Mon, Nov 07, 2005 - Page 1 News List

Premier backs bullet train project during test ride

By Jessie Ho  /  STAFF REPORTER IN TAINAN

Premier Frank Hsieh (謝長廷) yesterday inspected the nation's new bullet train on a test run that hit speeds of 300kph, and affirmed the government's strong support for the project.

"The government is under a lot of pressure for injecting more money into the project, but it's worth it," Hsieh told reporters after the 15-minute ride. "It would be regrettable to give up on it now."

The train departed from Tainan Station, headed northward to Tainan County's Liouchia (六甲) Township and then south to Dashe (大社) Township in Kaohsiung County before returning to the station.

The Taiwan High-Speed Rail Corp (THSRC), builder of the high-speed rail system, reached its target of running the bullet train at a top speed of 315kph on Oct. 30.

THSRC chairwoman Nita Ing (殷琪), Minister of Transportation and Communications Lin Ling-san (林陵三), and THSRC shareholders such as Fubon Financial Corp Chairman Daniel Tsai (蔡明忠) and Teco Group chairman Theodore Huang (黃茂雄) joined the test run yesterday.

"This is a milestone for us," Ing said, adding that her first experience on the train was very good.

Ing said that THSRC will hold a provisional board meeting next week and a shareholder meeting in January -- instead of May -- to discuss the approval of three new board directors representing the government, as required by the Ministry of Transportation and Communications.

THSRC expanded the number of its board directors from 12 to 15 seats last month after the government decided to pump another NT$7.5 billion (US$223 million) into the project. That amount included NT$4.5 billion from the China Aviation Development Foundation and NT$3 billion from China Technical Consultant Inc.

The government currently has two seats in the board but hopes to obtain three more. However, whether the government will be able to occupy the three new seats remains to be negotiated, said Arthur Chiang (江金山), vice president of THSRC's administration division.

The government's holding in THSRC jumped from 11.89 percent to about 37 percent, but 19 percent of that was through purchasing preferred shares, which confer no voting rights, Chiang said.

Ing declined to reveal how much capital the company still needs to complete the project's construction, saying a new fund-raising plan will be released by the middle of the month.

The one-year delay of the project is estimated to cost the company an additional NT$19.3 billion, Chiang said.

Ing announced on Sept. 8 that the firm's board of directors decided to reschedule the opening of the high-speed railway to Oct. 31 next year, blaming delays in the construction of the core mechanical and electrical systems.

THSRC is currently negotiating compensation for the delays with the Taiwan Shinkansen Corp (TSC, 台灣新幹線), contractor for the core system's construction. Yesterday, TSC chairman Takaomi Goto said he hopes the negotiation will be completed by the end of the month.

"I think who should bear the responsibility for the delay is still an open question," Goto told the Taipei Times yesterday.

Becoming familiar with the Japanese-designed bullet train system has taken a lot of time, especially for the THSRC, whose engineers are mostly US and European, Goto said.

Despite the setback in exporting the system for the first time, from a business point of view, the Japanese consortium will still look for other countries in which to introduce the bullet train, Goto added.

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