Ministry takes over rail project

THIRD TIME LUCKY?:When two companies abandoned the project after winning the bidding process, the Ministry of Transportation and Communications stepped in

By Melody Chen  /  STAFF REPORTER

Sun, Jun 29, 2003 - Page 2

The Ministry of Transportation and Communications (MOTC) announced earlier this week it will be in charge of the construction of a high-speed rail link between Taipei and CKS International Airport.

The announcement came after two private companies failed to carry out the project. The government launched the bidding process for the project in 1997.

Minister of Transportation and Communications Lin Ling-san (林陵三) said the project consists of two parts.

The first part will link Taipei Main Station to CKS International Airport and the second part will connect the airport to the north-south high-speed railway's Chingpu Station in Taoyuan County.

"The first part will serve passengers traveling between Taipei and the airport," said DPP Legislator Wang Tuoh (王拓), a member of the legislature's transportation committee.

"Travelers from central and southern Taiwan can take the north-south high-speed railway trains to Chingpu Station and transfer to the airport," said Wang.

According to the MOTC's design, the railway linking Taipei and the airport will be 35.9km long and have 11 stations. The complete ride will take 35 minutes.

Lin said the ministry plans to start construction of the part linking Taipei and the airport next September. The project is scheduled to be finished by the end of 2008.

The railway connecting the airport to the north-south high speed railway's Chingpu Station will be 10.9km long and have 6 stations.

The government hopes to complete the part between the airport and Chingpu Station by October 2005, Lin said.

The government has budgeted NT$82.9 billion for the two railway links. The budget will cover construction costs and land confiscation compensations.

Lin said the railway link between the airport and Taipei will terminate at the Taipei Main Station, which already serves as a major station for Taipei's MRT system and Taiwan Railway Administration's traditional railway.

"The government's NT$300 billion budget to expand infrastructure nationwide will cover the cost of the airport's railway project," Lin said.

The ministry, in order to prevent a budget shortfall, also plans to launch a partial build-operate-transfer (BOT) mode for the project.

Evertransit International Co (長生開發), the company that won the bidding for the project, gave it up due to a financial crisis at the end of last year.

While the government originally planned to construct the entire railway on a BOT mode, the company was criticized for its manipulation of land prices along the planned railway route.

In February this year, the Control Yuan summoned Lin to answer questions about the company's manipulation of land prices and its repeated postponement of construction work.

Chao Ron-yaw (趙榮耀), a member of the Control Yuan, blamed the MOTC for giving a free rein for the company to plan the route.

"The railway's transportation function was not properly taken into account when the company designed the route. That's the major factor leading to the failure of the project," said Chao.

After the company gave up the project, the second company in line, the BES Engineering Corp (中華工程), handed NT$100 million as guarantee money to the MOTC in June, expressing its wish to take over the project and start construction as soon as possible.

According to the corporation's design, the railway linking Taipei to the airport would be 36.2km long and have 8 stations. The whole ride would take only 28 minutes, 7 minutes shorter than the government's version.

However, on April 11, the MOTC announced the corporation also abandoned the project.

The corporation, after evaluating its route design, found numerous technical problems that could not be surmounted, the ministry said.

The corporation planned to build the railway along the Sun Yat-sen Freeway. The original design was drawn up several years ago, but because the freeway has been expanded over the past few years, the plan became outdated and was not feasible right now, Wang said.

"The space the corporation planned to use for the construction of the railway has been used for the expansion of the freeway," Wang said.

Although the government's route design was less than ideal, it was the best plan available at that time, Wang said.