Train driver did not report shutting off automatic protection: TRA

Taipei, The train driver who turned off an automatic train protection (ATP) system on a Puyuma express train that later derailed, killing 18 people, did not report the move as he should have, the Taiwan Railways Administration (TRA) said Wednesday.

"According to our communication records, the train driver did not report that he had shut down the system," which made follow-up mechanical support impossible, said TRA deputy chief Tu Wei (??).

The ATP system on the southbound train No. 6432 from Shulin in New Taipei to Taitung that derailed on Sunday was operating normally, and it would have been able to prevent the train from speeding if it had not been turned off, Tu said.

The deactivation of the ATP system meant it could not slow down the train, which derailed after entering a curve near Xinma Station in Yilan County at nearly twice the permissible speed, Tu said.

"Based on the information released by prosecutors, it looks like our driver was negligent," Tu said.

The TRA official acknowledged, however, that the train did have power problems before it arrived at Yilan Station, 18 kilometers north of Xinma, as the driver has said, and then stopped there for repairs.

But once in Yilan, the train driver only asked that the train's air conditioning system be fixed because he suspected it was the cause of the power system's problems, Tu said.

Mechanics checked the air conditioning system, and felt the train could continue running because the problem had no effect on train safety, he said.

According to the train's event recorder, similar to an airplane's black box, the train was running normally between Yilan and Luodong stations, indicating that the power problems had been solved, he said.

It was after Luodong, some nine kilometers north of Xinma, where the train sped up, said TRA Director-General Lu Chieh-shen (???) at a legislative session.

The event recorder showed that the ATP was deactivated at Daxi Station, 44 km north of Xinma, Lu said, and the way the existing system is set up prevented dispatchers from knowing if the ATP was turned on or not without confirmation from the driver, Lu said.

While the TRA's story seemed to put the blame for the accident squarely on the driver, reports in local media suggest that the driver has said he was only doing what TRA people told him to do.

The train driver, Yu Cheng-chung (???), told prosecutors that he turned off the ATP at Daxi because the train was already having problems accelerating.

Yu said he then requested that checks be done at Toucheng Station, 33 km north of Xinma and not one of the train's regular stops, but was denied.

The TRA responded that it denied the request because mechanical support was only available at Yilan.

Yu also told prosecutors he turned off the ATP only after getting approval from dispatchers and notified the TRA that the ATP was off, according to reports in local media.

But the TRA on Wednesday said it never received word that the ATP was turned off, indicating that it could not have given the driver an approval if it did not know about it.

Also, Lu told lawmakers that when the ill-fated train was between Yilan and Luodong the dispatchers asked the driver about the status of the ATP, but did not get an answer.

There are also suspicions that the TRA knew before the train reached Yilan that there were problems with the train's power supply but seemed to let them go.

According to the Chinese-language news site The Reporter on Oct. 22, there were two alerts on the TRA's internal message board, at 3:57 p.m. and 4:34 p.m., indicating that the train would be delayed after Shuangxi Station, 59 km north of Xinma, due to power supply difficulties.

The first alert said the train would be examined for the problem at Yilan, while the second alert said checks at Yilan had found the problem unsolvable and advised that the train continue on its way and be replaced at Hualien Station, 80 km south of Xinma.

The TRA has declined to comment on the alerts.

In the wake of the accident, Lu said the TRA will improve training for its drivers, including how to respond properly to possible ATP-related problems, and upgrade the system so that train dispatchers can monitor train conditions from a remote location.

Tu said the TRA will complete examinations of all 18 of its Puyuma trains and the tracks on which they travel within a week, but normal train operations in the derailment-affected area were already resumed early Wednesday.

The figure for the number of people injured in the Oct. 21 derailment was revised upwards by the TRA to 210 on Wednesday, from 190 previously, while the number of deaths remained unchanged at 18.

Source: Focus Taiwan News Channel