Deputy Minister of Transportation and Communications Frank Fan (范植谷), who doubles as Taiwan Railways Administration (TRA) director-general, said yesterday that he and the administration would not dodge their responsibilities over mass train delays a day earlier.
Fan was referring to the delay of 138 trains, affecting more than 60,000 passengers, as a result of broken electric wires on a section of railway between Jhongli (中壢) and Yangmei (楊梅).
The problem occurred at 8:37am on Friday, the first day of the three-day 228 Memorial Day long weekend, when an overhead power line on the electrified rail system at Pusin Station (埔心) was sliced by the pantograph — the equipment on the roof of a train that collects power from an overhead cable — on a fast-moving train.
The administration originally planned to resume operations on the track at 7:30pm on Friday. However, the resumption of services was postponed twice and normal operations were only resumed yesterday morning.
Fan yesterday held a press conference at the Taipei Railway Station to explain the incident and he bowed to apologize for the inconvenience caused.
Minister of Transportation and Communications Yeh Kuang-shih (葉匡時), who attended a TRA briefing later, also apologized for the incident, describing it as “a most unfortunate circumstance.”
He instructed that a full review of the refund system should be carried out in response to calls from the public.
Under the administration’s existing refund policy, only passengers on express trains can claim a full refund for a train delay of at least 45 minutes, while travelers on slower trains are not covered by the refund policy.
A TRA safety commission has started a probe into the incident and the investigation report may be released tomorrow.
In an unprecedented move, the TRA mobilized 52 technicians and five vehicles on Friday for an overnight repair job to replace 1.5km of electric cable at a cost of NT$15 million (US$495,210).
Fan said that the number of TRA passengers has risen every year, averaging more than 600,000 per day last year, with the number ballooning to 880,000 during the Lunar New Year holiday.
The nation’s railway infrastructure faces problems due to a lack of maintenance staff and dilapidated electric cables, Fan said.
The Western Line went electrical in 1979 and the electric cables usually have a life span of between 16 and 20 years. The cables at the Pusin Station have not been changed for 30 years. It is known that some of the electric cables on the Western Line are 34 years old.
The administration has replaced the cables between Keelung and Jhunan (竹南) in northern Taiwan, leaving 476km of old electric cables on the Western Line, and is aiming to complete the replacement of a further 22km of cables this year.
The TRA said it would need a budget of NT$2.08 billion over five years to replace all the old cables.