Academics and environmental activists sounded alarms over the newly announced Taipei-Yilan railway project, saying that the proposed route holds high risks as it passes through six active faults and 30 underground mining sites.
Critics said construction of the route would be fraught with danger caused by rock collapses, landslides and structural failures, due to the route traversing a region of known geological instability and which has already been weakened by past mining operations and earthquakes.
Environmentalists also voiced opposition to the project, since developing the proposed 53km rail route will cause destruction of wilderness habitats and fragile mountain-forest ecosystems, and cause pollution problems in the area.
Many critics questioned the amount of government funds allocated for the project, which is to save time on rail trips between Taipei and Yilan.
“Is it worth spending NT$49.1 billion [US$1.62 billion] on the construction [of the rail route] to save 38 minutes of travel time?” one of the skeptics asked.
Academic researcher Lee Ker-tsung (李克聰) said building the line calls for drilling tunnels and construction work close to 30 existing mine sites, which will pose a high risk of collapse and structural failure.
Lee, a professor in Feng Jia University’s department of transportation technology and management, pointed to a long tale of woes around building the Hsuehshan Tunnel, which links Taipei and Yilan and was finally completed in 2006, eight years behind schedule.
He said the Hsuehshan Tunnel is 12.9km long, but it took 15 years to build as 63 collapses occurred during construction, and there were many episodes of major flooding from groundwater.
“The geological report for this new project is not yet available, yet the Railway Reconstruction Bureau has already set a completion date of 2026. This is an overly optimistic schedule,” Lee said.
Green Formosa Front Association (綠色陣線協會) executive director Lin Chang-mao (林長茂) said that the Taiwan Railways Administration (TRA) would likely encounter major problems while working in a very complicated geological zone with known earthquake activity.
“This route passes under or close to many existing deep coal and mineral mines, but the TRA will go ahead with the construction, despite not having done a thorough geological investigation. This amounts to playing with the lives of rail passengers,” he said.
Lin added that detailed information is needed regarding the length, width, slope angle and pillar frame level of the mine shafts, but data from the Bureau of Mines are sketchy at best.
“In the past, mining in Taiwan mostly relied on the use of acacia wood to rig up simple frame and pillar supports. After years of neglect, they could be crumbling or have already failed. The government does not even know if these mine shafts are now flooded by water,” he said.
“When earthquakes strike, the mine shafts and the surrounding rock structures are prone to collapse,” Lin added. “The route calls for a number of long tunnels through the mountains. If an explosion or a collapse is to occur, trains may be derailed and passengers could have difficulties making their escape.”
In response, a TRA official, who declined to give his name, said: “The sites through which the new route will pass are mostly small-scale mine shafts. These will not pose major engineering problems… When the rail link is completed, freight trains carrying cargo will not run on it, to reduce the risks.”