What is called Taiwan’s pride opened its high speed railroad service with fanfare on January 5.But it was a wobbly start.Bullet trains that may speed up to 300 kilometers an hour have failed to run to the satisfaction of passengers.
There was ticketing trouble before the official opening of the service on a ten-day test-run basis for commercial purposes.From January 5 through 14, the Taiwan High Speed Rail Corporation that runs the bullet train service offered a 50 percent discount, and enthusiastic train fans swamped all THSRC stations for reservation only to find they had to wait for hours to complete the booking.To the consternation of some passengers, there was seating errors and they had to get off the train, before the mistakes had been corrected, because they reached their destination.
As if that were not enough to dampen the enthusiasm of the fans, an attendant touched on an emergency brake by accident to pull a bullet train to a screeching stop to jolt the passengers out of their plush comfort on the second day of service.The train was delayed for six minutes, the first breach of the THSRC’s “always on schedule” assurance.
Two days later, a bullet train was hit by unidentified objects.There was an insignificant damage, a couple of dents in a car.It wasn’t an accident, but could have been disastrous, if the unidentified objects had been much larger.
Then came a ridiculous incident.A train had to back into a station from which it had left without letting passengers get off and come aboard.The train stopped at Tainan as scheduled.Passengers aboard could not get off because no car doors opened.Passengers on the platform had to watch the train leave on time without them.The operator, a foreign employee, had to rush to the last carriage of his train to steer it back to the Tainan station.
On the following day, a train billowed smoke while speeding from Tsoying toward Hsinchu.Smoke came out of the seventh car, and attendants had to evacuate all passengers aboard fifth through ninth cars to safe carriages.Investigators said there was something wrong with the air-conditioning system aboard the problem car.The incident caused a delay of 20 minutes.On the same day, there was a train breakdown at Tsoying, where switches were not in place, and all passengers who had been seat and ready for the trip had to be transferred to another train.There was a 43-minute delay in departure, and that delay caused another delay for the next train.
All this points to the hasty decision the Ministry of Transportation and Communications made to let the THSRC begin commercial runs before it was ready.Given the delay in construction of the high speed railroad and a large cost overrun, it is understandable that the government in charge of oversight to get the service started as soon as possible.But not at the expense of safety of passengers.
It behooves the ministry to order an overall review of the high speed train operation. It had ignored expert opinions of many a member of its review board in licensing the operation.They were convinced that the service was not ready yet and they were borne out.We don’t want Taiwan’s pride to evolve into a white elephant like Eurotunnel causing some disastrous accidents in the process.