The accident is the deadliest train crash and second-deadliest rail accident in Taiwan, surpassed only by a train fire in 1948 which may have killed up to 64 people.
Interior of a Taroko Express in 2021
The accident occurred on the first day of a four-day Qingming Festival holiday, which is typically a period of high traffic with people visiting the graves of deceased family members. Many passengers had been standing at the time of the accident.
The Taroko Express is operated using eight-car, 376-seat trains. It is part of the Tze-chiang limited express service, the highest-class service in the TRA system. Since the Taroko Express is a tilting train[b] with a maximum operating speed of 130 km/h (81 mph), the TRA originally did not sell standing tickets for these trains due to safety concerns. However, in order to increase the supply of available tickets during periods of high demand, the TRA began selling up to 120 standing tickets for each trainset on 2 May 2019, after it said it had performed detailed safety tests.
The route involved runs along the mountainous east coast of Taiwan, passing by the Taroko National Park and the Taroko Gorge, the namesake of the express and a popular destination for the long weekend. The Qingshui Tunnel is a pair of single-tracked tunnels that cut through Qingshui Cliff. In April 2019, the TRA began construction to improve the slope stability near the north end of the tunnel by constructing a rock shed over the western track. At the time of the accident, construction was nearly complete.[c]
Qingshui Cliffs from the north in 2009. The second tunnel from the right near the bottom is the accident site. The image on the right is an annotated version.
At 09:28 NST(01:28 UTC), the train derailed as it was entering Qingshui Tunnel, between Heren and Chongde. It was carrying 494 passengers[a] and 4 staff members in eight carriages, and was travelling on the eastern track. According to media reports, a flatbed truck[d] used in the slope stabilization project slid about 20 m (66 ft) down the side of a hill, fell onto the tracks, and was struck by the oncoming train, which was travelling at 125 kilometres per hour (78 mph) when the driver spotted the obstruction. A brake application had only reduced the speed to 121 kilometres per hour (75 mph) at the time of the collision. The front of the train derailed to the left, and struck the portal as it entered the tunnel. At the time, no construction was actively being carried out, in observance of the holiday.[e] The driver of the truck was not in the vehicle during the accident, but was in the nearby construction site office.
Car number 8, at the front of the train,[f] collided with the truck shortly before entering the tunnel, partially derailing the train. The train then entered the tunnel, with the front of the train also crashing into the tunnel's interior walls as the carriages piled up.Car Nos. 7 and 8 were heavily damaged, and accounted for most of the fatalities.Car Nos. 8 through 3, the front five carriages, were trapped in the tunnel when the train came to a halt, with Car No. 3 having only partially entered the tunnel.
Fourty-nine people were confirmed as killed in the accident, including 47 passengers, the train driver and the assistant train driver, while another 202 were injured, several in critical condition. The majority of the deceased were in carriages 7 and 8. Seventy-two people were temporarily trapped in the wreckage of the train.
Classes from an elementary school and a university were among the passengers. Four students died: a 6-year-old kindergarten girl and three university students; 32 others from school and university were injured, including a teacher.
Medical officers and other officials assist with the rescue effort
More than 150 emergency personnel, including search and rescue workers and members of the military, were dispatched to the derailment site. Over 80 people were evacuated from the train's rear four carriages, while the remaining four carriages were described as "deformed" and harder to access.
The rear two carriages had been removed from the tracks by the next morning, while the removal of the third occurred later that night. After the dashcam of the truck involved and one of its two memory cards were found, work was halted temporarily to search for the second memory card. The fourth carriage was eventually removed from the tunnel late in the afternoon.
The Executive Yuan ordered the lowering of national flags to half-mast at all public schools and government agencies for three days beginning on 3 April in honor of those who died.
A TRA official stated that the route should be repaired within a week, and that in the meantime trains would run on a parallel track, with delays of about 15 to 20 minutes. Deputy Minister of Transportation and Communications Wang Kwo-tsai later announced that the resumption of services on the damaged track had been postponed to 20 April as questions were raised about whether the crash had any impact to the safety of the area. Wang noted that an engineering consultant firm and an engineering association had been asked to conduct inspections, with the reopening further postponed if issues were raised.
A restriction on the number of standing tickets sold is being considered due to the large number of casualties. In addition, Deputy Minister Wang stated that the TRA would need to review its standard operating procedure with regard to selecting contractors and overseeing work being done at construction sites.
The Taiwan Transportation Safety Board (TTSB) will conduct an investigation. The driver of the construction truck, Lee Yi-hsiang (Chinese: 李義祥; pinyin: Lǐ Yìxiáng; aged 45), was taken into police custody and being investigated to ascertain the cause of the disaster. Lee was released on bail on 4 April 2021, before a court, on appeal, found that he might be a flight risk, and could collude with others and may destroy incriminating evidence on 5 April 2021. He is suspected of parking the vehicle without properly engaging the parking brake, causing the truck to roll down the slope and collide with the train. Prosecutors have requested an arrest warrant for the manager of the construction site, who may be accused of causing death due to negligence and of forging documents.
The Central Emergency Operation Center reported that the train's dashcam footage had been recovered. TTSB Chairman Young Hong-tsu stated that the footage showed that the drivers noticed the truck when the train had exited Heren Tunnel, located about 250 m (820 ft) away from Qingshui Tunnel, and had about 6.9 seconds to respond. Young added that since the train had been travelling at over 100 km/h (62 mph), the drivers could not have stopped the train in time.
Workers also found the truck's dashcam and one of its two memory cards. Deputy Minister Wang noted that no recordings of the area by surveillance cameras had been found. Wang added that the ministry had reasoned that the truck had fallen upon the tracks at most 15 minutes before the accident, since an earlier train had passed through the same section of tracks at 09:13 NST. The time of truck falling upon the tracks could be further narrowed to have happened between 09.21 NST and 09:28 NST as someone managed to take a photo of the truck parked on the road above the slope at 09:21 NST.
Premier Su Tseng-chang being briefed by TRA officials on the accident
^The work was originally scheduled to be completed by 20 January 2021.
^Sources have also referred to the construction vehicle as a "crane truck".
^Deputy Minister of Transportation and Communications Chi Wen-jong, who is also acting director of the TRA, stated that the TRA had ordered work at the site to be halted on 31 March 2021, before the start of the holiday weekend, adding that he did not understand why workers had reported that the construction site manager had been at the site that morning.
^The carriage numbers are arranged with carriage number 1 towards Taipei Station and with carriage number 8 towards Taitung Station. As the train was heading south, towards Taitung, carriage number 8 was at the front of the train.
^"台鐵太魯閣號事故50死 受困乘客全救出【更新】 | 社會 | 重點新聞 | 中央社 CNA" [50 dead in Taiwan Railway Taroko accident, all trapped passengers rescued [Update] | Society | Key News | Central News Agency CNA]. www.cna.com.tw. Archived from the original on 3 April 2021. Retrieved 3 April 2021. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
^"政府統計資訊網" [Government Statistics]. archive.is (in Chinese). 2 April 2021.
^ abChuang, C. (1 May 2019). 普悠瑪.太魯閣號5/2起賣站票 限當天購買 [Tickets for Puyuma Taroko No. 5/2 are available for purchase on the same day]. 公視新聞網 PNN. Archived from the original on 2 April 2021. Retrieved 2 April 2021.
^ ab鄭瑋奇 (2 April 2021). "台鐵出軌》清明連假台鐵工程全暫停 太魯閣號卻撞上工程車出軌" ["Taiwan Railway Derails" Suspension of construction works through the long Qingming holiday period due the train derailment caused by construction truck crashing into a train] (in Chinese). Liberty Times. Retrieved 2 April 2021.
^ ab"【台鐵出軌】關鍵28分鐘！工程車亂停無聲滑落埋殺機 真相在這台機器" [[Taiwan Railway Derails] The key 28 minutes! The engineering truck stopped and slipped silently. The truth lies in this machine.] (in Chinese). Apple Daily. 2 April 2021. Retrieved 2 April 2021.
^王思慧 (2 April 2021). "疑忘拉手煞車釀大禍 工程車司機檢警偵訊中" [Suspected of forgotten to pull the handbrake causing a major accident, the driver of the construction truck is under investigation by the police] (in Chinese). United Daily News. Retrieved 2 April 2021.
^Wang Junqi; Wang Jinyi; Hua Mengjing; Yuta Lang (2 April 2021). 太魯閣號清水隧道出軌 釀50死146輕重傷（不斷更新） [Taroko Qingshui Tunnel derailed, causing 50 deaths and 146 minor and serious injuries (continuous update)]. ltn.com.tw (in Chinese). Taipei, Taiwan. Retrieved 2 April 2021.
^Yu Xiaohan. "台鐵太魯閣號出軌 林佳龍、徐國勇趕赴現場" [Taiwan Railway Taroko derails: Lin Jialong and Xu Guoyong rush to the scene] (in Chinese). Central News Agency. Central News Agency. Retrieved 2 April 2021.
^"林佳龍深夜發文首曝辭職歷程：不戀棧、內心極痛楚自責" ["Will not cling on power; very heartbroken and sorry": Lin Chia-Lung's midnight Facebook post revealed the unfolding of his resignation]. 聯合新聞網 (in Chinese). 4 April 2021. Retrieved 4 April 2021.
^"太魯閣號事故釀重大傷亡 義祥工業社負責人聲押[影] | 社會 | 重點新聞 | 中央社 CNA" [The Taroko accident caused heavy casualties. The person in charge of Yixiang Industrial Co., Ltd. [ying] | Society | Key News | Central News Agency CNA]. www.cna.com.tw (in Chinese). Retrieved 4 April 2021.
^Chen, Shanshan (3 April 2021). "快訊／太魯閣號22名確認罹難者名單曝 28人身分待辨識" [News/Taroko's list of 22 confirmed victims reveals that 28 people are waiting to be identified] (in Chinese). Taiwan. Eastern Broadcasting Company. Retrieved 3 April 2021.
^"國臺辦：對臺鐵列車出軌事故表達高度關切" [Taiwan Affairs Office of the State Council: expresses high concern over the train derailment accident of Taiwan Railways]. Taiwan Affairs Office (in Chinese). 2 April 2021.
^"快訊／習近平哀悼太魯閣號出軌遇難者 對事故「高度關切」" [News/Xi Jinping mourns the victims of the Taroko derailment for "highly concerned" about the accident]. www.ettoday.net (in Chinese). Retrieved 3 April 2021.
^"太魯閣號事故 美英法澳歐盟駐台機構發文哀悼慰問" [The Taroko accident, the United States, Britain, France, Australia and EU agencies in Taiwan issued a message of condolences and condolences]. Taiwan Central News Agency (in Chinese). 2 April 2021.