Mon, Nov 27, 2006 - Page 12 News List

Consumer group pans railway safety

DEFECTIVE SYSTEM The Consumers' Foundation said that the railway's inauguration on Dec. 7 -- two days before the mayoral elections -- was plain opportunism

By Jackie Lin  /  STAFF REPORTER

One day after irate opposition lawmakers questioned the operability of the high-speed rail system, the Consumers' Foundation (消基會) yesterday demanded that the government and the builder fully address the system's problems ahead of an inauguration ceremony scheduled early next month.

Foundation chairman Cheng Jen-hung (程仁宏) said that the Bureau of High Speed Rail risked endangering public safety by failing to present a report on improvements made as required by the independent inspection committee appointed by the Ministry of Transportation and Communications.

The foundation said that it would call on the public to boycott the railway system if the government and Taiwan High Speed Rail Corp (THSRC, 台灣高鐵) fail to correct the problems, including train derailments and sinkages in some sections along the rail line.

An inspection committee mem-ber, who also attended the press conference yesterday, voiced his concern over construction safety.

"I'm very worried," said Yang Yeong-bin (楊永斌), professor of civil engineering at National Taiwan University and convener of the inspection committee's civil engineering group.

Showing one of the four big books of the risk assessment report -- the Independent Validation and Verification (IV&V) -- released by Lloyd's Register Group on Nov. 6, Yang said that the British certification authority clearly outlined 28 major defects that await improvement and suggested that trial run and integration tests be carried out.

However, two weeks later Lloyd's Register issued another report which did not mention these problems, he said, adding that no explanation or solution was offered as to how the problems were addressed.

Furthermore, a two-month trial run should have started on Nov. 6 to observe how THSRC deals with the problems identified in the IV&V report, he said.

Japan's bullet train system, Shinkansen, underwent six months of trial operations before the inauguration, Yang said. Even the aircraft manufacturer Airbus SAS is test flying its superjumbo A380 now in many major airports before handing over the new jets to a slew of carriers, he added.

"I don't think conclusions should be made before the high-speed railway system goes through comprehensive tests," he said.

The ministry has arranged for the inspection committee to convene their final meeting tomorrow, even after some members voiced their dissent following the railway system's second derailment last Friday morning during routine inspections.

THSRC has said that it expects to obtain an operating permit for the build-operate-transfer (BOT) project on Friday before holding an inauguration ceremony on Dec. 7.

As the inauguration ceremony is scheduled two days before the Taipei and Kaohsiung mayoral elections, "this is indeed tantamount to treating the public like guinea pigs with political considerations overriding professional assessments," the Consumers' Foundation chairman said.

Cheng also questioned the report of Lloyd's Register, which is scheduled to renew its contract with THSRC in February, saying the UK firm might have been under pressure to rewrite its report in favor of THSRC.

Foundation secretary-general Yu Kai-hsiung (游開雄) urged the government to exert its power of supervision and refrain from completely relying on Lloyd's Register's assessment report, as the British certification organization is immune to any legal responsibilities should accidents occur.

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