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Taiwan’s High Speed Revolution

12 February 2007 - Features - Editor

The transport improvement, that has the entire Taiwan debating and wondering, is the new revolutionary high speed train that is destined to change the daily lives of the extremely populated, estimated at 90% of the Taiwanese population, that live in the western corridor. White and orange trains that can reach speeds of up to 300 kilometres an hour, or 186 miles per hour, is set to change the travelling time between Taipei and Kaohsiung, with more than four hours. Instead, the long journey could be cut to 90 minutes. The Taiwan Institute of Economic Research, have been studying the impact that this $15bn project will have on the economy. It is the worlds largest BOT, or Build-Operate-Transfer.

The project is set to decrease travel time and the costs involved, and will increase the communication between cities. It will enable Taiwan to compete with cities such as Shanghai and Hong Kong. Phase one will consist of nineteen trains that will run every day. Taiwan High Speed Rail Corporation or THSRC, is hoping that the trains will attract approximately 150 000 passengers on a daily basis. If all goes well, the THSRC will be able to expand their operations in the future, to 88 daily round trips. Along the 345 kilometre line, there will be eight stations, with the exception of the stretch between Taipei and Banciao, which will open later. By 2010, they are hoping to have added an additional four stations.

Journalists have been invited to experience the trip, and found their journey to be free of trouble and above all, fast. All though their trip went smoothly, previous test runs were hampered by two derailments, which caused the inauguration of the trains to be postponed. Inauguration was scheduled for 7 December. With many concerns being that of safety, the journalist were also allowed to take a look inside the Taoyuan county’s systems control centre. Here the new drivers are put through rigorous training, on simulated exercises, as previous trains only reached speeds of 80 kilometres an hour. Training for these drivers are an eight month course and includes 1 000 hours of driving, both on the simulated exercises and on the trains themselves. As the entire course is in English, tutors have been recruited internationally, that have the necessary experience in high speed trains.

Unfortunately, this project has been buried in controversy. The cost of switching from European Eurotrain to a Japanese consortium has been extremely high. The European consortium had to be paid $65 million, in compensation, by the THSRC. Over and above that, the project ran into construction and technical difficulties, as well as financial difficulties. Due to the set back, the opening date of 2003, had to be delayed many times. But even with all these odds against them, the THSRC still believes that once the trains are operational, they could break even in the first year. Under the BOT contract, the THSRC has 35 years running time, after which the management and running is handed to the government. Operations and business development was given a 50 year period.

Yet there are still many concerns from the public, and the THSRC remains confident, that the more people use the trains, the more people they will attract. They also believe that the trains will improve the construction of new cities where they previously failed due to transportation problems. Others are concerned that the railway will kill of any chance of the smaller villages surviving, due to the attracting of the bigger cities. No matter how much the cost involved was, or the speculation, the true impact on the economy of Taiwan will only be seen once the railway is in full swing.

 


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