YILAN, TAIWAN – The driver of a train that derailed in northeastern Taiwan, killing 18 people and injuring 187 others, has told a court he disengaged an anti-speeding mechanism prior to the derailment, a court spokesperson said Tuesday.
The driver described his alleged action before the court in Yilan County on Monday night as it weighed a prosecutors’ request for the driver’s detention for alleged professional negligence resulting in death.
The driver was released on a 500,000 New Taiwan dollars ($16,150) bond Tuesday morning. Prosecutors are expected to continue questioning him in connection with the derailment.
According to the spokesperson, the driver told the court that the express train’s automatic protection system was disengaged after the vehicle experienced a motor problem.
A senior official with the prosecutor’s office told Taiwanese media that the driver’s account differs from those offered by others.
Prosecutors said Monday that the derailment was caused by speeding on a curve. The train, they said, was traveling at over 80 kilometers per hour and may have exceeded 100 kph, when it should have been going at a maximum of 75 kph.
Taiwanese media reports quoted a senior official in a government accident investigation team as saying Monday night that if the automatic train protection system were working, the train should not have exceeded the 75-kph speed limit.
Prosecutors are analyzing a data recorder retrieved from the wreckage.
The Puyuma Express, bound for Taitung in southeastern Taiwan from New Taipei with 366 people on board, derailed on a curve near a station in Yilan at around 4:50 p.m. Sunday, leaving some of its cars overturned.
The train, operated by the Taiwan Railways Administration since February 2013, uses cars made by Nippon Sharyo Ltd., a leading Japanese manufacturer of railway carriages.
The disaster was Taiwan’s deadliest rail accident since a 1981 collision that killed 30 people.
The head of the state railway administration, Lu Jie-shen, had offered to resign but that was not accepted by the transport minister, the railway authority said.
Premier William Lai apologized for the accident on behalf of the government.
“People expected the railway to be the safest,” Lai told parliament.
“I apologize to the people on behalf of the Executive Yuan,” he said, referring to the island’s Cabinet.
Train derailments are not uncommon on the island, which has rough, mountainous terrain, but deadly accidents are rare.