Taiwan rail authority mulls suing Japanese firms over 2018 fatal train accident

05, Jun. 2019

TAIPEI, NNA – Taiwan’s rail authority is considering suing Japanese trading company Sumitomo Corp. and rolling stock manufacturer Nippon Sharyo Ltd. over a fatal accident last year which it says was caused by defective safety features of the train cars that they supplied.

The Japanese companies have denied that they are fully responsible for the cause of the derailment in northeastern Taiwan last October that killed 18 people. The train was found to have exceeded the speed limit on a bend.

Nippon Sharyo has acknowledged that there was a design flaw in the rail cars supplied to Taiwan, including the one that derailed. Because of the defect, the train’s system failed to alert the operations center when an automatic safety brake feature was turned off, according to Japanese news reports.

“There’s a discrepancy in the interpretation of the contract among the parties involved.” Taiwan Railways Administration spokesman Weng Hui-ping told NNA on Monday. “That is why TRA is seeking to take legal measures to resolve the dispute.”

TRA’s claim for compensation for what it claims are defective train cars has been rejected by the Japanese firms, he said.

“Some problems were found in the train cars, but we still didn’t violate our contract as TRA has claimed, and that’s why we can’t accept their demands,” a Nippon Sharyo official, who declined to be named, told NNA on Monday.

TRA, a government agency, is also retaining a maintenance bond of 430 million New Taiwan dollars (US$13.6 million) from the Japanese companies for over five years, which should be refunded three years after the guarantee period is over.

“TRA accused us of not performing our full contractual duties, which was not true,” a Sumitomo spokesman told NNA on Monday, adding that the company cannot accept the TRA’s decision not to return the bond.

A Taiwanese government investigation found that the automatic train protection system was disconnected at the time of the accident and that equipment maintenance was poor, according to media reports in Taiwan.

Japanese news media have quoted a report last year by the Taiwanese investigation team that said many factors had contributed to the derailment, including speeding, problems with the train cars' air compressors and the design flaw.

Sumitomo, which initially said it had provided an incomplete maintenance manual, has changed its stance, Transportation and Communications Minister Lin Chia-lung was quoted as saying by Taiwanese media on Monday.