Fri, Dec 22, 2006 - Page 11 News List

THSRC responds to open letter on safety concerns

HUMAN ERRORS The company developing the high speed rail said three accidents that occurred during test runs would be fixed by additional training for personnel

By Jessie Ho  /  STAFF REPORTER , WITH CNA

Taiwan High Speed Rail Corp (THSRC, 台灣高鐵) repeated yesterday that it put safety first in building the nation's first high speed railway, amid increased public concern over three accidents that have occurred in recent test runs.

THSRC made the statement in response to an open letter by some members of an inspection committee released on Wednesday, which indicated that officials at the Ministry of Transportation and Communications (MOTC) had jeopardized public safety by covering up the accidents during the test runs.

THSRC has reported three accidents -- including problems with railway switches and signal systems -- since the test-runs of the high-speed railway started in August.

In the letter, the committee members indicated that accidents had proved that the railway's signaling and wireless systems were not stable.

The incidents forced THSRC to postpone the launch ceremony, scheduled for Dec. 7.

Contending that the accidents were human errors, THSRC said it would enhance its training, saying that the public should not exaggerate the mistakes into systematic or design problems.

THSRC said that since 2000, the company had invited experts from the Lloyd's Register Group to ensure every aspect of the construction, the company said in a statement.

The company also fully cooperated with the inspection committee's requirements, it said.

The MOTC will meet on Sunday for the last time to determine whether to issue an operation permit to THSRC or not.

Experts from Shinkansen and Lloyd's will join the meeting, Vice Minister of Transportation and Communications Ho Nuan-hsuen (何煖軒) said yesterday.

The inspection committee, which has completed its mission, will not be invited, Ho said.

Ho stressed that MOTC had never said that it would definitely issue a permit for the THSRC, because the matter must be scrutinized and approved jointly by all the parties concerned.

The Executive Yuan stood firm on its stance that the high speed railway system could begin operating only when its safety was fully secured, Cabinet spokesman Cheng Wen-tsan (鄭文燦) said yesterday.

According to Cheng, Premier Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) had repeatedly said that the system could start operations only when 100 percent safety could be assured and that the Executive Yuan would not alter its stance on the issue, despite speculation that the railway would begin operating shortly.

Cheng made the remarks in response to reporters' questions about the system's safety.

The legislative caucus of the main opposition Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) blasted the government earlier that same day at a news conference.

It said that it would be tilting toward vested interest groups instead of viewing public safety as the top concern if the MOTC were to grant a permit to allow THSRC to start operations at the beginning of next year, despite unresolved safety issues.

KMT lawmakers demanded that Su make a clear pledge again and argued that politics may under no circumstances take precedence over professionalism.

In response to lawmakers' questions about whether the Presidential Office, the Executive Yuan, the Democratic Progressive Party and the THSRC had collaborated to put pressure on the MOTC to approve the "bullet" train for operations before a certain deadline, Ho denied the speculation and said that the ministry would take all responsibility once a final decision was made on Sunday.

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