Adjusting the Taiwan Railways Administration’s (TRA) ticket pricing scheme is not the government’s top reform priority, Minister of Transportation and Communications Wang Kwo-tsai (王國材) said yesterday.
Wang made reforming the nation’s oldest and largest railway agency his No. 1 policy goal when he assumed the position on Tuesday last week, after the Taroko Express No. 408 derailment in Hualien on April 2 killed 49 passengers and injured 244.
Many have proposed salvaging the debt-ridden TRA by raising fares, which have not been adjusted for 26 years.
The railway agency has an accumulated financial loss of about NT$400 billion (US$14.31 billion) — of which NT$140 billion is loans and NT$60 billion is pension fund payments, Wang told reporters during a visit to Keelung’s Heping Island.
The government is to give the agency a yearly subsidy of NT$4.8 billion for pension fund payments, which would gradually reduce its pension fund debt, Wang said.
“The agency is also to be compensated NT$1.1 billion annually for the financial losses it has accumulated over the years as it maintained railway stations in remote areas and along less-profitable routes,” Wang said.
However, it is impossible for the government to pay off the agency’s debts in one fiscal year, he added.
“The subsidies we are proposing are designed to prevent the TRA’s financial situation from deteriorating. We also hope that the agency would be able to balance its budget through a more creative use of its properties and assets,” Wang said.
“The first and foremost task is to enhance the safety of the TRA system. At this stage, raising train fares is unreasonable,” he said.
Wang said that he would focus on increasing the agency’s revenue through asset development before considering raising train fares.
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