Taiwan News, Staff Writer
2013-08-31 03:08 PM
The Tze-Chiang Limited Express was traveling from Taitung to Kaohsiung on the southern cross-island rail line when mud and rocks rolled from a hillside and hit carriages at 7:33 Saturday morning past Fangliao, Pingtung County. The first two cars derailed outside the tunnel, while the rest of the train was stuck inside, with only the fifth and the sixth car still standing on the tracks, reports said.
An estimated 250 passengers were traveling on the train. First comments said the mudslide might have been the result of the abundant torrential rain which fell in Southern Taiwan during the passing of Tropical Storm Kong-Rey Thursday and Friday. Continuing rain was still causing problems for the rescue effort, reports said.
The train was reportedly traveling at 90 kilometers per hour and was unable to brake in time to avoid the mudslide, the driver reportedly told the Taiwan Railway Administration.
The injured passengers were taken to hospitals in Taitung, while military personnel were mobilized to help with the evacuation of the other passengers from the isolated accident site to Tawu station in Taitung County. The evacuation was reportedly completed by 10 a.m.
It was not immediately known when traffic could be restored on the line, which links the sparsely populated southeastern Taitung region with populous Kaohsiung in the Southwest. The stretch of railway line reportedly saw five mudslides causing four derailments over the past decade.
The TRA estimated it would be at least 9 p.m. before the train cars were towed away and the debris could be cleared, while trains might have to wait until tomorrow morning before being allowed to move through the tunnel again. Earlier statements predicted traffic could resume this morning, but the TRA later changed its prediction. By early evening, three cars had been moved to Taitung, but three others were still inside the tunnel, reports said.
Numerous passengers at Kaohsiung station returned their tickets because staff was unable to tell them when service would be restored, reports said. The rain, the isolated location without access road and the position of the train cars inside the tunnel all made the effort extremely difficult, reports said.
The TRA installed surveillance systems on seven segments known to be at risk from mudslides, including four on the same stretch of line, but the Fangshan No.1 tunnel where Saturday’s accident happened was not one of them. Each system reportedly costs NT$1 million (US$33,400).
In a separate incident, the main railway station in the northern harbor town of Keelung was flooded and train services were suspended Saturday afternoon, reports said.
Also in the Keelung area, traffic between Taipei and Yilan in the northeast was limited to a single track because of water flooding the other track between Chitu and Juifang, while a mudslide hit an overpass in Nuannuan.
Flooding in other parts of the country was also serious Saturday, with the Tainan City Government even declaring schools and offices closed for the evening.