Tue, Nov 20, 2018 - Page 3 News List

INTERVIEW: New TRA head aims to restore railways to former glory

Chang Cheng-yuan, who late last month stepped down as deputy minister of transportation and communications to assume the post of Taiwan Railways Administration (TRA) director-general, told ‘Liberty Times’ (sister paper of the ‘Taipei Times’) staff reporters Jennifer Huang and Cheng Wei-chi that he is not there to supervise the agency, but “here to stand with its personnel to recover the 100-year-old institution’s greatness”

Incoming Taiwan Railways Administration Director-General Chang Cheng-yuan speaks to the "Liberty Times" (sister paper of the "Taipei Times") in Taipei on Nov. 2.

Photo: Liu Hsin-de, Taipei Times

Liberty Times (LT): Train manufacturer Nippon Sharyo has said that the automatic train protection (ATP) system used by Puyuma Express trains has design flaws, but added that the TRA was responsible for inspecting the trains before acceptance. The comments suggested that the TRA made mistakes during the acceptance process. What is your response?

Chang Cheng-yuan (張政源): I was not a participant in the procurement or acceptance of the trains in 2013, so I cannot comment on it yet. The Executive Yuan and other government agencies are conducting a comprehensive review. If the results vindicate the TRA, I would defend it; if there were mistakes, the people who made them will be held responsible according to the law and regulations.

The Japanese firm acknowledged design flaws in the remote operation and supervision systems for the ATP, but the ATP itself and the cars are otherwise fine. The priority right now is addressing the issues with the remote systems.

There are plenty of precedents internationally where defective trains were recalled after fulfillment of the contract and delivery. The TRA expects Nippon Sharyo to take responsibility or face the legal consequences.

LT: How does the TRA plan to reform itself?

Chang: The TRA serves 230 million people per year. We are an established brand with a lustrous past and it truly hurts to see the company sink to such a level. I have returned to the company in hopes of restoring its old glory.

We have, for the time being, selected three goals: ensuring safety, raising morale and steeling resolve for reform.

To achieve this, we must realize six goals: ensuring travel safety; revitalizing office culture, making it more upbeat and progressive; increasing service quality; improving the work environment; modernizing trains and railroad tracks; and — eventually — corporatizing the TRA.

The TRA has a responsibility to travelers and it is not yet time for corporatization. Even so, we must face the fact that the TRA, while seen as a state-run company, is nothing like one. The bureaucracy must be addressed.

LT: How do you respond to criticism following the derailment that the TRA is understaffed?

Chang: We need to look at facts, data and history before talking about the TRA’s staff levels. The TRA at its peak employed 23,000 people, but that was 20, 30 years ago. Automation has greatly reduced the staff requirement since then; for example, electronic cards and automated ticket gates have replaced sales clerks and ticket inspectors.

The TRA does not need 20,000 employees, especially not with its fourth-generation ticketing system coming online next year. More is not always better and the focus should be on making efficient use of available staff.

Most importantly, we have to ensure that there are enough mechanics, technicians and engineers on duty, including drivers. To increase competence, we also need to raise training standards.

The TRA has 13,000 personnel. In accordance with Executive Yuan policy that predates the derailment, the agency is to increase its staff by 2,818 over three years.

LT: Another common criticism is that low wages contribute to high personnel turnover at the TRA. Are you making changes to address this issue?

Chang: I have accepted an effective demotion and pay cut to work at the TRA again. People keep saying that the TRA director-general’s monthly salary of NT$115,310 (US$3,731), including base pay and bonuses, is less than that of other senior heads at the agency and some drivers. However, drivers have a special job and they receive hazard pay, overtime and other bonuses, so this is not comparing like to like.

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