Wed, Jan 19, 2005 - Page 10 News List

High-speed rail likely to miss deadline

OFF TRACK One top executive of the THSRC blamed a Japanese contractor for slow work, while another said there's no wiggle room left in the construction schedule

By Jessie Ho  /  STAFF REPORTER

The Taiwan High Speed Rail Corp (THSRC, 台灣高鐵), which is building the nation's first bullet train, is likely to miss its October deadline, according to an interview yesterday with THSRC chairwoman Nita Ing (殷琪) in the Chinese-language Liberty Times, the Taipei Times' sister paper.

In the interview, Ing said that the rail construction has "lagged behind schedule," blaming the Japanese contractor, Taiwan Shinkansen Consortium (TSC, 台灣新幹線), for failing to complete the 345km high-speed rail's core electrical systems on time.

The TSC, led by trading house Mitsui & Co, won the NT$95 billion contract in December 1999 to provide the rail's core electrical systems, train engines and passenger cars. THSRC and TSC finalized the contract in December 2000.

Even if the TSC is able to get back on schedule, the THSRC still needs to obtain authorization from an independent verification and validation company to ensure the safety and quality of the construction, Ing said.

The rail also needs to pass an examination by the Bureau of Taiwan High Speed Rail, which will take some time, Ing said, adding that the test-drive was delayed for four months.

Although refusing to say definitively that the high-speed railway will not be up and running on time, Ing said she will "watch closely and prepare for any circumstances that may happen."

Currently, the THSRC has completed 78 percent of the high-speed railway project. Core mechanical and electrical construction is 25 percent behind schedule in terms of work completed. The building of the base of operations, train stations and tracks are also behind schedule, by 16 percent, 8 percent and 6 percent respectively, Ing said in the interview.

While acknowledging that several sections of the construction have been delayed, Arthur Chiang (江金山), THSRC's vice president of public affairs, stressed that the company has no plan to change the kick-off date at this point.

"I think Ing's remarks are being misinterpreted," Chiang, who accompanied Ing in the interview, told the Taipei Times yesterday.

When drafting a schedule for construction, builders usually allow extra time for contingencies, Chang said, and it's that extra time allowed that has run out for THSRC.

"In other words, we have no spare time and need to follow the exact schedule we previously set," he said. "If we realize that we definitely can't be on time, we will release a statement to the public."

To meet the deadline, Chiang said the company has required that contractors -- mainly the TSC -- accelerate the progress, or THSRC will claim compensation in accordance with the contract.

In addition, THSRC will assume losses on ticket income if the high-speed railway service is delayed, Chiang said.

With the Build-Operate-Transfer model, the Bureau of Taiwan High Speed Rail has granted THSRC a total of 35 years to build and operate the bullet train. It estimates that in the early stage of operations, the company will earn NT$130 million in ticket sales per day.

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