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Alishan deaths compensation to top NT$8 million: official

TAIPEI -- Compensation for each of the five Chinese tourists who were killed on the Alishan Forest Railway in southern Taiwan's Chiayi County in April will be at least NT$8.8 million (US$305,555), the Council of Agriculture (COA) minister said yesterday.

Speaking at a memorial service for the dead in Chiayi City, COA Minister Chen Wu-hsiung said relevant agencies have reached consensus with the families of the dead tourists on the compensation amount.

A seven-ton mori oak fell on the train carrying the tourists on April 27, causing a derailment that overturned four of the train's eight carriages. In addition to the five dead, more than 100 others were injured.

Alishan is one of the most popular destinations for Chinese tourists, and between 4,000 and 5,000 of them visit the mountain every day; 1,500 of whom choose to make the trip on the narrow-gauge railway.

According to Travel Agent Association of the Republic of China Chairman Yao Ta-kuang, the amount includes an insurance payment from the Alishan National Scenic Area, a travel liability insurance payment and an Alishan narrow-gauge railway accident insurance payment.

Yao said that although the accident has not dented mainland Chinese tourists' interest in visiting Taiwan, the number visiting Alishan has declined by some 40 percent since late April.

Meanwhile, Yen Jen-teh, director of the COA's Forestry Bureau, said the railway has been undergoing safety checks since the accident and will not re-open to the public until after the safety issues have been fully addressed.

The railway, one of the three remaining alpine railways in the world, is currently operated by the Forestry Bureau, but maintenance and issuing of certification are conducted by the Ministry of Transportation and Communications.

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