The Taiwan High Speed Rail Corp (THSRC) yesterday said that Thursday’s suspension of high-speed rail services would lead to financial losses of about NT$30 million (US$1 million), adding that the company would take full responsibility for the incident.
A malfunctioning of the signaling system at Greater Taichung’s high-speed rail station led to the cancelation of 44 trains and delayed the travel plans of about 35,000 passengers.
It was the first time that the system was forced to shut down completely for a reason unrelated to force majeure.
To appease passengers’ anger, the company announced on Thursday that passengers who had tickets for any of the canceled services were entitled to a full refund, with no administration charge, adding that customers can apply for a refund any time up to a year after their scheduled travel date.
Passengers holding tickets for any train service scheduled to depart before 10:30am on Thursday can present their tickets and receive a coupon to allow them to travel on the high-speed rail service free of charge within one year.
Meanwhile, THSRC chairman Ou Chin-der (歐晉德) relayed the handling of the incident and subsequent compensation to passengers to the company’s board of directors, who had gathered for a meeting on Thursday.
Ou said that the company had estimated that the losses incurred could top NT$30 million, but that it was a responsibility that the company has to bear.
He said that THSRC can only apologize, listen to passengers’ criticisms and seek to improve its operations.
Asked why the company insisted on spending hours trying to find a solution to the signaling problem when it could simply have reset the system, Ou said the decision to suspend train services was made after considering many factors, adding that it was a difficult choice.
“We could have restarted operations at 10:30am, but we felt it would be safer if we examined the entire system one more time, which was why normal operations did not resume until 11:30am,” Ou said.
Ou said that resetting the system was a last resort.
Though such an action did help resolve the problem, he said that the company still needed to determine the root cause of the signaling issue.
Ou also said that some directors had proposed switching the train system from automatic to manual operations when passing through Greater Taichung station, so that services could continue to operate without suspension.
However, the company decided not to adopt this proposal as switching to manual operations would mean trains reducing their speed to between 30kph and 40kph, which would in turn cause delays of more than an hour to services.
“Rather than let passengers experience delays all day, we felt it would be better to resolve the signaling problem and allow trains to operate normally,” he said, adding that he had reminded his staff to never compromise on safety.
Separately, the Consumers’ Foundation criticized THSRC, saying the compensation provided to customers who were affected by the service suspension was limited and unfair.
Foundation secretary-general Lei Li-fen (雷立芬) urged the company to publicly explain the cause of the across-the-board suspension and implement preventative measures to avoid similar problems in the future.
“THSRC now offers a refund within a year without extra charge,” Lei said.
“The refund applies to those who decided to use other forms of transportation and have not used their tickets. However, those who waited for trains to resume operations can apply for a free coupon for a future trip,” Lei added.
The foundation said this difference in compensation is unfair, saying that those who decided to use alternative modes of transport might have spent more than they needed to in taking taxis for transfer to other train stations, or for direct rides to their destinations.
“We call on THSRC to compensate all affected passengers with free travel coupons. The company would not lose from such actions , but would gain from this measure, because it is very likely that these passengers will use the coupons to travel with their families and friends, thus bringing more customers to the high-speed railway,” Lei said.
Additional reporting by Alison Hsiao