An express train derailed on a coastal route popular with tourists in north-eastern Taiwan yesterday, killing at least 18 and injuring some 170 others in the island's worst rail accident in 27 years.
The train, Puyuma Express 6432, with 366 people on board, went off the tracks between the Dongshan and Suxin stations in Yilan county, near Taipei, at 4.50pm, the Taiwan Railways Administration (TRA) said.
As of 10.30pm yesterday, 18 people were dead, while 168 others were injured, of whom 10 were in serious condition. At least one of those hurt was a foreigner, a 43-year-old American woman, according to United Daily News.
The authorities are checking whether other foreigners were aboard the train, which was travelling from Taipei's Shulin station to the eastern coastal county of Taitung, TRA said.
An estimated 30 to 40 passengers were initially reported to be trapped in the wreckage.
President Tsai Ing-wen described the accident as a "major tragedy" in a tweet. "We will use all our strength and efforts for the rescue," she wrote on her Facebook page.
Hundreds of medics and firefighters dispatched to the scene were rushing to take the injured, including the train driver, to hospitals and rescue those still stuck in the train. The army was also sending 100 troops to the site.
It was the worst rail accident in Taiwan since 1991, when 30 passengers were killed and 112 injured when two trains collided in Miaoli.
Photographs posted on social media showed all eight of the train's carriages lying helter-skelter near the tracks at the accident site. Five were lying on their sides.
Purported close-up shots of the wreckage captured bent stretches of the track piercing through the train's windows.
A passenger identified by only his surname Ko told Apple Daily he heard sounds that went "pong, pong, pong" before a plume of smoke rose from the tracks. Many things then fell from the overhead compartments as the carriage he was in tilted by about 10 degrees.
Mr Ko said he and a friend managed to escape unscathed.
Another passenger, Mr Chen He-ren, told Central News Agency the train shook violently just before it derailed. He added that the train braked inexplicably several times on the tracks before the accident.
Services in both directions along the route have been suspended following the mishap, stranding thousands of passengers.
TRA chief Lu Chieh-shen told reporters the cause of the derailment was as yet unknown. The train, which reaches maximum speeds of 150kmh, had been in service for only six years and underwent comprehensive maintenance work only recently, he noted.
Train derailments are not unusual in Taiwan, which has a mountainous terrain, but rarely are they as deadly as yesterday's disaster.
It is the worst rail accident in Taiwan since 1991, when 30 passengers were killed and 112 injured when two trains collided in the western county of Miaoli.
In July, a train went off the rails in Ping Hsi, New Taipei City, with no casualties. In June 2016, two trains derailed in separate incidents in coastal Hualien after rail tracks buckled under record heat. Two passengers were injured in those accidents.
Taiwan's deadliest railway disaster happened on March 8, 1981, when a train plunged into a river after colliding with a truck in the northern Hsinchu county. At least 30 people died and 130 others were hurt.