Construction manager and Taiwanese minister take responsibility for the train accident
© Reuters. Day after the train derailment in Eastern Taiwan
By Ann Wang and Damon Lin
HUALIEN, Taiwan (Reuters) – The manager of a construction site whose trucks skid on rails and caused a disastrous train wreck in Taiwan took responsibility for the disaster on Sunday, as did the Minister of Transport, despite his resignation offer being rejected for the time being.
In the island’s worst railway accident in seven decades, 50 people were confirmed dead after a packed express train carrying nearly 500 passengers and crew pounded into a truck near the eastern city of Hualien on Friday, derailing the front part of the truck.
The truck the train hit had slipped down a sloping road onto the track in front of a tunnel. Officials are investigating the construction site manager Lee Yi-hsiang, whose truck is suspected of improperly applying the brakes.
Lee had been released on bail despite the Hualien division of the Supreme Court overturning that decision on Sunday after prosecutors appealed and sent the case back to the lower court.
Lee read a statement apologizing for what happened when the police removed him from his home, Taiwanese media reported.
“I deeply regret it and I apologize deeply,” he said. “I will definitely work with the prosecutors and the police in the investigation, take the responsibility that should be borne, and never shirk. Finally, I would like to sincerely apologize again.”
Transport Minister Lin Chia-lung spoke earlier that day at the crash site, facing the ocean and steep mountains, and said he, too, would “not avoid” the responsibility.
“I am also responsible for minimizing the damage caused by the entire accident. Now that all the rescue work is done, I believe I will take responsibility,” he said.
Prime Minister Su Tseng-chang’s office said Lin made an oral offer of resignation on Saturday, but Su declined for the time being, saying efforts should focus on rescue and recovery for the time being.
The workers continue to remove the train from the tunnel and look for other bodies. Officials have warned the death toll could go up or down if they verify their identities. The government revised the toll by one to 50 on Sunday evening.
The Ministry of Transport and the underlying railway administration are faced with a number of questions, including why there was no proper fencing on the site and whether too many stand-up train tickets have been sold.
Deputy Transport Minister Wang Kwo-tsai said late Saturday that the railway administration needs to look into all of these issues in depth.
The railroad administration is also without a permanent director after its former boss retired in January. The position will be occupied by another acting Minister for Transport, Chi Wen-chung.
Wang said Lin worked hard to find the right person to fill the job.
The youngest confirmed victim’s uncle, a 5-year-old girl, tearfully told reporters he was still waiting for an apology for the accident.
“I’m so mad,” he said.
The government has promised compensation and said it will do everything it can to help survivors and their loved ones, including coordinating public donations.
The damaged section of the line will not reopen until April 20 at the earliest, Wang said, although rail traffic will continue on a parallel line that goes through another tunnel and was not affected by the accident.
The accident occurred at the beginning of a long weekend for the traditional tomb sweeping day, when people return home to tend family graves.
Survivors have described horrific scenes in the wreck.
Priest Sung Chih-chiang told Reuters what surviving passenger Chung Hui-mei had told him.
“She couldn’t find her daughter. When she screamed, she found that her daughter was under the steel plates. She tried to move these parts one by one, but her daughter’s voice fell and then there was no answer . ” he said.