Mon, Jul 23, 2007 - Page 1 News List

Hau slams underlings over cable car

STRANGE NOISES A construction consultant notified the French maker of the cable system prior to the system failure on Saturday that 'unusual' sounds had been heard

By Mo Yan-chih  /  STAFF REPORTER

Visitors ride the Maokong cable car system yesterday afternoon. The system resumed service yesterday noon after being shut down on Saturday following a malfunction that left hundreds of riders suspended in mid-air for up to two hours.

PHOTO: LIN CHENG-KUNG, TAIPEI TIMES

Taipei Mayor Hau Lung-bin (郝龍斌) yesterday blamed several city government officials for another failure of the Maokong cable car system on Saturday that left more than 300 visitors trapped for up to two hours in dangerously high temperatures, and said a number of officials would be disciplined for administrative negligence.

After suspending the service on Saturday night following the incident, the Taipei Rapid Transit Corp (TRTC) resumed services at 12pm yesterday.

Hau yesterday acknowledged the city government and TRTC's failure to ensure the system's stability and to handle the crisis.

He said his government would take responsibility for the accident and singled out officials in the administration and in the TRTC.

"We will make a thorough examination on the system's problems and continue to improve the service so that it will meet the public's expectations," Hau told a press conference at Taipei City Hall yesterday afternoon.

In all, seven officials were disciplined for negligence: TRTC vice president Tan Kuo-kuang (譚國光) and senior officials Sheng Chi-tseng (沈志藏) and Huang Chiang-chang (黃建昌); as well as Taipei City Secretariat Deputy Director Yang Hsi-an (楊錫安) and officials Cheng Chun-min (鄭俊明), Lee Shu-chuan (李四川) and Chen Shih-chie (陳世傑).

Hau said the city government would also look into the role of French company POMA, the system's builder, as it had been informed by a construction consultant of unusual noises on Saturday morning, but failed to check the system immediately.

Two POMA engineers in Taipei were investigating the noises when the failure occurred. Although no clear link has been established between the noises and the incident, it is believed that they may have been related.

Yang said that the city government set up an emergency response team on Saturday consisting of contractors and consultants to examine the problem. The team conducted test runs until 3am yesterday before resuming service at 12pm.

The equipment failure occurred at 4:50pm on Saturday at the Corner One Station. An evacuation began at 5:50pm.

The last passengers were evacuated at approximately 6:55pm.

While some visitors were shrugging off the incident as they waited in line to take the cable car yesterday, the Consumers' Foundation condemned the city government's disregard for the safety of passengers and urged it to halt the service.

"We seriously doubt that the system is now safe after a mere half day of inspection. The service should be suspended until the city government has set up a safety mechanism," foundation chairman Cheng Hung-jen (程宏仁) said at the Maokong Gondola's Taipei Zoo Station.

In response, Hau said the city government would seek to improve the service, but continued to vouch for its safety.

"Our preliminary inspection confirmed the safety of the system, so we won't halt operations for now," he said.

Asked to comment on the accident, former Taipei mayor Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), whose administration launched the cable car project in 2005, expressed concerns over the system's safety, but declined to comment on Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) criticisms of him over the matter.

"I called Mayor Hau right after I learned about the incident and he told me that the city government would fix the problem and ensure the safety of visitors," Ma said yesterday after attending an event in Taipei.

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