BizTrend: Taiwan bullet train project not on right track.
Taiwan's high-speed railway system linking the island's capital city of Taipei and the southern city of Kaohsiung is unlikely to open on schedule in October 2005 due to delays in the adjustment of the Japanese shinkansen bullet train system to European specifications.
Taiwan High Speed Rail Corp., operator of the system, decided in 1997 to adopt a European railway system combining German locomotives and French double-decker passenger cars.
But in late 1999, the THSRC changed the decision and instead awarded a group of Japanese companies the priority rights to negotiate the contract.
The consortium of seven Japanese companies, including Kawasaki Heavy Industries Ltd. and Mitsui Co., then won a contract to operate the core system of the railway, including rolling stock (trains), electrification, and signaling systems.
As a result, the high-speed railway system is mainly based on Japan's Tokaido Shinkansen Line system.
But the specifications based on European standards still remain unrevised, causing test runs originally scheduled for October to be postponed.
''The fact that a European signaling system was adopted for the Taiwan shinkansen is another cause for the delay,'' said Zheng Mingzhang, director at the Railway Culture Society in Taipei.
The Japanese group is now rushing to develop an automatic train control system for ''bi-directional operations'' of trains on a single track -- a system that would never be adopted in Japan.
The Japanese rapid-transit railways are operated on a double track system for separate up and down lines.
Since the infrastructure of the railway system is also based on European specifications, the viaducts are stronger and the tunnels are wider than those of the Japanese shinkansen system.
All these resulted in ''extra time and money,'' said a Taiwanese government official.
Track-switching points and tracks in station yards are German made. Part of the civil engineering work is also being undertaken by non-Japanese firms.
''Without test runs, we cannot ascertain the safety of the route connected with Japanese and German tracks of different specifications,'' said Takashi Shima, a former Japanese National Railways engineer and an adviser to the THSRC.
Central Japan Railway Co. (JR Tokai) and West Japan Railway Co. (JR West) are supposed to dispatch motormen and mechanics to Taiwan for training THSRC motormen and mechanics. The two railway operators are not members of the Japanese consortium.
''Since the safety and durability of the system are not ensured, we should not be held responsible for any accident or slump in business after the operation gets under way,'' said a JR executive.
Veteran JR motormen supposed to test run the Taiwan shinkansen are training to get accustomed to motorman's platforms that are of different specifications.
At Yenchao main workshop in southern Taiwan, dusty 700T trains based on Series 700 Tokaido Shinkansen Line trains are kept in the garage. They cannot make a trial run due to the short supply of electricity.
An official of Interchange Association, Japan, which functions as the Japanese embassy in Taiwan, is apprehensive about the situation.
''Since Taiwanese people are convinced that the Japanese shinkansen technologies are introduced 100 percent into Taiwan, if the opening for passenger services is delayed and an accident occurs, it would spark widespread mistrust of Japan throughout Taiwan,'' he said.