Taiwan’s High Speed Revolution

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.