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Taiwan transport ministry seeks punishment for 3 ex-railway chiefs

The scene after the Puyuma derailment in Yilan County.

The scene after the Puyuma derailment in Yilan County. (CNA photo)

The three former heads of the Taiwan Railways Administration (TRA) might face administrative punishment ranging from a minor demerit to a major demerit in the wake of the deadly derailment of a Puyuma express train in October, the Ministry of Transportation and Communications (MOTC) said Friday.

MOTC Acting Minister Wang Kwo-tsai (王國材) said the ministry will seek the punishment for Lu Chieh-shen (鹿潔身), who resigned four days after the accident Oct. 25, as well as his two predecessors Chou Yung-hui (周永暉) and Frank Fan (范植谷).

"We think the three former TRA heads must take responsibility for failing to establish a safety-first culture, particularly after a similar accident in 2007," said Wang, referring to a train collision at Dali Station in Yilan County that left five people dead and 15 injured.

Like the Puyuma crash -- which also occurred in Yilan -- the Dali incident was the result of speeding because the driver of an electric locomotive shut off an automatic train protection (ATP) system that keeps travel speed under a safe limit after he found power problems on the train.

Deactivation of ATP on the speeding train was not monitored by the central control room, and the train eventually crashed into a southbound train leaving the station.

After the crash, the TRA established a remote control system on all TRA trains that alerts the central control room if the ATP is shut off -- except for the Puyuma expresses, which went into service in 2013.

Fan, Chou and Lu, who served as TRA heads from 2007-2014, 2014-2016 and 2016-2018, respectively, all failed to establish the crucial system on the Puyuma trains, known for their tilting feature that allows them to travel at higher speeds on the winding railroads in eastern Taiwan, Wang said.

Speeding was to blame for the recent accident, as Puyuma Express No. 6432 from New Taipei to Taitung derailed in Yilan while traveling at nearly twice the permissible speed limit as it entered a curve, leaving 18 people dead and 200 injured.

However, Wang declined to comment on the real effect of the punishment of the three former heads, explaining that the demerits will not be finalized until Dec. 28 after an MOTC committee is convened to take feedback from Fan, Chou and Lu.

Still, Wang said Lu should take the biggest responsibility as he was in charge when the accident took place.

Chou is currently director-general of the Tourism Bureau, while Fan and Lu have retired. Retired personnel who are punished can have their pensions garnished, Wang said.

In addition, the MOTC has suggested punishment of up to a major demerit plus job transfer for 17 current TRA staff, including its deputy heads.

Administrative punishment for the driver of the Puyuma train, Yu Cheng-chung (尤振仲), and nine other TRA staff, is not being considered at the moment as they are currently under investigation by the Yilan District Prosecutors Office, Wang said. (By Lee Hsin-Yin)