Signal problem suspends high-speed rail service

By Shelley Shan  /  Staff reporter

Fri, Apr 26, 2013 - Page 1

High-speed rail services were suspended for four hours yesterday due to a signaling system abnormality detected at the Greater Taichung station, causing the company to cancel 44 departures and affecting about 35,000 passengers.

It was the first time that the high-speed rail was forced to shut down for a reason unrelated to force majeure.

Taiwan High Speed Rail Corp (THSRC) said the signaling system irregularity was found at 5:04am, when staff checked the status of the railway route before dispatching the first train of the day at 6:30am.

The system was supposed to show that the railway track was clear, without any trains in any station. Instead, it showed there was a train between the TK130 and TK193 milestones, which is inside the operating zone of Taichung Station.

Because the irregularity would stop the operation control center from completing the route setting and railway track inspection procedures, the company decided at 6:30am to cancel all train services before 9:30am.

John Chen (陳強), an assistant vice president of THSRC’s railway operation division, said the abnormality was found to be caused by problems with the electronic interlocking (EI) system at the railroad switch.

Chen said the system was installed at nine other places along the route, adding that the interlocking system at Taichung Station had been fixed once prior to the incident.

“Without the EI system, the train cannot operate at the speed set by the operations command center,” he said.

While the company was trying to fix the problem, it started dispatching six trains at 8:40am to transport passengers between Taipei and Hsinchu.

The problem was fixed after the company reset the entire system at about 9am.

The system resumed two-way operations at 10:30am and began to operate according to the time schedule at 11:30am.

The company’s slow response to the emergency situation enraged passengers. Some were particularly upset that the company kept postponing restarting the service.

A woman surnamed Lin (林) said that she previously had to cancel an appointment with a client when train service was canceled due to explosive devices found in a bathroom. She rescheduled her appointment to yesterday, only for the service to be canceled again.

THSRC said that passengers whose trains were canceled are entitled to ask for a refund without any additional charges if their tickets were unused, adding that they can apply for a refund within a year after the scheduled travel date. Those who used their tickets can get a coupon to board the high-speed rail at another time free of charge.

The Ministry of Transportation and Communications’ Bureau of High Speed Rail, which oversees the system’s operations, said that it was not completely satisfied with the way the company reacted to this incident.

“We have asked the company to thoroughly investigate the real cause of the incident, which should not be repeated,” said Young Cheng-chung (楊正君), a division director at the bureau. “It should properly handle ticket refunds and other special cases.”

Several lawmakers from constituencies outside Taipei were also affected. Democratic Progressive Party Legislator Chiu Chih-wei (邱志偉) of Greater Kaohsiung took what he called the “longest detour” in his life to travel to Taipei from his home.

“I originally planned to take the 6:30am high-speed train to Taipei to attend legislative meetings. However, THSRC announced at 6:20am that all services were suspended due to a signal failure,” Chiu said. “Since there are no more flights between Taipei and Kaohsiung, I had to take a flight from Kaohsiung to Magong (馬公), Penghu County, and then transfer to Taipei from there.”

“It was almost 10am when I finally arrived at the legislature,” he added.

Several committee meetings were postponed because lawmakers could not make it on time and all affected legislators said they would ask THSRC to come up with a backup plan if a similar incident occurs in the future.

Additional reporting by Loa Iok-sin