Taiwan train crash

Death toll could change after more body parts found

A damaged train carriage extracted on Tuesday from the site of the deadly derailment north of Hualien, Taiwan. The train crash near the famous Taroko Gorge last Friday killed at least 50 and injured 218. The Taiwan Railways Administration yesterday s
A damaged train carriage extracted on Tuesday from the site of the deadly derailment north of Hualien, Taiwan. The train crash near the famous Taroko Gorge last Friday killed at least 50 and injured 218. The Taiwan Railways Administration yesterday said it is seeking NT$840 million (S$39 million) in compensation from the main suspect Lee Yi-hsiang, whose truck caused the crash.PHOTO: REUTERS

More body parts have been found after the crushed remains of the last carriage of a train that derailed along Taiwan's scenic east coast were finally pulled out from a tunnel at the crash site, almost a week after the accident.

The recovery of human remains late on Tuesday night by workmen who lifted the eighth carriage of the 408 Taroko Express, which was sliced in half when it crashed headlong into the tunnel wall last Friday, led prosecutors to believe that the death toll could change.

DNA from the passengers' remains has been sent to Taipei to help in identification, said Hualien's head prosecutor Yu Hsiu-duan.

The Taiwan Railways Administration (TRA) yesterday said it is seeking NT$840 million (S$39 million) in compensation from the main suspect Lee Yi-hsiang, whose truck caused the train crash that killed at least 50 and injured 218 near the famous Taroko Gorge in Hualien.

On Sunday, the TRA acted to seize NT$376 million of Mr Lee's assets, a move granted by the Hualien District Court on Tuesday.

Mr Lee, 49, had been appointed to manage a construction project to prevent rocks from falling onto the train tracks near the crash site in 2019.

The project was initially scheduled to be completed by January, but the completion date was postponed due to the TRA's safety concerns. The authorities had asked the workmen to cut back on their hours and to operate late at night so as to not affect passing trains which run till midnight.

Mr Lee owns Yi-Hsiang Construction and Yi-Cheng Construction. According to government records, Mr Lee's namesake company had put in bids and secured up to 19 government construction projects in the past five years, worth nearly NT$200 million in total.

Yesterday, during a weekly meeting of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party, President Tsai Ing-wen led its leading members in observing a minute's silence for the victims of the crash, before announcing the need to reform the TRA.

"The Taroko Express accident has hit the Taiwanese hard. We are heartbroken over the deaths and injuries," said Ms Tsai, noting in particular the death of the young train operator.

"Because of this, the TRA must go through a reform," Ms Tsai declared.

The TRA is a government-affiliated railway operator that reports to the Ministry of Transportation and Communication. It is in charge of both passenger and freight trains in Taiwan, except for the high-speed rail, which is managed by a private company.

First and foremost, the Tsai administration will aim to resolve the systemic issues within the TRA. For instance, the train operator now relies on horizontal communication between departments, but in the future, each department would report and work on issues within itself in a top-down manner to boost efficiency.

"Most importantly, many people have pointed out (the need to change) the TRA's idea and standards of construction safety management," Ms Tsai continued.

The next goal would be to pay off long-term debt which the TRA has racked up.

As of July last year, the TRA was NT$403 billion in debt, a 2 per cent increase from the NT$391.5 billion it owed in 2017.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 08, 2021, with the headline 'Death toll could change after more body parts found'. Subscribe