Tue, May 30, 2006 - Page 2 News List

Lawmaker questions rail safety

ON TIME?A report from a consultant has shown that sections of the high speed railway have sunk, beyond acceptable levels, according to a legislator

By Shelley Shan  /  STAFF REPORTER

Whether the Taiwan High Speed Railway will be launched on time in October is again in question, after a lawmaker yesterday presented significant evidence of serious construction problems facing one of the nation's most controversial build-operate-transfer (BOT) projects.

Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Lee Jih-chu (李紀珠) cited an inspection report from Sinotech Engineering Consultant Ltd, which said that more than 10 sections of railway in Miaoli County have loose fill beneath the embankment.

The report also said that the section near Hukou (湖口) had sunk, with the worst area sinking more than 21mm.

"The train will run like a rollercoaster when it operates at high speeds," Lee said.

When questioned about the inspection report, the High Speed Rail Bureau Director-General Wu Fu-hsiang (吳福祥) said he knew that the report existed, but was not familiar with its content.

Inspections

Lee said that the Taiwan High Speed Rail Co (THSRC) entrusted Sinotech to conduct the inspection in March.

The results showed safety concerns with the operation of the high speed rail, she said, but the ministry did not seem to be on top of this information.

She further indicated that the ministry had spent NT$420 million (US$13.1 million) recruiting China Engineering Consultants Inc to oversee the overall construction of the high speed rail. She asked if the company had thoroughly informed the bureau about major construction flaws.

Lee also said that the construction in Miaoli was conducted by Hyundai Co. The South Korean company was supposed to re-do the whole section, but decided not to do so because the Ministry of Transportation and Communications wanted to have the high speed rail operating by October.

Wu said that he had called THSRC and confirmed that approximately 8.2km of the Miaoli section has sinkages of 50mm to 100mm in depth.

Loose soil

Sinotech's inspection included a test that is commonly used to measure the density of the soil, called a standard penetration test. The results indicated that the soil making up the fill was extremely loose.

The inspectors also sampled a portion of the fill and found that it was mainly constituted by rocks, sand and construction fabric.

Minister of Transportation and Communications Kuo Yao-chi (郭瑤琪) restated that safety remains the first priority and promised to develop a better understanding about the construction problems within two weeks.

THSRC said yesterday that the company had been monitoring sinkage along the entire high speed rail route since 2004. After it finished renovating some of the problematic sections last year, it asked Sinotech to re-evaluate the sections that have continued to sink earlier this year.

The company said the sinkage in Hukou has already been repaired. As a result, the bullet train has been able to pass through the section at a speed of 170kph. The company will gradually increase the train's speed to 300kph.

THSRC said the monitoring and maintenance work that is still needed would not force it to postpone the launch, which is scheduled for October.

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