TAIPEI (Taiwan News) -- The disabling of the Automatic Train Protection (ATP) system by a Puyuma Express driver could have been the cause of yesterday's deadly derailment of a Puyuma Express train in Taiwan's Yilan County, which killed 18 and injured 190.
The Puyuma express train No. 6432 , headed from northern Taiwan to the south-eastern city of Taitung (台東), had a total of 366 passengers onboard when it came off the tracks close to the Xinma Station (蘇澳鎭) in Su'ao at 4:50 p.m. yesterday afternoon (Oct. 21), according to TRA. All eight of the carriages comprising the train came off the rails, with five completely overturning, killing 18 and injuring 190.
In response, TRA Director-General Lu Chieh-shen (鹿潔身) accepted full responsibility for the disastrous derailment and offered Minister of Transportation and Communications Wu Hong-mo (吳宏謀) his resignation. However, Wu insisted that Lu first manage emergency repairs, take care of the passengers, and ensure that the railway returns to normal operations within three days before he would consider his resignation.
At a press conference today, Chief Secretary of TRA, Chu Lai-shun (朱來順), said that the driver of the train reported a problem with "low (air) pressure" just before the accident occurred. Chu said that a failure of the air compressor would lead to insufficient power and deceleration, but should not cause a derailment.
The TRA today said that there had been no reports of a malfunction of the ATP before the departure of No. 6432 yesterday. It did say that there was a report of an irregularity with the main air compressor between Toucheng and Yilan, but that it returned to normal after passing Yilan, and even if the compressor had malfunctioned again, it would have caused the train to decelerate, rather than reach the high speed witnessed just before the derailment.
In an interview with Apple Daily at noon today, Lu confirmed that the driver of the Puyuma train took the initiative to notify dispatchers that he was disabling the ATP. According to regulations, after disabling ATP, it is necessary to implement a call-and-answer mechanism with each station and follow set speed limits.
Yesterday, when the train approached Xinma Railway Station, a traffic recorder registered the train as speeding along at a standard 140 kilometers per hour. However, when approaching curves, trains are normally supposed tocut their speed in half to between 60 and 70 kmh, reported Liberty Times.
Investigators believe that without ATP to keep the train in check, it reached a highly dangerous speed for the curved section of track, ultimately leading the train to leap off the rails. As to why the driver allowed the train to exceed the set speed limit by so much, the TRA has begun an investigation into the driver's communications and call records.
According to regulations, the driver can shut down ATP if the equipment is malfunctioning, as long as he notifies the dispatcher. Lu confirmed that the dispatcher received a notification about the ATP being disabled, but as to why the driver chose to take this step, investigators have not yet reviewed all communication and call records by the driver necessary to make an accurate assessment.
As for rumors that the driver was inexperienced, Chu said that he had five years of experience and had a good performance record. Therefore, he ruled out inexperience on the part of the driver as being a major factor.
In terms of maintenance records, an unnamed source told Apple Daily, this particular train had undergone a major inspection in April of last year, passed a quarterly inspection in September, and a daily inspection on the day of the accident.
Regarding the section of track where the derailment occurred, Chu said that there was indeed an excessive curvature of the track in that area, but he does not believe it poses a major safety hazard to rail traffic. Chu said there was no plan in the works to straighten that section of track, and the TRA would wait until conclusive results on the cause of the accident are completed, before implementing any major overhaul of the line.
Lai Sui-chin (賴隨金), deputy head of the TRA's Rolling Stock Department, said that the driver requested technical assistance for a faulty air compressor at 4:20 p.m. When the train pulled into Yilan Station at 4:23 p.m., technicians found that the air compressor was not generating sufficient pressure because it was overloaded.
Technicians then reset the compressor, and they reported that it was restored to normal, before the train departed for Xinma Station, according to Lai.
Lai said the ATP has a 'black box,' but the scene of the derailment has been sealed off for the period of investigation, thus preventing any access to that data. The Puyuma's ATP does not have a record of malfunctioning. TRA has put together a special investigation team to inspect the device when it becomes available.