Mon, Dec 25, 2006 - Page 1 News List

High Speed Rail given the green light

TESTING COMPLETE Despite safety concerns, the long-delayed rail project has been cleared for operation for part of the line extending from Banciao to Tsoying

By Shelley Shan and Lisa Wang  /  STAFF REPORTERS

A Taiwan High Speed Rail Corp train yesterday moves into its terminal station in Zuoying, Kaohsiung after a testing drive.

PHOTO: HUANG CHIH-YUAN, TAIPEI TIMES

Despite lingering questions about the safety of the high speed rail, the Ministry of Transportation and Communications (MOTC) last night approved its official operation.

"In our meeting today, we have confirmed that the Taiwan High Speed Rail Corp [THSRC] has fulfilled each and every requirement of inspectors," said ministry Vice Minister Ho Nuan-hsuen (何煖軒). "The company has also completed every inspection procedure listed in Article 16 of the Railway Law (鐵路法)."

"Based on the evaluation of the Lloyd's Register Project Team and the three Japanese consultants, inspection results and relevant railway regulations, the ministry will approve THSRC to begin operations as soon as possible," Ho said, adding that the company needs to make public the ticket prices for at least a week before any operations could begin.

For the time being, the train will only be allowed to service the line between Banciao and Tsoying.

Yin Chen-pong (尹承蓬), director-general of the ministry's Department of Railways and Highways, said yesterday that the company can only allow passengers to take the train after it secures an operating permit from the ministry. The decision about when to begin operations is up to the company, Yin said.

When contacted by the Taipei Times last night, a THSRC official said the firm would launch test operations during the three-day holiday beginning Jan. 1, at discount ticket prices.

The test run would last one week at least before THSRC starts to run the nation's first bullet train officially, THSRC spokesman Arthur Chiang (江金山) said in a phone interview.

"We have fixed all the problems found by the MOTC and the review committee, so we will finally receive the go-ahead ... But, at this point, we cannot set a date for the formal launch yet," Chiang said.

THSRC declined to give details about its proposed ticket prices, but local media reports have said the ticket for the longest trip, a journey of 80 minutes between Taipei and Kaohsiung, may cost NT$1,280.

The price would be 50 percent higher than the train ticket price for the same destination, but 33 percent lower than a flight.

The ministry's announcement came after it held a final review meeting on the high speed rail. Last month, the company was required to perform accident-free test runs for at least one month. The test runs were concluded yesterday.

The press conference last night was attended by MOTC officials and representatives from China Engineering Consultants Inc.

Tsuei Bo-yi (崔伯義), CECI's chief project manager, said yesterday that the firm had recruited Masao Saito, Takeshi Osawa and Jiro Ishimura to help monitor the test runs. Tsuei said that experts had concluded that THSRC's maintenance and traffic control performance had reached operational standards set by Japan's Shinkansen system.

Tsuei further said that the two mishaps that happened on Dec. 5 and Dec. 8 this month could only be considered as "minor operation obstacles" under Japan's railway standards, and as the incidents had not hindered the operations of the main railway line, they could not be viewed as "accidents."

For some inspectors, however, the unconditional approval was a disappointment.

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