The ultimate goal of reforming the Taiwan Railways Administration (TRA) is to turn the government agency into a state-run corporation, Minister of Transportation and Communication Wang Kwo-tsai (王國材) said yesterday.
Wang made the remarks at a meeting of the legislature’s Transportation Committee in Taipei, where he and new TRA Director-General Du Wei (杜微) briefed lawmakers about the details of reforming the nation’s oldest and largest railway agency, after a Taroko Express train derailed in Hualien on April 2, killing 49 people and injuring more than 200.
Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) legislators Chen Ming-wen (陳明文) and Lin Chun-hsien (林俊憲) asked Wang to elaborate on his pledge of “managing the railway agency like a corporation in three years.”
“That means turning the agency into a state-run corporation,” Wang told Chen.
Chunghwa Post, which was previously the Directorate-General of Posts, serves as the best example of how a government agency can be successfully transformed into a state-run corporation, Wang said.
Wang also told Taiwan People’s Party Legislator Andy Chiu (邱臣遠) about the specific goals he aims to achieve in the next three years.
“During the first year, I will focus on enhancing the safety of the TRA system and address its financial losses,” he said.
Wang said that his main task in the second year would be to communicate with TRA employees about turning the agency into a state-run corporation and stipulating an organization act legalizing such an establishment, adding that employees would not only see their salaries rise, but also gain more benefits after a corporation is established.
A state-run railway corporation would be officially established in the third year, he said.
In addition to Chunghwa Post, the Ministry of Transportation and Communications has also established Taiwan International Port Corp (TIPC) and Taoyuan International Airport Corp (TIAC) to manage the nation’s commercial seaports and largest international airport.
Union members at the postal firm, TIPC and TIAC received an increase in salaries after becoming state-run company employees, Wang said.
“Members of the Taiwan Railway Labor Union were against the proposal of turning the TRA into a corporation because they thought it meant privatization. However, privatizing a railway agency is difficult, as it is a monopolistic service,” he said.
While Chunghwa Post employees receive an average year-end bonus equal to 4.4 months’ salary, TRA employees’ average bonus equals about 1.5 months’ salary, because it is a government agency, Wang said.
Once the agency becomes a state-run corporation, the railway service would be managed by a board of directors, who would have more flexibility and efficiency in deciding the direction the state-run company would take, he added.
Meanwhile, the railway agency has identified 33 problems at 204 construction sites for temporary track projects after a comprehensive inspection, Wang said, adding that it had temporarily suspended the projects for the inspection.
Most of the problems were related to improper parking of construction vehicles, he said.
The most serious problem concerned the stability of side slopes, which must be addressed by building retaining walls or applying slope coverage measures, he said.
As of yesterday, 27 problems had been addressed, Wang added.
“As the nation is entering the wet season next month, I have asked the Railway Bureau to double-check to see if problems are being addressed,” he said, adding that the bureau must finish the task by May 15.
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