The problems with the T16 support pillar of the Maokong Gondola will have a long-lasting negative effect on public confidence — regardless of whether the government has the pillar reinforced or moved to another location.
The Taipei City Government and the engineering and building organizations responsible for the cable car were unable to prevent the problems from arising, nor were they able to take decisive action after the issue came to light.
Their attempts at crisis management have been too passive, which is what caused the current situation.
If the Taipei City Government cannot come up with a convincing plan to strengthen the foundation of the pillar or erect a new pillar at another location, the public’s safety worries will not diminish.
Judging from the news reports that I have read, I believe that the engineers may have been overly confident and failed to conduct a geological investigation and sample drilling during the planning stage and during construction.
They also seem to have neglected the importance of a safety monitoring system during construction and after operations began.
They were therefore unable to produce reliable data after the problem with the T16 support pillar came to light.
When they discovered that the top soil under the T16 support pillar was shifting, the engineers were also unable to take emergency measures, such as installing drop panels for the foundations, using breakwater tribars to fill in the footings of the cable car and other measures to reinforce the foundation.
They also failed to carry out any follow-up safety evaluations, instead just allowing the situation to deteriorate.
This is difficult to understand and is very upsetting.
Nine times out of 10, the collapse of a slope will cause flooding. The majority of safety risks posed by collapsed slopes are also related to problems of surface water, groundwater and other geological problems.
The Taipei City Government has commissioned the four major engineering associations in Taiwan — the Taipei Professional Civil Engineers Association, the Taipei Structural Engineers Association, the Taipei Professional Geotechnical Engineers Association and the Taipei Soil and Water Conservation Professional Engineers Association — to jointly assess the stability and problems of the T16 support pillar.
That is a laudable decision based on respect for the specialized skills and knowledge of the members of these associations.
The only problem with this, however, is that hydraulic engineers and engineers who specialize in applied geology have not been invited to help with the assessments. Perhaps city government officials do not think that hydrology and geology are a major part of the problem.
Hydraulic engineers were also excluded from the safety evaluations on the collapsed section of the Orange Line of the Kaohsiung MRT last year and this year when then DPP was still in power.
Back then, I wrote to the China Times, urging the authorities to respect the specialized skills of hydraulic engineers and to include them in the process.
Now the KMT is in power. The expertise of hydraulic engineers is still not valued, which is very disturbing.
If the T16 support pillar of the Maokong Gondola had had a safety monitoring system for side slopes and structures from the start, then the data from that system could now be consulted for evaluations and we would not be in a situation in which various people are saying different things about the cable car’s problems.