Civil engineering is well advanced on the 345 km line between Taipei and Kaohsiung, and the first trainset is due to roll out at the end of this month

Lee Kwok-Hung FICE
Senior Vice-President, Construction Management Division, THSRC

STRIDING ACROSS the alluvial plains along Taiwan's west coast now stands a 157 km concrete viaduct. Believed to be the largest structure of its type anywhere in the world, it will carry the southern section of the Taipei - Kaohsiung high speed line, which is due to open for revenue service at the end of 2005.

Expected to cut the fastest journey time between the capital and Taiwan's second city from 3 h 50 min to 1 h 30 min, with one intermediate stop at Taichung, the 345 km high speed line is being designed, financed and built by the Taiwan High Speed Rail Corp under a 35-year franchise awarded in 1998 (RG 9.98 p563).

The government has contributed the land required for the railway and the civil engineering works for the tunnels carrying the northernmost 17 km through Taipei, but the remaining US$14bn cost is the responsibility of THSRC. Consortium members include some of Taiwan's largest companies.

The infrastructure has been constructed under 12 design-and-build contracts, awarded between January and May 2000 after a two-year prequalification, tendering and negotiation process. All the contracts were awarded to joint ventures consisting of local and international civil contractors.

The scale of the works is breathtaking. Only 31 km of the line will be carried on conventional earthworks. There is 39 km of excavated tunnel and 24 km of cut-and-cover, plus no less than 251 km of viaduct. The main line viaduct is generally 13m wide, carrying a pair of tracks laid at 4·5m centres.

Progress has been swift, and certificates of substantial completion have either been issued or are close to being issued on all the civil contracts. Of particular importance has been the completion of the 60 km section just north of Kaohsiung City which will form the test track; this was completed ahead of programme.

The five design-and-construct trackwork contracts were all awarded during the second half of 2002, to joint ventures of Taiwanese, Japanese, European and Australian firms. Slab track is being used on the whole of the main line. The high speed sections comprise Japanese Shinkansen slab track, with the German Rheda trackform in the station areas. Lower-speed track in the Taipei tunnels comprises Sonneville low-vibration trackform to reduce ground-borne vibration to adjacent buildings.

A ceremony was held near Kaohsiung on July 17 at which Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian marked the formal start of tracklaying on the main line. Tracklaying of the low-speed tunnel trackwork had started earlier in the month. By the end of October, over 60 km of roadbed concrete had been completed on the main line, 25 km of pre-cast slab had been placed, and over 10 km of rail installed.

When the line opens for revenue service trains will call at the existing Taipei and Panchiao stations. New stations are being built at Taoyuan, Hsinchu, Taichung, Chiayi, Tainan and Tsoying. Design of the new stations and modification of the existing ones has been carried out by Taiwanese architects with specialist input from international consultants. Construction of all the new stations is being undertaken by joint ventures of local and international contractors, and work is well advanced.

Rolling stock servicing depots are being built at Wujih in the north, Liuchia and Tsoying in the south, and the main workshop is located just north of Kaohsiung. These depots were designed by international consultants with assistance from local firms. To speed up construction and to recover from earlier delays in the programme, site preparation and formation work was done under separate advance works contracts. The construction contracts for the three depots and the workshops have now been placed, and all four are under construction.

Rolling stock, electrification equipment and signalling are being supplied under the NT$95bn turnkey Core System contract, which was awarded in December 2000 to the Taiwan Shinkansen Consortium formed by seven major Japanese suppliers.

A fleet of 30 trainsets will initially be procured for the service, each formed of nine motor and three trailer cars. The trains are based on the Series 700 Shinkansen design, which has been in commercial service in Japan since the first quarter of 2001, although adapted slightly to meet Taiwanese requirements (RG 10.02 p637). The first train is expected to be rolled out from the factory in Japan at the end of this month, and will be delivered to the main workshop near Kaohsiung in May. Following static testing, the train will undergo extensive dynamic trials on the 60 km test track section.

Ancillary contracts covering equipment such as automatic fare collection and depot equipment have been awarded, or are in the process of being awarded. Most have been awarded to joint ventures involving contractors from Taiwan, France, Italy, and Australia.

In the run-up to the start of operations, THSRC has started recruiting and training personnel, both locally and internationally. Around 1500 operating staff will be required when the line opens. Staff training is being undertaken in Taiwan and overseas.

Michael Baxter and Bernard Walsh also contributed to this article