The Railway Reconstruction Bureau said yesterday it was still evaluating a proposed route connecting Taipei and Ilan but no decision would be made until September next year.
“In the meantime, we will see if there is any way we can raise the capacity of the North Link by straightening railway routes in some sections,” bureau Deputy Director General Chou Yung-hui (周永輝) said. “Whether the bureau builds a new railway route or simply chooses to raise the capacity of the North Link depends on which option is most efficient.”
The bureau’s comments came after Minister of Transportation and Communications Mao Chi-kuo (毛治國) said in Ilan on Monday that the ministry would review the possibility of building a new Taipei-Ilan railway.
The North Link is the only railway system connecting the west and east coasts and is built along the northeast coastal area.
The bureau proposed building a shorter line from Nangang (南港) to Jiaosi (礁溪) three years ago, Chou said. Such a route would reduce travel time between Taipei and Ilan by nearly an hour and would ease traffic in the Hsuehshan Tunnel.
The proposal, however, was rejected by the Environmental Protection Administration’s environment impact assessment (EIA) committee on the grounds the route would cross several water quality protection zones in Sindian (新店), Shuangsi (雙溪) and Gongliao (貢寮) and a soil and water conservation zone in Sijhih (汐止).
The committee said the proposed route would cross nine geological faults, and the bureau had not given a thorough explanation and assessment on the impact the line would have on them. The bureau ignored the fact that there were several archeological sites near the route in Ilan, which could be damaged by a construction project, the committee said.
Nevertheless, the committee ruled that the bureau could propose another plan for review.
Chou said the bureau received a NT$13 million (US$393,000) grant from the Ministry of Transportation and Communications to start planning for a route different from the one proposed three years ago.
Building a new line would cost more than NT$50 billion, or NT$20 billion more than the route proposed three years ago. The original proposal generated controversy because the bureau would have had to build two railway tunnels, both longer than Hsuehshan Tunnel and just as difficult to construct.