Reform of the Taiwan Railways Administration (TRA) is his No. 1 priority, Minister of Transportation and Communications Wang Kwo-tsai (王國材) said yesterday as he laid out eight key items that he aims to accomplish in the role.
Wang was appointed minister following the resignation of Lin Chia-lung (林佳龍) after the Taroko Express No. 408 derailment on April 2 killed 49 people and injured 244.
“The Ministry of Transportation and Communications and the TRA will share the responsibility of reforming the agency to ensure the safety of the railway system,” Wang said, adding that the work would involve a lot of communication with union members.
Aside from restructuring some TRA departments, Wang said that he would tackle the agency’s financial issues, as it has accumulated NT$430 billion (US$15.28 billion) in debt.
“Executive Yuan Secretary-General Li Meng-yen (李孟諺) and I met with Directorate-General of Budget, Accounting and Statistics Minister Chu Tzer-ming (朱澤民) on Monday. We have reached a consensus on the direction to take to address the financial problems,” Wang said.
Reform would benefit passengers, the TRA and its employees, he said.
“Employees will not lose one iota of their benefits, nor will their salaries shrink,” he said, adding that reform is necessary, as railway safety is the agency’s promise.
Wang also pledged to make the transportation network more convenient, including smooth connections between highways and freeways.
The ministry’s policy of using the high-speed rail system in the nation’s west and the TRA’s rapid services in the east as the basis of the national rail system would remain, but it would ensure that the TRA’s services on the east coast are safe, he said.
The government should only subsidize mass rapid transit projects that are deemed feasible following a careful and thorough evaluation, Wang said.
Under his leadership, he would make sure that the third terminal and third runway at Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport are completed by 2026 and 2030 respectively, Wang said, adding that the Civil Aeronautics Administration and Taoyuan International Airport Corp must not change the schedules.
Infrastructure at Taiwan’s seven commercial seaports would be improved to increase their competitive edge, he said.
A recent trip to Hsinchu County’s Jianshih Township (尖石) convinced him that the government needs to increase transportation infrastructure in remote areas and outlying islands, as people in such areas deserve transport justice, he said.
“In large cities, people have public bus and MRT rail systems, and are talking about building more MRT lines, but people in remote areas have trouble even getting a reliable bus system,” he said.
“This has caused young people in remote areas to migrate to the cities, while elderly people are stuck at home because the lack of bus services makes it difficult to travel,” he added.
Regarding tourism, Wang said that the ministry would help travel operators enhance domestic tour packages, so they would be prepared for business opportunities in the post-COVID-19-pandemic era.
The ministry would also increase 5G and artificial intelligence applications for maintenance and operations of transportation systems, while continuing to support the development of autonomous vehicles, he said.
Wang also said that he aims to reduce the number of casualties in traffic accidents.
About 3,000 people per year die in traffic accidents, with 40 percent of them being elderly, he said, adding that motorcycles are involved in accidents at a much greater rate than other private vehicles.
The National Road Traffic Safety Commission and the Directorate-General of Highways should work together to address this issue, which is the source of many social problems, he added.
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