Minister of Transportation and Communications Yeh Kuang-shih (葉匡時) said the government has succeeded in electrifying the Hualien-Taitung railway line more than one year ahead of schedule, but said that its plan to finish all construction within five years is rather “ambitious.”
Yeh made the remarks on Wednesday at a meeting of the legislature’s Transportation Committee after the Railway Reconstruction Bureau announced that the line, which was scheduled to be operational at the end of the year, will not be opened until June next year.
However, the June deadline is still 1.5 years earlier than the date the ministry had set previously.
Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Lo Shu-lei (羅淑蕾) criticized the ministry for attributing the delay to poor weather and asked if someone should be held responsible for the failure to meet deadline.
Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Yeh Yi-jin (葉宜津) said that the ministry only wanted to finish the project early because President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) had said to do so.
She added that the ministry was under pressure to finish the line’s electrification and the Wugu-Yangmei Overpass earlier than the scheduled, which resulted in more funds being earmarked for the two projects.
DPP Legislator Liu Chao-hao (劉櫂豪) also said that Ma had said the electrification project would be finished by the end of this year.
Liu said the president did so in his Double-Ten Day national address last year and questioned if Ma had been accurately informed about the project’s progress.
KMT legislators Chen Ken-Te (陳根德) and Yang Li-huan (楊麗環) defended the government’s decision to finish these projects early.
Referring to the Double Ten address, Yang said Ma had been expressing the wish of local residents who want the line to be completed, not giving a timeline.
Asked if the line would definitely be launched, Yeh Kuang-shih said that such a promise should not be made lightly.
“Making this type of pledge is bad political etiquette,” the minister said. “Nor is it proper to set a definitive end date for the project.”
Yeh Kuang-shih said that by slashing the project’s estimated construction time from seven years to five, the government had set itself a tall order.
According to the bureau, the project was approved by the Executive Yuan in 2008 and was originally scheduled to be completed in 2015.
The construction period was shortened by two years — ostensibly to meet the needs of Hualien and Taitung residents — which resulted in the budget being raised from NT$25.4 billion to NT$27.7 billion (from US$846.6 million to US$922.9 million).