Ministry chooses route for high-speed rail extension

CRITICISM::A KMT legislator said the DPP was using the project to win supporters, while a professor said demand for transportation to and from Pingtung was not enough

Staff writer, with CNA

Sun, Sep 29, 2019 - Page 2

The Ministry of Transportation and Communications (MOTC) on Friday decided on the route to extend the high-speed rail from its southern terminus in Kaohsiung to Pingtung County.

The ministry chose the route because, of the four proposals, it would cost the least — NT$55.4 billion (US$1.78 billion) — take the shortest time to build, and affect Kaohsiung residents the least, Deputy Minister of Transportation and Communications Huang Yu-lin (黃玉霖) said.

The plan would be sent to the Executive Yuan for final approval by the end of next month, Huang said, adding that it could take a year to design and nine years to build.

The 17.5km extension would link the final stop on the high-speed rail line, Zuoying Station, and Lioukuaicuo Station on the Taiwan Railways Administration’s (TRA) Pingtung line, which is one stop west of the TRA’s Pingtung Station, Huang said.

The new service would reduce the travel time between Zuoying District (左營) and Lioukuaicuo (六塊厝) from 40 minutes on TRA trains to 10 minutes, he said.

The ministry’s decision was in line with Premier Su Tseng-chang’s (蘇貞昌) preference.

Su on Sept. 10 announced the plan to extend the high-speed rail.

Critics have branded the project a waste of money and a ploy by the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) to attract supporters for the presidential and legislative elections on Jan. 11.

“Transportation infrastructure should undergo a professional evaluation and should not be used as a bargaining chip for the election,” Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Lee Yen-hsiu (李彥秀) said.

In pushing the plan, Su and his Cabinet have not presented any ridership estimates to justify the extension.

Chang Sheng-hsiung (張勝雄), a professor at Tamkang University’s Department of Transportation Management, said that the demand for transportation services to and from Pingtung is not large enough to justify the project.

The extension via Zuoying would also not help much with local travel, because it would not pass through downtown Kaohsiung or reach far enough into Pingtung County, he said.

The chosen plan heads east instead of south, and people traveling to bigger Pingtung hubs, such as Chaojhou Township (潮州), Hengchun Township (恆春) and Kenting (墾丁), would still have to make transfers at Zuoying to access more convenient transportation options.

Aside from the route that was chosen, the ministry also conducted a feasibility study on a route beginning at the high-speed rail train depot in Kaohsiung’s Yanchao District (燕巢) and ending at Lioukuaicuo.

Later, in July, it proposed two other routes, both passing through Kaohsiung, with one going from Zuoying to Pingtung Station via the TRA’s Kaohsiung Station.

The other was from Zuoying to the TRA’s Chaozhou Station in Pingtung via a new station at Kaohsiung International Airport. This plan bypassed Kaohsiung Station.