TRA construction accident again raises alarm on rail system safety

A steel pile being used on a Taiwan Railways Administration (TRA) construction site fell and hit a Taroko Express train on Wednesday in an accident eerily similar to one in April that left 49 people dead and more than 200 injured.

Though the accident Wednesday did not cause any injuries, it again involved poor TRA oversight of its contractors, a construction site hovering dangerously above railway tracks on the TRA's Eastern Line, and questions about the quality of the work being performed.

It occurred at 8:52 a.m., when a section of a steel pile that was hoisted in the air above the northbound track between the Dali and Fulong stations somehow broke off and fell on the window of the locomotive of train No. 207 just as it was riding by, according to the TRA.

The pile was being used in a project to stabilize a slope adjacent to the northbound track.

According to the TRA, its initial finding in an investigation of the accident was that construction safety protocols at the site 5-8 meters from the track were being observed when the accident took place.

Also, construction workers did notify the crew that a train was passing by and temporarily halted all work to allow the train to pass by safely, the TRA said, even though that left the steel beam suspended in the air above the track.

Photo courtesy of the TRA

"Whatever the reason, steel piles should not appear in the air space directly above tracks," said Transportation Minister Wang Kwo-tsai (???) after the accident occurred.

Describing himself as "outraged," he ordered that the head of the TRA's construction department, one of its four major units overseeing train travel safety, be removed from his post, following through on a threat he made during a recent meeting with TRA officials on rail safety.

The meeting was held after nine safety-related incidents had taken place over the past three months, mostly due to human negligence, and Wang warned that if another incident occurred, the construction department head would be sacked.

The TRA said the project has been suspended to allow the Taiwan Transportation Safety Board to investigate what happened. It did not offer any explanation of why the pile broke apart.

It was a shocking repeat of the TRA's poor oversight of railway safety in the Taroko Express accident that took place in Hualien.

In that case, the No. 408 Taroko Express hit a crane truck that had fallen from a construction site onto the tracks as the train approached Qingshui Tunnel, causing it to carom off the wall of the tunnel.

Source: Focus Taiwan News Channel