The train was carrying 494 people at the start of a long holiday weekend on Friday when it smashed into the construction truck that slid down a hillside above the tracks, the Taiwan Railways Administration said.
Many passengers were crushed just before the train entered a tunnel, while some survivors were forced to climb out of windows and walk along the train’s roof to safety.
The first two carriages of the train derailed after striking the truck and forcing parts of it into the tunnel. The train’s engineer, Yuan Chun-hsiu, 33, and mechanic, Chiang Pei-feng, 32, who were travelling in the first carriage, were killed on impact, Feng Hui-sheng, deputy director general of the administration, said at a news conference in Taipei.
Some of the dead are still awaiting identification, the government added Friday, but authorities believe that everyone trapped within the train’s heavily damaged carriages have been removed. Officials said a French citizen was killed in the crash, while two Japanese citizens and a citizen of Macau were among those injured.
The National Fire Service said the dead included the train’s young, newly married driver and the assistant driver. The government’s disaster response center said it was the worst rail disaster since a train caught fire in 1948 in suburban Taipei, killing 64 people.
Taiwan’s president, Tsai Ing-wen, said emergency services had been mobilised to rescue and assist passengers and staff, and that she had ordered hospitals to prepare for mass casualties. “We will continue to do everything we can to ensure their safety in the wake of this heartbreaking incident,” she added.