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Taiwan sues Japan's Sumitomo over deadly train derailment

Rail authority says 'design flaws' involved in 2018 crash that killed 18

Rescue workers work at the site where a train derailed in Yilan county, Taiwan, on October 22, 2018.   © Reuters

TAIPEI (KYODO) -- The Taiwan Railways Administration said Thursday that it is seeking compensation from a Japanese trading firm over a derailment on the island that killed 18 people last year.

TRA said in a statement that it decided to seek 611 million New Taiwan dollars ($20 million) compensation from Sumitomo and Sumitomo Corp. Taiwan Ltd. for the design flaws in the Puyuma Express train that derailed in Yilan County, northeastern Taiwan, on Oct. 22 last year.

The accident, which happened when the train was entering Hsinma Station, also injured over 100 people.

TRA said that a report it commissioned a private consultant firm to conduct concluded that Sumitomo Corp. and its local subsidiary should be responsible for the design flaw of the air compressor and the wiring of the train's automatic train protection safety system.

Apart from seeking compensation for the two mechanical flaws, TRA said it will continue to seek more compensation from the two companies for losses suffered by victims and their families.

An investigation conducted by the Executive Yuan, or the cabinet, concluded that two mechanical problems as well as human error contributed to the accident.

One problem concerns a flawed blueprint for wiring the connection of the train's automatic train protection safety system to the control station.

The train's Japanese manufacturer, Nippon Sharyo,  has acknowledged flaws in in the design blueprint, though it says there was no problem with the safety system itself, which is designed to automatically apply the brakes when the train exceeds the speed limit.

The train was traveling at over 140 kph at the time of the accident, far in excess of the speed limit of 75 km per hour when entering a curve.

The other problem concerns air compressors that control the train's brakes and power system. The report found that two out of the train's four main compressors failed to function normally, causing the train to stop several times.

The report said the driver switched off the train's safety system about 30 minutes before the derailment, hoping to boost the train's power, and was busy communicating with other coordinators about the speed-related problem seconds before the accident.

The Yilan District Prosecutors Office has indicted the train driver and two TRA supervisors for criminal negligence. The Taiwan Transportation Safety Board expects to complete its investigation report by September next year.

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