The Taiwan Railways Administration (TRA) should install barriers and detectors on slopes along the railways to avoid intrusion of foreign objects on railway tracks, a railway expert said yesterday.
The speed of a Mass Rapid Transit or a light rail system train is about 20kph to 60kph, and their risk of impact hazard is low, said National Kaohsiung University of Science and Technology electronics engineering professor Chang Chien Jia-jen (張簡嘉壬), who is also the director of the university’s railway technology center.
The high-speed rail system, on the other hand, can operate at up to 300kph, Chang Chien said.
As such, its slope protection system is integrated with the train system to minimize impact hazards, he said.
“The speed of TRA trains has increased from 80kph to 90kph to 130kph to 150kph. However, its trains are not integrated with slope detectors, which increases security risks,” he said, adding that the TRA should protect its railway tracks similar to the high-speed rail system.
Chang Chien said that the Taroko Express derailment on Friday and a Puyuma Express derailment in 2018 both happened at curves.
Both are tilting trains, which means that they can tilt to counter the centrifugal force when traveling through curves and do not need to slow down, he said.
“I would suggest that the TRA reconsider if it is necessary to require both express trains to slow down when passing through curves, particularly if the curve is blocking the driver’s line of sight,” he added.
In the short term, the railway agency should identify possible risk factors along the railway tracks, Chang Chien said, adding that barriers and slope detectors should be installed at high-risk sections.
The agency should install transponders at curves that would be integrated with automatic train protection systems, which would automatically slow down the train if a foreign object enters the railway tracks, he said.
In the long run, the agency should find ways to stabilize slopes, as detectors alone cannot prevent the intrusion of foreign objects, he said.
The TRA said it has budgeted NT$275 million (US$9.64 million) to install slope warning systems at 25 high-risk railway sections as part of a six-year plan to improve the safety of the railway system, adding that it plans to complete installing the systems next year.
No slope alarm system has been installed at the spot where Friday’s derailment occurred, the agency said.
“We have asked the TRA to consider if there are other sections where foreign objects could intrude,” in light of the accident, Deputy Minister of Transportation and Communications Wang Kwo-tsai (王國材) said yesterday.
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