Fri, Sep 19, 2003 - Page 8 News List

It is not too late to halt the decline of the TRA

By Hsu Nai-yi 許乃懿

After several failed attempts at negotiation, the Taiwan Railway Workers Union decided to "take time off to hold meetings." As a member of the public, I am of course displeased with the way this decision infringes on the public's rights and interests. However, a closer look at things reveals that the main factors behind this decision are governmental impotence and short-sightedness.

The Taiwan Railway Administration's (TRA) losses stem from the fact that agency has had to carry the cost for the electrification of the railroad network and continues to carry the cost for railway workers' pension funds on its own. This is unlike the any of the other 10 Key Infrastructure Projects, which were all financed by government or foundations, and that was a policy mistake.

Although the TRA holds many parcels of prime land, it is barred from selling or developing this land, or engaging in other business operations, and the government refuses to lift these restrictions.

The government has long prioritized freeway construction, investing huge amounts of capital and labor. This has placed the private car center stage, leaving public transportation, including the TRA, in a state of disarray. This car-

centered policy creates traffic jams, air pollution and parking-lot shortages, which in the case of the Tahsi City fire unfortunately lead to a situation where rescue routes for firefighters and emergency workers was blocked. Such problems are all related to mistaken and shortsighted traffic policies.

When the government proposed the construction of the high-speed railway using the build-operate- transfer concept, it dealt another blow to the TRA. The government treated the Taiwan High Speed Railway Corp (THSRC) as new and the TRA as old and useless. It was biased towards the THSRC, which eventually led to the demonstrations at Taipei Railway Station over the TRA's decision to lease two platforms and four tracks at that station to the THSRC.

In fact, the length of the platforms and the width of the tracks do not meet the requirements of the high-speed train, and there is not enough room to expand either platforms or tracks. Still, the government insists on transferring these platforms and tracks to the THSRC. This highlights the government's lack of expertise and lack of vision.

Since the high-speed railway is being built, it is the government's duty to provide plans for what the TRA should do, how the two rail agencies should co-exist and prosper and how they could help each other. After 10 years, however, there is no concrete government plan, but only the empty phrase "creating rapid transportation."

A careful look at the TRA's situation shows that the commuters who make up three-quarters of all of its passengers only produce one-quarter of revenues, while the one-quarter of passengers who are long-distance travellers produce three-quarters of the revenues. Serving only commuters is, therefore, a dead-end street for the agency. In the end there will be no alternative to massive staff reductions.

If the TRA is privatized, there will be nothing to guarantee the employees' right to a job. The government should respond to this situation as soon as possible by directing and planning for diversified operations for the agency.

First and most importantly, it should direct specialized railway personnel towards the high-speed railway, thus killing two birds with one stone.

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