Tue, Nov 16, 2010 - Page 2 News List

Taipei-Yilan line still being assessed: minister

TOO EARLYMao Chi-kuo said that the ministry was evaluating all the options for a direct Taipei-Yilan railway after its initial proposal was turned down four years ago

By Shelley Shan  /  Staff Reporter

Minister of Transportation and Communications Mao Chi-kuo (毛治國) yesterday denied reports that the ministry was building a direct railway connecting Taipei and Yilan, saying it was far too early to talk about.

“[The Railway Reconstruction Bureau] is evaluating the feasibility of the project and must submit the results of its evaluations to the ministry for approval,” he said. “We have yet to see those results.”

Although the project was rejected by the Environmental Protection Administration’s (EPA) Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Committee four years ago, Mao said the committee ruled that the ministry could propose an alternative route.

The ministry was evaluating all the options and any speculation beyond this point was unnecessary, he said.

Mao was scheduled to brief the legislature’s Transportation Committee about the ministry’s budget plan for the next fiscal year, but the railway project became the focus at the question-and-answer session, which was sparked by a story in the Chinese-language China Times yesterday that said the ministry had resurrected the project.

Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Yeh Yi-jin (葉宜津) asked Mao if the ministry was using the same tactics for this project it used to secure the EIA committee’s approval for the Suhua Highway improvement project, which obtained conditional approval earlier this month.

“You leak it [the news] to the media and then seek support from local residents,” Yeh said. “Then you pressure the environmental protection groups to accept your proposal, making it easier to have the plan passed at the EIA committee.”

Mao said the Suhua project was finalized after the ministry spent a year communicating with the residents of Hualien and secured consensus among all the parties involved.

The bureau first proposed the direct-line project in 2006. The rail link was designed to reduce travel time from 90 minutes to 36 minutes.

The committee, however, turned down the project on the grounds that the proposed route would pass through a water source quality protection area on Beishih River (北勢溪). The committee also turned down the bureau’s plan to construct a long tunnel on the route, which would pass through the same geological fracture zone as the Hsuehshan Tunnel (雪山隧道).

Bureau director-general Jack Hsu (許俊逸) said it was reviewing a series of possibilities, including making improvements to the North-Link railway line and that a final decision had yet to be made.

However, Hsu said that improving the North-Link Line would only decrease the travel time by seven minutes, with construction costs reaching NT$28 billion (US$921 million). The time needed to complete the construction would be seven years, he said.

The bureau was also considering a new route that bypasses the water source quality protection zone, Hsu said, adding that rather than building one long tunnel, the bureau was considering building several shorter tunnels.

The latter plan, which would shorten travel time by 30 minutes, would take about 10 years to complete and cost about NT$50 billion, he said.

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