New Minister of Transportation and Communications Wang Kwo-tsai (王國材) yesterday pledged to run the Taiwan Railways Administration (TRA) more like a corporation within three years, adding that he would resign if plans to reform the agency fail.
Wang made the remarks at a meeting of the legislature’s Transportation Committee, where the ministry was scheduled to brief lawmakers on the progress of plans to form “travel bubbles” with other countries.
However, committee members focused on Wang’s plans to reform the TRA, which he pledged when he took office on Tuesday.
Wang, previously a deputy minister, was promoted to minister when Lin Chia-lung (林佳龍) stepped down to take responsibility for the April 2 railway derailment that killed 49 people and injured more than 200.
Wang has appointed former Railway Bureau director-general Allen Hu (胡湘麟) as the new deputy transportation minister and promoted former TRA deputy director-general Du Wei (杜微) to head the railway agency.
Officials who are familiar with the agency’s core issues and are capable of addressing them are needed to carry out reform, Wang said.
However, Taiwan People’s Party Legislator Andy Chiu (邱臣遠) compared the appointments to “putting old wine into a new bottle,” and asked how the ministry could reform the TRA when it simply promoted current officials without recruiting new ones.
Wang said that he was the executive director of an ad hoc group formed by the Executive Yuan to conduct a comprehensive examination of the TRA after a Puyuma Express derailment in 2018 killed 19 passengers and injured 215.
The ad hoc group listed 144 issues with the TRA and made recommendations accordingly, he said.
“The TRA had followed the suggestions made by the ad hoc group, such as enhancing the maintenance of train cabins and main compressors,” he said. “Building open-cut tunnels to enhance the safety of side slopes was one of the recommendations, but the Taroko Express derailment on April 2 exposed problems with construction site management, which was really frustrating.”
“The TRA is improving in many ways, but new problems have emerged during the process,” he said.
Asked about a timetable for reform, Wang said that it would be carried out in three stages.
Within one year, the ministry would address urgent railway safety issues and integrate the TRA’s electrical engineering, rolling stock, construction and transportation departments by setting up several regional operation centers, he said.
The second phase would involve dealing with the TRA’s financial losses and the third phase turning it into a corporation, he said.
The Executive Yuan has agreed to compensate the TRA for the financial losses that it has sustained for managing small and unprofitable railway stations, Wang said, adding that it agreed to handle the debts that the TRA has accumulated over the years due to an old pension system.
Lawmakers and the Executive Yuan have proposed amendments to the Railway Act (鐵路法), which would grant the TRA greater flexibility in using its properties and assets, he added.
In three years, the TRA would begin to operate like a corporation, he said, without specifying when it would make the transition.
Wang also told Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Hung Mong-kai (洪孟楷) that he would step down if his plans for reform fail.
The TRA is scheduled to submit a new ticket pricing scheme to the Ministry of Transportation and Communications by the end of this year, as the agency has not adjusted fares for 26 years.
However, “adjusting train fares would not be the ministry’s top priority,” Wang said, adding that its first and foremost task is to increase the TRA’s revenue.
Democratic Progressive Party Legislator Chen Ming-wen (陳明文) asked Wang if he would reverse some of the transportation policies stipulated during Lin’s term, such as extending the high-speed rail line to Pingtung and Yilan counties.
The ministry would continue to implement the projects, Wang said.
‘SMEAR CAMPAIGN’: The ‘Global Times’ accused the DPP of offering politicians in Somaliland bribes and promoting Taiwanese independence by funding US think tanks The Ministry of Foreign Affairs yesterday denounced China’s Global Times for disseminating disinformation about Taiwan, after the Chinese state-run newspaper claimed that the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) has been bribing Somaliland politicians. Taiwan in August last year inaugurated the Taiwan Representative Office in the Republic of Somaliland, which is the nation’s only representative office whose title uses just the name “Taiwan.” The East African country also established a representative office in Taipei, despite the absence of formal diplomatic relations. The Chinese-language Global Times on Monday accused the DPP of offering Somaliland politicians and their families considerable bribes, citing anonymous sources. The International Cooperation
Phase 2 clinical trial results of the Medigen Vaccine Biologics Corp’s COVID-19 vaccine on Wednesday were published on the Web site of The Lancet: Respiratory Medicine, in an early preview before publication. The study paves the way for other nations to issue emergency use authorizations or produce the Medigen vaccine, given The Lancet’s credibility as a highly respected medical journal with a rigorous peer-review process, Medigen’s international affairs director Lien Chia-en (連加恩) said. Lien said that the study is important as it proposes methods for converting international units for efficacy comparisons. The methods have been used for correlating the efficacy of hepatitis B
Ambassador Theaters on Tuesday announced that its Breeze Center cinemas in Taipei’s Songshan District (松山) would close late this month after screening thousands of major Hollywood movies and local favorites over two decades. Ambassador Theaters, one of the largest cinema chain operators in Taiwan, said that Oct. 25 would be the last day the Breeze Center cinemas screen movies, adding that its lease expires on that day. “We sincerely appreciate the support and recognition from audiences in Taipei over the past 20 years,” the company said. “We look forward to seeing you again in the future.” The cinemas started operating in 2001, upon
BUMPING AROUND: A total of 143 people sustained fall injuries at MRT stations or inside trains over eight months, with a majority caused by ‘distracted walking’ Taipei Rapid Transit Corp yesterday urged people to avoid looking at their phones when walking, saying 73 cases of “distracted walking injuries” had occurred in the Taipei Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) system from January to August. As the local COVID-19 situation has been brought under control, passenger traffic has been increasing, reaching about 1.5 million rides per day last month, the company said. However, many passengers have been looking at their phones as they walk through MRT stations, which can lead to collisions with other passengers or injury from falling down stairs. A total of 143 people sustained fall injuries at MRT stations