Crane truck driver questioned by police over fatal train accident

Taipei, April 2 (CNA) Local police are questioning the driver of a crane truck that is believed to have slid down a hillside and blocked the path of a moving train heading south in Hualien County on Friday, leading to an accident that caused the deaths of at least 48 people. The driver, surnamed Lee (?), was still being questioned by Chungte police as of 4 p.m. Friday, according to the Xincheng Precinct of the Hualien County Police Department.

Police department commissioner Tsai Ting-hsien (???) said the crane truck was parked on a hillside road close to the construction site of a tunnel for the northbound rail line. The road hovers above the southbound track, and authorities suspect that the driver parked the vehicle without engaging the emergency brake, Tsai said. The truck began to move on its own and eventually slid down the hill and landed on the track, before being run into by the ill-fated southbound Taroko Express train as it was about to enter the Qingshui Tunnel on Taiwan’s eastern coast, Tsai said.

The collision led the first five carriages to lose control inside the tunnel and pile up. The front carriage was completely destroyed, while other carriages at the front of the train were badly twisted out of shape. As of 4 p.m., 48 people, including the train’s driver, had been confirmed dead and 66 were said to be injured, according to National Fire Agency data.

The 45-year-old Lee owns one of the contractors involved in the tunnel construction project, police said. He parked his crane truck with the license plate 775-TX at around 7 a.m. Friday at the construction site, located not far from the Daqingshui Recreation Area where the new and old Suhua Highways converge.

The ill-fated train was the No.

408 Taroko Express train, which set off from Shulin Station in New Taipei at 7:16 a.m. and was headed to Taitung County in southeastern Taiwan with about 350 passengers on board, police said.

(By Chang Chi, Tyson Lu and Elizabeth Hsu)