Sun, Jun 04, 2006 - Page 2 News List

Race to promote tunnel's launch

ROAD RACE Thousands of runners were expected to join a race today through the Hsuehshan Tunnel, which has recently sparked criticism from concerned academics

By Shelley Shan  /  STAFF REPORTER

More than 3,000 of the nation's athletes are expected to take part in a run through the Taipei-Ilan Expressway's Hsuehshan Tunnel (雪山隧道) today.

The event, co-organized by the Taiwan Area National Expressway Engineering Bureau and the Chinese Taipei Olympic Committee, is being held to support the UN's global efforts to educate young people about the importance of staying away from drugs.

It is also part of a campaign launched by the Ministry of Transportation and Communications (MOTC) recently to build public awareness about safety and other issues to be aware of when driving through the long tunnel.

Organizers have designed an 8km and 16km race for participants. Both races will start at the toll collection station at Toucheng (頭城) in Ilan County.

The event comes against the backdrop of several controversies surrounding the major public construction project, which is now scheduled to officially open on the 16th of this month.

The bureau held a drill on Thursday inside the tunnel that simulated a traffic accident in which three cars collided. The crew stationed in the tunnel managed to put out the fire caused by the "collision" and remove the damaged vehicles within 20 minutes.

Technical difficulties

Five academics who attended the drill have said that the bureau still must overcome some technical issues before they will endorse the opening of the tunnel to traffic. They said that the core mechanical system has not been fully integrated with the traffic control system. No drills have been conducted for unexpected disasters, and the surveillance system for catching speeding motorists has not been completely installed.

Lee Ke-tsung (李克聰), an associate professor of traffic and transportation engineering and management at Feng Chia University, said the drill on Thursday was too formal to test how the tunnel's staff and systems would perform in a real-life emergency system.

He also pointed out several problems that occured during the drill, such as the failure to activate the ventilation system when the fire broke out.

"We will not let the Ministry have their way if they fail the evaluation," Lee said.

Lin Ping-Sien (林炳森), a professor of civil engineering at Chung Hsing University, suggested that the Ministry should integrate the core mechanical system and traffic control system before opening the tunnel to the public.

The academics made 22 suggestions, 13 of which have been identified by the bureau as items that need to be improved immediately.

The bureau's chief engineer Tseng Dar-jen (曾大仁) said that it plans to finish the integration of the mechanical and traffic control systems by the end of this month. He emphasized, however, that this will not affect the tunnel's operation.

"Both systems are capable of functioning automatically and independently," Tseng said.

Lee Thay-ming (李泰明), director of MOTC's department of railways and highways, said that he was confident that the tunnel would become operational by the 16th of this month.

Delayed launch

The tunnel was supposed to open before this year's Lunar New Year holiday, but the scheduled launch was postponed so the mechanical system could be thoroughly tested.

The tunnel, which is 12.9km long, is the fifth-longest in the world and the longest in East Asia. It is located along the Taipei-Ilan Expressway, which begins in Nangang (南港) in Taipei City and ends at Suao (蘇澳) in Ilan County.

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