Express train hit by steel rail raises spectre of past disaster

A windscreen was damaged, but no injuries were reported, after a steel rail from a trackside construction project fell onto the tracks and hit a train in New Taipei City this morning, Tuesday, December 1.

Taiwan Rail Administration (TRA) reported that the Taroko class express train was hit by a steel rail at 8:52 am between Dali and Fulong stations, causing the windscreen to be cracked.

The steel rail fell from a slope stabilization project around 7-8 meters away from the tracks. Fortunately, neither the driver, nor any of the 110 passengers aboard the train were injured.

Rail traffic in both directions was temporarily suspended, and two-way single-track traffic resumed at around 9:20 am.

The incident immediately sparked controversy, as it raised the spectre of the Hualien Taroko derailment accident which occurred earlier this year, and was the second-most serious rail disaster in Taiwan’s history.

On April 2, 2021, a Taroko express carrying 409 people derailed and smashed into a tunnel wall in Hualien County, killing 49, and injuring more than 200. The accident was caused by a truck that rolled onto the tracks from a slope stabilization project above the railway line.

The disaster dealt a serious blow to the reputations of Taiwan Railways Administration and the incumbent Democratic Progressive Party government. The Minister of Transportation and Communications, Lin Chia-lung resigned after rescue efforts were completed two days after the accident, and TRA was ordered to review its standard operating procedures with regard to safety on trackside construction projects.

The current Minister of Transportation and Communication, Wang Kwo-tsai was reported to be furious this morning after being informed of today’s incident. At least nine serious railway safety incidents have been reported in the last three months, many of which were attributed to human error. Just a few days ago, the minister had ordered TRA to review safety protocols.

In response to the incident, the Ministry of Transportation and Communications has ordered an in-depth investigation of the cause of the accident. Minister Wang described the incident as serious negligence on the part of the public works section, and told TRA Commissioner, Du Wei, to punish and replace the director of public works and section chiefs.

composite image of construction site and pile driver with broken rail section
Slope stabilization project site showing pile driver carrying steel rail. Picture: TRA.
Taroko train stopped beside slope stabilization project site.
Train at site of incident. Picture: TRA.

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