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HUALIEN, (Taiwan): At least 50 people were killed in Taiwan on Friday when a packed train collided with a vehicle on the tracks and then derailed inside a tunnel, in the island’s worst railway accident in decades. Officials said the devastating collision was caused by a railway maintenance vehicle that slipped down an embankment above the tracks near the eastern coastal city of Hualien.

“(The driver) was suspected of not pulling the parking brake tight enough so the vehicle slid 20 metres... onto the train line,” Feng Hui-sheng, deputy director of Taiwan Railways Authority, told reporters.

Local media images from the scene showed the back of a yellow flatbed truck on its side next to the train just a few metres from the tunnel entrance.

The eight-carriage train was packed with some 480 people heading down the east coast for the annual Tomb Sweeping Festival, a four-day public holiday.

The Taiwan Railways Agency said 146 passengers were sent to hospital in addition to the 50 confirmed dead. A French national was among those killed while two Japanese and one Macau resident were injured. A previous statement from the agency gave a death toll of 51. One unnamed female survivor told TVBS news channel of trapped passengers — some crying out for help, others unconscious.

The accident occurred on Taiwan’s eastern railway line around 9:30 am (0130 GMT).

Pictures published by local newspaper UDN showed the front of the train inside the tunnel had been pulverised into a twisted mesh of metal.

Rescuers worked for hours to reach those trapped inside the tunnel and haul them out, using buzzsaws to slice through warped sheets of metal.

President Tsai Ing-wen visited an emergency response centre in the capital Taipei, and said investigators would get to the bottom of how such a deadly crash could have occurred.

“We will definitely clarify the cause of the incident that has caused major casualties,” she told reporters.

“I hope the deceased can rest in peace and the wounded can recover soon.”

Footage released by the Taiwan Red Cross showed specialists with helmets and headlights had to use the roof of the stricken train to reach people inside the narrow single-track tunnel.