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Taiwan Prosecutors Charge Man With Causing Deadly Train Crash

TAIPEI, Taiwan — Taiwanese prosecutors on Friday formally charged the operator of a crane truck that slid down an embankment into the path of an oncoming express train, resulting in the island’s deadliest rail disaster in decades.

The operator of the truck, Lee Yi-hsiang, has been in detention in Hualien, a city in eastern Taiwan, since shortly after the April 2 crash. He had previously apologized and taken responsibility for causing the collision, which forced the eight-car Taroko Express to fly off the rails and slam into the walls of a tunnel, killing 49 people and injuring more than 200 others.

“This case has already caused the innocent deaths of 49 victims, and the enduring pain of their families,” Chou Fang-yi, the Hualien District prosecutor, told reporters at a briefing on Friday.

It also caused millions of dollars in economic losses and damaged Taiwan’s reputation as a destination for tourism, she said.

many families who were on their way to scenic eastern Taiwan for the Tomb Sweeping holiday weekend, emerged from a nearby tunnel and collided with the vehicle. The train had been traveling at about 80 miles an hour, investigators have said.

The prosecutors said they were bringing multiple charges against Mr. Lee, including negligent homicide, leaving the crash scene and falsifying his credentials to apply for the project.

If convicted on all counts, Mr. Lee could face up to twelve years in prison, Ms. Chou said in an interview.

Mr. Hua and two other project supervisors who were not at the crash site that day have also been charged with negligent homicide, a crime which carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison. The police department had previously said that Mr. Hua was a migrant worker from Vietnam.

The revelation that the crane truck had been associated with a government-commissioned project has triggered an increasingly heated public discussion in recent days about the Taiwan Railways Administration, which runs the Taroko Express and was also the agency behind the slope safety scheme.

train derailed in northeastern Taiwan’s Yilan County.

Just days after the crash in Hualien this month, President Tsai Ing-wen vowed to overhaul the railway agency, which has long been dogged by complaints about its bureaucratic culture and weak safety consciousness.

“When it comes to the TRA, my view is much the same,” Ms. Tsai said. “People everywhere in Taiwan deserve to have a safe path home. Reforming the agency is our unshirkable responsibility.”

The train crash in Hualien has been one of the worst disasters that Ms. Tsai has faced since she took office in 2016. Her transportation minister, Lin Chia-lung, has already offered to resign and will leave office next week.

An official with the Taiwan Transportation Safety Board, a government agency that is responsible for investigating major transportation accidents, said recently that the agency’s investigation into the crash was continuing. It expected to release the results next year.

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Taiwan Crash Investigators Focus on How Truck Fell in Train’s Path

HUALIEN, Taiwan — Two days after Taiwan’s deadliest rail disaster in decades, investigators were working on Sunday to determine why a truck had slipped downhill from a construction site into the path of an express train, resulting in the collision and derailment that killed dozens of people.

The operator of the crane truck, Lee Yi-hsiang, was ordered detained on Sunday by a judge, who reversed an earlier decision to grant him bail. Mr. Lee, who has not been charged with a crime, told reporters he had caused the crash and said he would take full responsibility for it.

“I hereby express my deep regret and my sincerest apologies,” Mr. Lee said, his voice choking as he bowed in apology.

But investigators were still trying to determine whether Mr. Lee had neglected to use the emergency brake, or if the truck had malfunctioned in some way. Mr. Lee told reporters on Saturday that he had engaged the brake.

survivors and relatives of the dead have shown more grief than anger. Taiwan’s last serious train crash, in 2018, was found to have been caused by driver’s negligence, but initial impressions were that the collision on Friday was something more like a freak accident.

Some family members said they did not want to assign responsibility for the disaster before the government had finished its investigation, which the authorities said would take about two months.

“I don’t want to blame anyone,” Wu Ming-yu, 68, said on Sunday, as she sat with family members under a tent at a funeral home in Hualien, a city south of the crash site on Taiwan’s east coast. They were waiting for a mortuary makeup artist to finish work on the body of Ms. Wu’s daughter, Huang Chiao-ling, a 35-year-old nurse who had been on her way to see her family.

Still, Ms. Wu said she was concerned that the construction site may have fallen short of safety standards. “You have to ensure the safety of the construction, because if you don’t you will end up hurting other people,” said Ms. Wu.

The construction project had been commissioned by Taiwan’s transportation ministry to improve the safety of the slope near the crash site, which occurred on a steep mountainside on the Pacific coast. It was part of a larger, six-year plan to enhance railway safety in Taiwan. Mr. Lee, the operator of the crane truck, was also the project’s site manager.

“It’s ironic and very unfortunate,” said Yusin Lee, a professor of civil engineering and director of the Center for Railway Studies at National Cheng Kung University in the southern city of Tainan. “It’s a reminder that even when we have safety-targeted construction projects, we still have to keep safety in mind.”

At a news conference on Sunday, officials said that Lee Yi-hsiang may have concealed part of his background when he applied to be the project’s site manager.

Su Chih-wu, a quality control engineer on the site, said by telephone that workers had nearly finished the project, which was focused on reinforcing the structure of a train tunnel running parallel to the one where the crash occurred.

He also said that there should not have been workers at the site on Friday, since it was the first day of a long holiday weekend. It was not clear on Sunday whether Lee Yi-hsiang or anyone else had been at the site that day.

Another engineer on the project, Yang Chin-lang, rejected the idea that his team had failed to ensure an adequate level of safety. “I didn’t do anything wrong,” he said by telephone. Both Mr. Yang and Mr. Su said they had been interviewed by prosecutors on Saturday.

“I just followed the design blueprints and did my job,” Mr. Yang added.

The crash occurred near Qingshui Cliff, an area where mountains rise dramatically from the Pacific Ocean. Experts say the difficult terrain has long presented a challenge to transportation engineers, and many accidents have happened on the winding highway there over the years. But the rail and highway routes are an essential link between Taipei, the capital, and the east coast.

Feng Hui Sheng, deputy director of the Taiwan Railways Administration, said in an interview on Sunday that the agency had made continual safety improvements to its systems and equipment since the 2018 crash.

He said that those changes would continue and that the authorities would also seek to improve the network’s signal and alarm systems and upgrade track safety. But he also acknowledged that broader changes might happen slowly.

“When it comes to the innovation and reform of the system,” he added, “we are more conservative.”

Joy Dong reported from Hong Kong.

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They Survived Taiwan’s Train Crash. Their Loved Ones Did Not.

HUALIEN, Taiwan — Crawling through the smoky wreckage, she first found her husband and son pinned under luggage lockers and mangled steel, but they weren’t breathing. Then she called her daughter’s name. A faint voice responded: “I’m over here.”

Following the voice, Hana Kacaw found her daughter underneath a mass of metal train parts. She tried pulling pieces of the wreckage off, but it was no use. “Please hold on,” she urged. “Someone is coming to rescue us.’

“I can’t hang on any longer,” her daughter responded, according to Ms. Kacaw. Those were her last words.

Just like that, Ms. Kacaw had lost her husband of more than 20 years and their 21-year-old son and 20-year-old daughter, both promising athletes in college. They were among the 51 people who were killed on Friday when a train derailed along Taiwan’s east coast in the island’s worst such disaster in four decades. Others who died included the train’s two drivers, at least two young children, as well as a French national and an American.

The eight-car Taroko Express train had been nearly full, with about 490 passengers — including 120 or so who held standing-room-only tickets — on the first day of a long holiday weekend in Taiwan. The authorities say the train, which was bound for the eastern city of Taitung, probably collided with a construction vehicle that had rolled down a slope onto the track, then slammed into a tunnel.

The authorities, who have pledged a thorough investigation, said on Saturday that a suspect had been questioned and then released on bail. The government also said that it might compensate families about $190,000 for each deceased person, although it would finalize the amount later.

By Saturday, rescuers had saved all those they presumed had survived, and were using excavators to try to pull out the train cars. The casualties were the greatest in several train cars — numbered 5 to 8 — that were stuck deep inside the tunnel. Ms. Kacaw, who had been in Car 8, at the front of the train, had eventually found her way out of the tunnel on her own.

After spending a sleepless night in a hotel, she joined dozens of other grieving relatives on Saturday in the grim, painful task of identifying remains and saying their goodbyes.

They gathered at a temporary support center that had been set up under tents outside a funeral home in Hualien, a city south of the crash site. They took turns entering a morgue where bodies were being kept, and many emerged shaken and distraught. Some discussed funeral arrangements and reviewed autopsy reports, while volunteers, Christian pastors and Buddhist monks — and even President Tsai Ing-wen, briefly — offered comfort.

For some families, grief has been complicated by uncertainty. Some relatives were frustrated that they had been unable to identify their loved ones, but officials said they were hoping that DNA samples would help. The impact of the crash was so great and the destruction so severe, the officials explained, that in several train cars, rescuers could only extricate human remains in parts.

Inside these train cars, the acrid smell of blood hung in the air, said Zeng Wen-Long, a volunteer Red Cross rescue worker, in an interview. It was there, also in Car 8, that Mr. Zeng’s team found 5-year-old Yang Chi-chen, who had been traveling with her older sister and father, wedged under a chair.

More than an hour passed before the team had reached her on Friday, and she was already very weak. Mr. Zeng said he had carried her to her father, Max Yang, who was leaning against the tunnel and had called out to the rescuers, asking to hold the motionless child.

Mr. Yang, 42, said he had tried calling to her to wake her up. Several times, he said, her eyes would flutter open before closing again. “I’m sorry,” Mr. Yang told her.

By the time they got to a hospital, Mr. Yang said, Chi-chen had died. She was one of the youngest victims. Her 9-year-old sister remains in intensive care.

On Saturday, Mr. Yang returned to the site of the crash — a tunnel running through verdant mountains overlooking the Pacific Ocean — with other grieving relatives to “call back the soul,” a traditional Taoist mourning ritual typically performed for victims of an accident.

Facing the placid blue waters, the family members called out to their loved ones who had perished in the crash.

“Come home!” they yelled toward the tunnel, where workers in yellow hard hats had halted work on restoring the damaged railway track and removing the train carriages. “It’s time to go now!”

Mr. Yang said that Chi-Chen, a rambunctious girl, had been excited to spend the long holiday weekend at an ocean-themed amusement park in Hualien, known for its dolphin show.

“Yang Chi-chen, stop playing in the water now, we’re leaving!” wailed Mr. Yang, who still had a catheter in his hand and bandages on his bruised cheek. “We’re going to take the bus to have fun somewhere else!”

On a viewing platform above the other families, Ms. Kacaw, the woman who had lost her husband and two children, wept quietly as a Christian pastor led a prayer.

Both her son, Kacaw, and her daughter, Micing, had been students and track stars at the National Taiwan Sport University in Taoyuan, a city near Taipei. They were a tight-knit family and maintained a deep connection to their Indigenous ethnic group, the Amis.

Ms. Kacaw said she had enjoyed playing badminton with her daughter in their neighborhood in New Taipei City and listening to her son play the guitar. She said the children had been introverts, just like their father, Siki Takiyo, whom she described as a soft-spoken university administrator.

Now, all three of them were gone, and Ms. Kacaw’s grief was compounded by guilt as she struggled to understand how they could have died while she survived.

She said she could not stop thinking about how she had asked her children to go back to their ancestral home in eastern Taiwan. She had wanted them to see their grandparents and pay their respects at their ancestors’ graves. The children had agreed even though her daughter had a track meet and her son had been preparing for exams.

On Friday morning, the family missed the train they had originally booked. A kindly ticket seller on the platform had offered to upgrade them to the Taroko Express, which would get them there faster. On the train, she had taken a seat at the back of the first car, while her husband and children had been at the front — the part of the train that would later absorb the greatest impact.

To Ms. Kacaw, the seeming randomness of it all was unbearable.

“Why didn’t I go with them?” she asked, in tears. “Why did I ask my children to come home with me?”

After the prayer, she sat in a wheelchair, dazed, a large cotton bandage across her forehead. Tears streamed down her face as she stared out at the ocean. A light rain began to fall.

“My only wish is for them to come into my dreams tonight,” she said.

Joy Dong reported from Hong Kong.

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Taiwan Train Derails in Tunnel, Killing at Least 1 Person

TAIPEI, Taiwan — A passenger train derailed in eastern Taiwan on Friday morning, killing at least one person with many more feared dead, according to the government-run Central News Agency.

The eight-car train had been traveling from the Taipei area to the eastern coastal city of Taitung when it came off the rails in a tunnel just north of Hualien, causing several carriages to hit the walls of the tunnel, the agency reported, citing the fire department.

Photos circulating online showed passengers evacuating from the train as fire department and medical workers tried to access the carriages inside the stone tunnel. In one photo carried by the Central News Agency, a crumpled carriage was smashed against the tunnel wall.

The Taroko Express train is one of the fastest in Taiwan and typically travels at around 80 miles per hour. The agency said the train had been carrying around 350 passengers at the time of the crash.

Friday was the start of the annual “Tomb Sweeping” holiday, a time when Taiwan sees a surge in travel.

In 2018, a Puyuma Express train derailed in northeast Taiwan’s Yilan County, killing 18 people and injuring 170. Taiwanese investigators later found that the train had been going too fast and that the driver had manually disabled an automatic train protection system designed to prevent the train from exceeding safe speeds.

The 2018 crash was the deadliest in Taiwan since 1981, when a collision in Miaoli County, in the island’s northwest, killed 31 people.

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Trains Collide in Egypt, Killing at Least 32

CAIRO — Two trains collided in southern Egypt on Friday, killing at least 32 people and injuring 90, in the latest disaster to strike a railway system that has been plagued by accidents, poor maintenance and mismanagement for years.

The Egyptian National Railways Authority said “unknown actors” had activated the brakes on one of the trains involved near the city of Sohag on the Nile and another train coming from behind crashed into it, causing two passenger cars to overturn. A video shot by a passenger and posted online showed a frantic scene inside one of the cars, where people appeared to be trapped.

“Save us,” one of the passengers is heard screaming. “We can’t get the people out.”

President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi promised in a post on his official Twitter page to penalize those responsible.

“The pain that breaks our hearts will only increase our resolve to end such disasters,” he said.

The collision came as Egypt was dealing with a crisis on the Suez Canal, where a cargo ship that ran aground has halted traffic for days on one of the world’s main shipping routes.

country’s worst rail disaster claimed more than 300 lives when a fire erupted on a speeding train traveling to Cairo from southern Egypt.

At least 20 people were killed and dozens were injured in 2019 when a train crashed into a platform at Cairo’s main rail station, touching off a fire. A year earlier, a passenger train and a cargo train collided in the Nile Delta north of Cairo, killing at least 12 people. In 2017, two trains crashed near the port city of Alexandria, killing at least 37 people and injuring more than 100.

While investigations and inquiries are often ordered up following the crashes, little has been done to solve the longstanding problems. After one crash in 2018, Mr. Sisi said the government lacked the roughly $14 billion needed to overhaul the run-down rail system.

Anna Schaverien contributed reporting from London.

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