provide details, citing an ongoing investigation.
The Hualien District Court allowed the truck owner to post bail of 500,000 new Taiwan dollars ($ 17,516), but he must remain in the county and avoid contact with witnesses, Taiwan’s Central News Agency reported.
President Tsai Ing-wen visited hospitals near the crash rather than the construction site itself so as not to interfere with rescue operations, her spokesman said.
“This heartbreaking accident resulted in many injuries and deaths. I came to Hualien today to visit the injured and offer my condolences to the families of the deceased passengers,” said Tsai. “We will certainly help them in the future.”
Tsai told reporters Friday that she asked the Transportation Safety Committee to conduct a rigorous investigation.
Transport Minister Lin Chia-lung said repairs would be expedited.
“If something like this happens, I am very sorry and I will take full responsibility,” Lin said after visiting the website.
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The workers removed the two rearmost cars from the tracks on Saturday morning. However, a third could not be moved until the tracks were repaired, while the other five cars were still stuck in the tunnel. Two large construction cranes could be seen next to the train in a remote wooded area on the east coast of the island.
The operation should be completed within a week, said Weng Hui-ping, head of the railway administration’s news group. During the repairs, all trains on the east coast will run parallel to the track damaged in the accident, causing delays of 15 to 20 minutes, he said.
The National Fire Department said the dead included the young, newlywed driver of the train and the driver assistant. The government’s disaster relief center said it was the worst rail disaster since a train burned in suburban Taipei in 1948, killing 64 people.
Train travel is popular during Taiwan’s four-day tomb sweeping vacation, when families frequently return to their hometowns to pay their respects at the burial sites of their elders.
Taiwan is a mountainous island, and most of its 24 million people live in the lowlands along the north and west coasts, which are home to most of the island’s fields, largest cities, and high-tech industries.
The lightly populated east where the crash happened is popular with tourists.