Exorbitant fees asked by a Japanese company for a new locomotive and repairs to two damaged passenger cars has led the Taiwan Railways Administration (TRA) to reconsider whether to go ahead with the repairs or mothball the damaged locomotive.
A Taroko Express (太魯閣號) tilting train collided with a gravel truck on a level crossing south of Pusin Railway Station (埔心) in Taoyuan County on Jan. 17 last year, causing the death of the train driver, severe injuries to the conductor and other injuries to 25 passengers.
The truck driver, Peng Yung-chuang (彭永庄), allegedly tried to cross the railway lines after the crossing’s barriers were lowered, but when the truck got stuck on the tracks he abandoned the vehicle.
The TRA claimed that the locomotive was destroyed in the crash, while two passenger cars were severely damaged.
However, when it sent a request for a quote to the Japanese company from which the administration usually buys its trains, the quoted costs prompted it to consider mothballing the wrecked locomotive.
Even if the two passenger cars were fixed, the entire train would still be useless because the locomotive was wrecked, the TRA said.
It added that undamaged passenger cars from the train would have to be set aside and used for other trains when their passenger cars needed servicing or maintenance.
The train’s original eight cars cost about NT$430 million (US$14 million) and the administration’s original estimate for repairs to the two damaged cars was NT$20 million to NT$30 million per car, the TRA said, adding that the main problem was the ruined locomotive.
The Japanese company reportedly told the administration that to rebuild the locomotive it would have to restart a production line that had already been halted. Rebuilding the locomotive would then cost NT$500 million, exceeding the amount paid for eight cars when the TRA bought the trains in 2006.
It has been alleged by sources that the administration was considering mothballing the ruined train and declaring it unusable once its term of service runs out in 30 years’ time.
However, as the train was bought only five years ago and was supposed to be in service for three decades, the wait would not only be long, it would also affect the amount of passengers able to travel to and from the east coast, the administration said.
It added that it originally had 48 cars to form six trains of eight cars each, but after the accident it had only 40 usable cars left. It estimated that the loss of eight cars — an entire train, in effect — from the eastern line would lead to a loss of 7,500 passengers per week.
The necessity for another train to run on the eastern coastal line was also an impetus for the administration to buy a new locomotive, it said, adding that it would conclude negotiations with the Japanese and hope to have its trains running at full capacity by June next year.
Meanwhile, critics slammed the TRA for not being thorough enough in negotiating its contracts, adding that this incident was a lesson for the administration.
Feng Chia University associate professor Lee Ker-tsung (李克聰) said the TRA lacked foresight and did not include in its contract clauses of how the Japanese company would provide repairs or materials when any of the trains were damaged.
He added that the TRA should negotiate terms of maintenance and repairs with the seller upon purchasing trains, and include these terms in the contract.