Construction halts on Kaohsiung Orange Line

ACCIDENT REPORT: The central government said that it would not allow construction to resume until it was satisfied Kaohsiung officials could ensure public safety

By Wang Hsiao-wen  /  STAFF REPORTER

Sat, Aug 14, 2004 - Page 2

The Ministry of Transportation and Communications yesterday ordered Kaohsiung's Department of Mass Rapid Transit Systems to halt the construction of the troubled Orange Line between Hsitzuwan and Yangchengpu stations following an accident on Monday.

The ministry also demanded that the department submit a report on the circumstances of the incident within two weeks.

"The bureau must ensure the safety of the public before construction can resume," Vice Minister of Transportation and Communications Tsai Tui (蔡堆) said at a press conference in Taipei yesterday.

Outgoing Department of Mass Rapid Transit Systems director-general Chou Li-liang (周禮良) said that before leaving office he would find out which part of the trench wall had caused the accident.

Monday's accident led to the evacuation of 24 residents and forced the bureau to demolish four buildings above the construction site.

Chou said the bureau had done its best in applying risk management procedures. For this accident, he said, workers and equipment were deployed to stop the gushing water within 30 minutes. Within six hours, the bureau had torn down the buildings, he said.

Although it was the fourth site accident in three months, officials said that hazards in civil engineering could only be minimized, not eliminated.

"There is no such thing as risk-free construction. Our technicians have tried every possible way to ensure construction safety," Chou said.

Chou, who took charge of the MRT project six years ago, said that this accident, unlike previous incidents, had a political edge.

"My personal observation is that a simple accident has been politicized. In the run-up to the year-end legislative elections, some people are wanting to blow up the issue to attack Mayor Frank Hsieh (謝長廷)," he said.

Whatever the aftermath, politicking seems to be of little interest to those inconvenienced by the affair.

"We only care about how the city government can protect the rights of those affected to compensation, a compensation that covers the evicted residents' financial damages and psychological losses," said Cheng Jen-hung (程仁宏), secretary-general of the Consumers' Foundation.

Cheng said that the department had fallen short of informing the public of potential dangers.

"The public has the right to know that the site was more likely to cave in because of its sandy, sedimentary soil. Why didn't the bureau inform the locals near the site beforehand?" he asked.

The foundation demanded that the government name other construction areas at risk and urged it to take on a larger role in the project.

"Shouldn't the government be reviewing every blueprint to ensure some quality of construction while it is dumping taxpayers' money into this money pit?" Cheng asked.

The Kaohsiung City Government and the ministry are providing NT$150.9 billion out of the total NT$181.3 billion required.

Construction companies including local firm Dashin Engineering and the Japan-based Shimizu Construction Co are jointly investing NT$30.4 billion in the project.