Tue, Oct 09, 2018 - Page 3 News List

Minister backs Pingtung high-speed rail

EXTENSION:A PFP lawmaker cautioned the minister about making rash promises before conducting a cost-benefit analysis and ensuring funding for construction and upgrades

By Shelley Shan  /  Staff reporter

Minister of Transportation and Communications Wu Hong-mo speaks at a news conference yesterday in Taipei.

Photo: Chu Pei-hsiung, Taipei Times

Minister of Transportation and Communications Wu Hong-mo (吳宏謀) yesterday reiterated his support for the construction of a high-speed rail extension from Kaohsiung to Pingtung City, but added that the government would need to follow due procedure before any construction could begin.

The Railway Bureau has proposed two possible extension routes, with one branching off in Kaohsiung’s Zuoying District (左營) and the other in Yanchao District (燕巢).

In its latest assessment, the bureau estimated that construction for the Zuoying-Pingtung route would cost more than NT$61.9 billion (US$2 billion), while the Yanchao-Pingtung route would cost about NT$75.6 billion.

Compared with a previous assessment, the bureau dramatically raised the self-liquidation ratios for both potential projects this time.

However, it also said that the high-speed rail operator would not recover the construction costs within 30 years, regardless of which route it chooses to build.

Construction would leave Taiwan High Speed Railway Corp (THSR) with a debt of more than NT$10 billion, it said.

At the legislature’s Transportation Committee yesterday, Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Chuang Ruei-hsiung (莊瑞雄), whose constituency is in Pingtung, said that THSR is profitable, but due to the bureau’s assessment, many people would blame advocates of extension for inflicting financial losses on the high-speed rail system.

Wu has said in interviews that extending the high-speed railway would not only benefit Pingtung residents, but also those in Taitung and Hualien, Chuang said, adding that Wu should state clearly whether he supports construction.

Wu replied that he does.

However, People First Party Legislator Lee Hung-chun (李鴻鈞) said that Wu should not promise anything without conducting a comprehensive evaluation first.

“You say you support the project, then where is the money going to come from? Have you performed any cost-benefit analysis to support your argument? Will the high-speed rail system still have extra funding to be upgraded to a faster and more advanced system in the future if the extension route is built? As a transportation minister, you need to consider all these factors and should not just say whatever you believe,” Lee said.

Wu said he is a “very cautious person” and that the viability of any government project should be examined through financial analyses.

People are allowed to discuss possible transportation projects and how they would affect regional development, but every project must be proposed and enforced following due diligence, Wu said.

DPP Legislator Chen Ou-po (陳歐珀) asked Wu whether he supports construction of a direct railway between Taipei and Yilan.

Traffic jams on the Chiang Wei-shui Freeway (Freeway No. 5) during holidays shows that demand far exceeds capacity and the North Link Line, which connects Taipei to Yilan, follows the northeast coast, which is too wide a detour, Wu said.

The Railway Bureau is working on plans for a Taipei-Yilan railway project, bureau Director-General Allen Hu (胡湘麟) said, adding that it would submit an assessment report to the ministry by the end of the year.

The project would need to pass an environmental impact assessment first, Wu said, adding that an assessment committee in 2006 rejected a previous direct railway project.

The ministry has no plans to extend the high-speed railway to Yilan or Hualien, Wu said, adding that it would first focus on improving the quality of Taiwan Railways Administration services on the east coast.

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