Truck owner apologises over train derailment that killed dozens

·3-min read

The manager of a construction site whose truck slid onto rail tracks causing a catastrophic train crash in Taiwan has accepted responsibility for the disaster.

In the island's worst rail accident in seven decades, 50 people have been confirmed dead after a packed express train carrying almost 500 passengers and crew slammed into a truck near the eastern city of Hualien on Friday, causing it to derail and the front part to crumple.

The truck the train hit had slid down a sloping road onto the track just outside a tunnel.

The scene of a train derailment in Taiwan, which killed at least 50 people.
At least 50 people have been confirmed dead after a train derailed in Taiwan on Friday last week. Source: Sipa USA via AAP

Officials are investigating the manager of the construction site, Lee Yi-hsiang, whose truck is suspected of not having its brakes properly applied.

Mr Lee had been released on bail, though the high court's Hualien branch on Sunday rescinded the decision after prosecutors appealed it, sending the case back to the lower court.

The manager on Sunday read out a statement apologising for what happened as police took him away from his residence, Taiwan media reported.

"I deeply regret this and express my deepest apologies," he said. 

"I will definitely co-operate with the prosecutors and police in the investigation, accept the responsibility that should be borne, and never shirk it.

"Finally, I once again express my sincerest apologies."

Truck driver Lee Yi-hsiang apologised for the train accident.
Lee Yi-hsiang, the driver of the truck that caused the train accident on Saturday, offers a public apology. Source: EBC via AP

Derailment death toll could rise, authorities warn

Speaking earlier in the day at the crash site overlooking the ocean and backed by precipitous mountains, Transport Minister Lin Chia-lung said he too would "not avoid" responsibility.

"I am also in charge of minimising the damage caused by the entire accident. After the whole rescue work is completed, I believe I will take the responsibility," he said.

Premier Su Tseng-chang's office said Mr Lin had made a verbal offer to resign on Saturday, but Mr Su rejected it for the time being, saying efforts for now should focus on rescue and recovery.

Workers are continuing to remove the train from inside the tunnel and look for other bodies, and officials have warned the death toll could go up or down as they verify identities. 

The government revised the toll down by one on Sunday evening to 50.

The transport ministry and the rail administration that comes under it are facing a number of questions, including why there was no proper fencing at the site and whether too many standing-only tickets were sold for the train journey.

Deputy Transport Minister Wang Kwo-tsai said late Saturday the railway administration needed to take hard look at all these issues.

Mourners of Taiwan's derailment victims at the scene.
Relatives of victims grief near the site where a train derailed in a tunnel north of Hualien County, in eastern Taiwan. Source: EPA

The uncle of the youngest confirmed victim, a five-year-old girl, tearfully told reporters he was still waiting for an apology for the accident.

"I'm so angry," he said.

The government has promised compensation and said it will do everything it can to help survivors and their relatives, including coordinating public donations.

The damaged section of the track will not reopen until April 20 at the earliest, Mr Wang said, though rail traffic continues on a parallel track that runs through another tunnel and was not affected by the accident.

The accident occurred at the start of a long weekend for the traditional Tomb Sweeping Day when people return home to tend to family graves.

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