Minister addresses TRA reform after premier meets victims' families
Taipei, Feb. 11 (CNA) Transportation Minister Wang Kwo-tsai (王國材) on Friday reaffirmed the government's commitment to reform Taiwan Railways Administration (TRA) a day after Premier Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) met with family members of passengers killed in a TRA train crash last year.
Wang said both safety and organizational improvements are being implemented, following the accident last April in which a TRA-operated Taroko Express train hit a crane truck that had fallen from a construction site onto the tracks as the train approached Qingshui Tunnel near Hualien.
The crash which left 49 people dead and more than 200 injured has intensified calls for the TRA, which still operates as a government agency, to embrace "corporatization," and Wang said he continues to hold related discussions with basic level TRA employees to hear their concerns.
Although the TRA union opposes talks with Wang, the minister said he will meet with TRA staff willing to consider the need for change, in central and southern Taiwan next week.
Wang, who pledged to complete corporatization of the TRA in three years when he took the position last year, said future salaries and benefits for TRA employees will not fall below the current level.
However, the indications are that the transport ministry's attempts to overhaul railways safety are not proceeding smoothly.
A first-ever attempt to recruit 16 track inspectors last year, in the hope of more effectively detecting track incursions, resulted in just 12 job applicants of which only two were hired. They are scheduled to start work in March, according to the ministry.
Wang's update on the ministry's efforts came after a meeting the previous day between Premier Su and a self-help association established by family members of people killed in the crash -- the first time Su has met with them since the incident.
Indeed, so annoyed were family members at the difficulties they faced trying to arrange a face-to-face meeting with Su that they posted a "missing" notice above a photograph of the premier on the association website in January.
After the meeting, the association's lawyer Chen Meng-hsiu (陳孟秀) said no concrete conclusions were reached, but emphasized that the family members were willing to give the government time to take action, while emphasizing that their patience is finite.
The association also asked the government to disclose its plans and timetable for TRA reform and called for the establishment of a mechanism to supervise TRA operations that should include family members, which the Executive Yuan said it would "review."
One request Su did accept was a proposal that part of the Taroko train wreckage should be moved to TRA headquarters to serve as a permanent reminder as to the importance of safety.
Su, who during the meeting with family members apologized on behalf of the government, said his administration has always been open to public scrutiny.
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