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Talk of the day -- Airport MRT line and expansion project in focus

2010/07/25 16:20:10

The Bureau of Taiwan High Speed Rail (BTHSR) has released areport on technical options for shortening the travel time on ahalf-built Taoyuan airport-downtown Taipei mass rapid transit (MRT)line, from 28 minutes to 25 minutes, in keeping with President MaYing-jeou's wishes.

However, engineering experts have questioned the feasibility ofthe proposals, which include using titling carriages and linearinduction motors and raising speed limits, warning that the line'ssafety could be compromised.

The estimated cost of the changes proposed by the BTHSR is NT$10billion.

This issue was given prominent coverage in the local papersSunday.

Another transportation story the previous day about the launch ofa project to expand Taichung Airport in central Taiwan was also givenmuch attention by the media.

The expansion project is being promoted as a boon to travelagencies and Taiwanese businessmen with interests in China, butcritics are calling it a waste of taxpayers' money and arguing thatTaiwan already has too many airports.

The following are excerpts from the local media coverage of thetwo issues:

China Times:

According to the electrical system procurement contract for theTaiwan Taiyuan International Airport MRT line, the travel timebetween the first station at the airport and the last stop inmetropolitan Taipei should not exceed 35 minutes.

As Taoyuan airport is Taiwan's main gateway, President Ma hasbeen very concerned about the speed of the new MRT line as he wantsto ensure a fast and convenient connection to Taipei, the country'spolitical and commercial nerve center.

In May, the BTHSR came up with a proposal to operateultra-express nonstop trains between Taoyuan airport and Taipei Citystation that will shorten the travel time to 28 minutes.

The proposal, however, failed to satisfy President Ma, whosuggested during an inspection of the airport MRT construction sitein June that the travel time should be cut to 25 minutes or 20minutes at best.

Construction on the Taoyuan airport-Taipei MRT line is nearly 60percent complete and its core electrical system has already beendesigned. The first batch of train carriages built by Japan'sKawasaki Heavy Industries Co. is scheduled to be delivered in July2011.

According to industry sources, any changes to the MRT line'scivil engineering and electrical engineering systems or its carriagedesign would not only exact cost overruns but could also lead tocontract violations and lawsuits.

The BTHSR has scheduled the opeining of new 51-km MRT line'sSanchong-Jhongli section for June 2013 and completion of the wholeline for October 2014, at a total cost of NT$113.85 billion. (July25, 2010).

United Daily News:

Lee Ke-tsung, a traffic management professor at Feng ChiaUniversity, said responsible officials should have the guts andmettle to tell President Ma that it is already too late to make anyengineering changes to the MRT line to create a faster service.

Since construction work on some tunnels and bridges along the newMRT line have long started and part of civil engineering constructionhas been completed, Lee said, none of the BTHSR's options arefeasible.

Apart from the issues of cost and completion date overruns andcontract violations, design changes to the electrical system andcarriage design could risk safety on the line, he warned, (July 25,2010).

Liberty Times:

When the first phase of Taichung Airport expansion is completedby the end of 2012, it will be able to accommodate large aircraft andhandle up to 2.55 million passengers per year.

Minister of Transportation and Communications Mao Chih-kuo saidTaichung Airport will be positioned as a regional internationalairport.

The airport now mainly serves residents in four central Taiwandistricts -- Taichung City, Taichung County, Changhua County andNantou County as its main service targets.

Some critics said Taiwan just needs two international airports,one in the north and the ohter in the south. Of Taiwan's existing 18vcivil airports, only Taoyuan International Airport is profitable.

Nevertheless, many travel agents hailed the Taichung Airportupgrading project, saying the number of Chinese tourists to centralTaiwan has been increasing rapidly and may grow even faster after thecompletion of the airport exapnsion plan. (July 25, 2010)

(By Sofia Wu)