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Lawmakers to focus on Hsuehshan Tunnel safety measures after accident

2012/05/08 18:11:50

Taipei, May 8 (CNA) Legislators from across party lines expressed concerns over the safety of Hsuehshan Tunnel after two people were killed in a fire that broke out in an accident Monday.

Lawmakers on the Legislature's Transportation Committee said they plan to inspect the 12.9-kilometer tunnel in northeastern Taiwan on Thursday after questions were raised over the adequacy of the tunnel's safety measures following the accident -- the worst since its opening in June 2006.

"The Ministry of Transportation and Communications should also review all of the tunnels in Taiwan," said DPP Legislator Yeh Yi-jin, a convener of the committee.

DPP lawmaker Huang Wei-cher said he questioned two years ago why a horticultural company was put in charge of the tunnel's firefighting duties at the time, noting that equipment used and training given to firefighters proved inadequate in dealing with Monday's huge fire.

Another DPP legislator, Lee Kun-tse, said he would demand that fire-fighting drills be held every month instead of every three months as is the case at present.

National Fire Agency Deputy Director General Chiang Chi-jen said that when firefighters arrived at the scene, they found civilian firefighters had already arrived, and he suggested those individuals could be sent to the agency for related training.

Hsu Cheng-chang, head of the Northern Region Engineering Office under the National Freeway Bureau, said the horticultural company was eligible to participate in the tender for the firefighting contract because it had the required licenses, and won the bidding because it offered the best price.

In the future, he said, the bureau will consider other ways to award firefighting duties to contractors, but he also defended the company's performance, saying it arrived at the scene within five minutes of the fire, in line with related standards.

Meanwhile, Kuomintang (KMT) Legislator Lee Hung-chun said the accident highlighted problems with the tunnel's smoke exhaust system and traffic control center personnel and drivers keeping safe distances between cars.

Lee indicated that some people calling the traffic control center said they were only connected to the center after several calls, pointing to communications issues.

He also suggested that the speed limit in a long tunnel should be different from the normal freeway and felt the current speed limit for passenger cars in the Hsuehshan Tunnel" is too fast."

National Freeway Bureau Director-General Tseng Dar-jen said the speed limit was raised to 90 kilometers per hour based on existing safety regulations and the suggestions of local residents, but he promised to discuss with other agencies whether the speed limit should be adjusted again.

Tseng said the standard safety distance is currently 50 meters for small cars and 70 meters for big buses, and drivers should follow it for their own good.

He pledged, however, that the bureau will more aggressively promote its safe distance campaign and crack down on violators.

(By Justin Su, Chen Wei-ting and Lilian Wu)