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Eastern Taiwan rail improvement plans being mulled

2010/11/15 21:15:45

Taipei, Nov. 15 (CNA) Traffic congestion between the greaterTaipei area and Yilan County could be eased by plans to partiallyupgrade the railway line connecting northern and northeastern Taiwan,the Railway Reconstruction Bureau said Monday.

The bureau said it is considering building a new Taipei-Yilanrailway that would cut through the mountains and bypass smallertownships, or improve the existing rail line to Yilan.

The plan for a new Taipei-Yilan railway, a 46-kilometer line thatwould consist of two long tunnels and completely bypass the northerncoast, could reduce current travel time from 90 minutes to about anhour, but would take 10 years to build at an estimated cost ofNT$46.5 billion.

It was rejected in 2006 after it was first proposed in 1996because of environmental concerns, but the bureau said it wouldformally propose an adjusted version of the concept to the Ministryof Transportation and Communications (MOTC) in February 2011.

The alternative, which the bureau acknowledged was more hopefulof getting approved, is an upgraded Yilan Line, and the bureau saidit hoped to come up with construction details at the same time as theother plan.

The project, if finalized, would take seven years to build at acost of NT$28 billion. But according to bureau director-general HsuChun-yat, it would only save seven minutes in travel time,essentially by bypassing Fulong, a major beach resort in northernTaiwan.

Green Party Chairman Pan Han-shen said his party was notnecessarily opposed to either plan, but felt it was too early todiscuss them until other alternatives to increase the capacity andefficiency of the Eastern Railway were exhausted.

"We should first improve our management of the railway system,such as providing more flexible scheduling and better transferservices, before we move to the idea of improving the rail system'sequipment," he said.

"The Green Party is not opposed to the idea of building newrailways, but we should make sure that complementary measures existso that resources won't be wasted," he added.

Regardless of which system would be adopted, the bureau argued itcould relieve traffic congestion, especially in Hsuehshan Tunnel onthe highway connecting Taipei and Yilan.

The MOTC believes the tunnel's capacity will be saturated by2015.

"A more modernized railway system in eastern Taiwan can speed updevelopment of the region," Hsu argued.

Transportation Minister Mao Chi-kuo said in the Legislative Yuanearlier Monday that until environmental concerns were addressed, itwas premature to talk about building a new Taipei-Yilan railway.

(By Lee Hsin-Yin)