Driver charged over fatal Taiwan train derailment

TAIPEI (AFP) – A Taiwanese train driver was charged with negligent homicide on Thursday (June 6) over a derailment last year that killed 18 people, the island’s deadliest rail accident for a quarter of a century.

The crash on the scenic east coast line also injured more than 200 people and left the Puyuma Express lying zig-zagged across the tracks.

The dead included eight members of a family returning from a wedding and three schoolchildren coming back from an exchange programme in South Korea.

Prosecutors said speeding was the main cause of the crash with the train travelling at 140kmh, twice the limit for that curved part of the track where it approached Xinma station.

They added that the driver had also turned off an Automatic Train Protection (ATP) system used to monitor speed, according to a statement.

The driver, identified by his family name You, allegedly drove without the protection system for some 30 minutes before the train crashed in north-eastern Yilan county, prosecutors said.

“You’s decision to switch off ATP violated relevant rules and allowed him to drive over the speed limit, causing great casualties from this incident,” the statement said.

You was indicted on the charge of “negligently causing the death of another”, which is punishable by a maximum five-year jail term.

Taiwan Railways Administration (TRA) said in a statement that it respected the prosecutors’ decision and had fully cooperated with investigators.

A separate Cabinet report released in November also blamed the accident on speeding, saying that You was still communicating with dispatchers about mechanical problems and did not slow down or hit the brake two minutes before the train flipped.

Passengers recalled how the train had been shaking intensely during the journey and was going “too fast” before it derailed.

According to TRA, a Puyuma Express train also derailed in 2017 on the same line but no one was injured.

In total, Taiwan has a fleet of 19 Puyuma Express trains, all made in Japan.

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