Taiwan death train driver saluted for his actions

Top News | Staff reporter 7 Apr 2021

A Taiwanese train driver only had seven seconds to react before the train crashed into a runaway crane vehicle, and did his best by braking it for at least four seconds, officials said.

The Taiwan Transportation Safety Board yesterday revealed footage filmed from the head of the train before Friday’s fatal crash at Hualien County’s Xiulin Township.

The eight-car Taroko Express train heading to Hualien crashed into a crane truck that slid from the hill and fell onto the track, causing it to derail, killing 50 people, including 33-year-old train driver Yuan Chunxiu, and wounding 202 others.

According to the video, the train braked at 9.28.43am. It crashed into the head of the crane truck seconds later at 9.28.46am.

The train then crashed into the tunnel together with the head of the crane truck – which disintegrated – before the video blacked out.

The exact time for the crane truck to fall onto the rails has yet to be determined, but the board estimated it to be around one minute before the train arrived at the spot.

Yang Hongzhi, the board’s chairman, said the train was going at 125 kilometers an hour when it was 250 meters away from the truck.

In order to bring the train into a stop, the driver had to brake for around 16 seconds.

But he only had seven seconds to react. Records showed he braked for at least four seconds.

“The train was running at 126 kmh two seconds before the video blackout. At the end of the video, it was running at 121 kmh. The driver already did his best to mitigate the situation, but the tragedy still happened,” he said.

Yuan was highly unlikely to be held responsible for the crash, Yang said.

The video could have failed to accurately record the braking duration as the recorder was damaged in the collision, he said. Yuan probably applied the brake longer than four seconds.

Investigators also found that other trucks and at least another crane truck were operating in the vicinity at the time of the accident.

Yuan was cremated yesterday morning in a ceremony attended by family and friends, including his teary wife.

Transport minister Lin Jialong said he will fight for the highest honor for Yuan and take care of his family.

Ye Yijin, a member of the Control Yuan that is an independent investigatory and auditory agency in Taiwan, questioned if the frequent accidents pointed to serious flaws in train operations.

In 2018, a train derailed in Yilan county, killing 18 people and injuring 187.

Taiwan Railways Administration failed to learn a lesson and plug the loopholes in its management. It was regrettable that it failed to restore public confidence in rail transportation, Ye said.

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