Images showed an injured passenger being stretchered out of the crash scene, her head and neck in a brace, passengers gathering suitcases and bags in a tilted, derailed carriage and others walking out of the tunnel on the roof of the train. The train is believed to have derailed at around 09:00 local time (01:00 GMT).
A passenger climbs out of a derailed train in Hualien County in eastern Taiwan.
"We express our sympathies to those who have died and offer heartfelt condolences to the people who were involved in the accident", Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato, Japan's top government spokesman, told a press conference. Railways news officer Weng Hui-ping called the crash Taiwan's deadliest rail disaster.
The stretch of track where the orange-striped train came to a halt hugs the coastline and lacks any protective fencing. An investigation has been launched, and Hualien police have interviewed one person, Weng said.
Officials said the devastating collision was caused by a railway maintenance vehicle which slipped down an embankment above the tracks near the eastern coastal city of Hualien.
"Our train crashed into a truck", one man said in a video on Taiwan television, according to Reuters.
March 8, 1981: A train hit a truck near Hsinchu on a level crossing, killing the truck driver and 30 passengers on the train.
The accident occurred at the start of a long weekend for the traditional Tomb Sweeping Day, when people return home to look after family grave sites.
Television footage and photos posted from the scene on the website of the official Central News Agency showed people climbing out of the open door of a railcar just outside the entrance to the tunnel.
President Tsai Ing-wen's office said she had ordered hospitals to prepare for a mass casualty event. They were treating minor wounds and offering lunches.
Taiwan's last major rail crash was in October 2018 when an express train derailed while rounding a tight corner on the northeast coast, killing at least 18 people and injuring almost 200.
That crash was the island's worst since 1991, when 30 passengers were killed and 112 injured after two trains collided in Miaoli.
Friday's crash could be the island's worst rail disaster in decades.
Taiwan's extensive rail system has undergone substantial upgrades in recent years, particularly with the addition of a high-speed line connecting the capital Taipei with west coast cities to the south.
In 1948, 64 people are estimated to have died when a train burst into flames in northern Taiwan.
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