INTRO: Appointed as Director General of Taiwan Railway Administration in October, D C Huang talked to Murray Hughes in Taipei about the need for investment in the 1067 mm gauge network and his plans to restructure TRA ready for a move to the private sector in 2004

WITH PRIVATISATION of the national rail network now a live topic in Taiwan, it is clear that Taiwan Railway Administration will soon start to change. That process will be overseen by Director General D C Huang, appointed last year after his predecessor Chen Te-pei resigned in the wake of an outcry over long delays to passengers after a power failure in Taipei and a derailment in Keelung.

Huang is faced with the task of preparing a large public sector organisation for a move into the private sector. At the same time, he will need to establish a working relationship with Taiwan High Speed Rail Corp, which looks set to cream off TRA’s prime inter-city business in the island’s western corridor between Taipei and Kaohsiung.

Asked for his view of TRA when he took over, Huang quickly defended his staff as ’very diligent and dedicated to their work’. But he saw ’many problems, some of them very serious’. These, he said, had arisen for historical reasons, and he cited the burden of having to pay pensions to 15000 retired staff, resulting in a major drain on TRA’s finances and debts that currently amount to NT$80bn.

Another serious problem was TRA’s shortage of modern motive power and passenger rolling stock. Huang believed more rolling stock was urgently needed to meet demand: ’we need more coaches - those that we have are quite old, as are the locomotives, and in about five years almost half the loco fleet will need to be replaced.’

Judging by consistently heavy loadings on the frequent expresses between Taipei and Kaohsiung, TRA needs the stock quickly, and certainly before THSRC’s high speed line opens - assuming no delays - in late 2005. ’We have plenty of customers’, asserts Huang, ’but not enough rolling stock. We are trying to persuade the Ministry of Transport & Communications to help us.’ Rather than commit itself to buying new trains, TRA is considering a leasing programme.

Opportunity to co-operate

With THSRC aiming to take over TRA’s inter-city role on Taiwan’s west coast, Huang has strong views on the prospect of a high speed line being built parallel to TRA’s major trunk route that was upgraded and electrified at 25 kV in the late-1970s. ’Of course it is a threat, but we are seeking to co-operate as it is national policy to build the high speed line - we prefer to see it as an opportunity to co-operate.’

Construction of the high speed line will almost inevitably lead to a change in TRA’s role so that ’we carry medium distance and commuter traffic’, leaving the long-distance service to THSRC. Undoubtedly, TRA will retain some through traffic from the corridor to destinations north of Taipei and south of Kaohsiung as this will avoid a change of trains.

The arrival of high speed services in the west coast corridor will give TRA the opportunity to switch the focus of its development to the rest of the island. The East Coast route is being double-tracked and electrified, partly to ensure that the railway there remains competitive with a motorway planned from Keelung to Hualien and Taitung for completion within the next 10 years.

The northern section of the East Coast route has been TRA’s ’Golden line’ since 1994, as until now there has been practically no road competition. Despite TRA’s efforts, Huang says that ’people living along the route complain that there are not enough opportunities for travel.’

Even now only half the capacity down the East Coast route is used, and Huang believes that more services could be offered if more rolling stock were available. Some trains are DMUs loading to 15 cars as far as Hualien, with nine cars continuing to Taitung.

Huang believes that there is still much potential on the east coast, and he suggests that ’maybe we shall look at tilting trains, as speeds need to increase to 130 km/h.’ TRA is examining various builds of tilting rolling stock, including those developed in Italy and Japan.

Another option may be to build a cut-off across the island’s northeast corner through the mountains to Chiao-hsi on the I-Lan line, and a feasibility study for this is currently in hand.

Preparing for privatisation

Of more immediate concern to Huang is the need to prepare TRA for privatisation. In a report submitted to government last year, Huang said that privatisation ’deadline’ should be delayed from 2002 and 2004. ’At the moment’, he said, ’we need to emphasise our policy of corporatisation, strengthening the organisation so that it can survive in the private sector. It is too weak now, and no-one would buy our shares. This is our chance, but we have a lot of work to do.’

Huang favours a structure with some features of the Japanese restructuring in 1987. Whereas Japanese National Railways became six geographical entities and a freight company, with the three companies on Honshu being partly privatised, in Taiwan the railway would remain as a single organisation that would gradually be moved to the private sector. But he is conscious that ’from now until 2004 is a very short time’.

TRA in profile, 1999

Route-km 1104

Stations 216

Passengers million 182

Passenger-km million 9977

Tonnes hauled million 16·6 Tonne-km million 1279

TRA’s investment projects

East Coast line improvement programme

Covering the 337 km from Keelung to Taitung, this programme begun in July 1991 embraces TRA’s I-Lan line, the North link and the coastal route from Hualien to Taitung. Works include electrification of the I-Lan line, double-tracking and electrifying the North link line, rerailing with 50 kg/m rail all the way from Keelung to Taitung, and provision of Centralised Traffic Control. Several new tunnels are being constructed, some on new alignments. Ballastless track will be used in several locations between Heping and Chongde over a total length of 14 km. Purchase of new rolling stock is also envisaged, together with relocation of Hualien depot. Total cost is NT$48·6bn, with completion scheduled for June 2003. Work is about 60% complete.

Renewal of West Trunk line

This programme launched in 1999 has a price tag of NT$8·4bn. Trackwork includes relaying with CWR over 121 km, use of UIC60 rail, installation of ballastless track on bridges and at other selected locations, improvements to the subgrade with a concrete track mattress over 13·7 km, installation of 192 new turnouts with UIC60 rail, realignment of 46 curves to permit 130 km/h running, modernisation of track circuits, reconstruction of 36 bridges, and purchase of a tamper and a track inspection car. Completion is planned in 2006.

Depot modernisation

The depot at Tsuzan is to be relocated at a cost of NT$7·3bn by 2006, and a new depot built by 2005 at Dah-du at a cost of NT$21·5bn.

Level crossing improvement

Numerous level crossings represent a serious problem for TRA, and there are plans to eliminate many of them, especially in urban areas. Works planned include elevation of 19 sections of trunk line totalling 86 km; this will eliminate 83 out of 519 level crossings on trunk lines. TRA expects this to cut the number of accidents every year by 15, with 13 fewer casualties. It will also release land for development.

Commuter service expansion

Passenger volume on TRA’s commuter services in Taipei, Taichung and Kaohsiung has been growing steadily in recent years, partly because of serious road congestion but also thanks to the introduction of modern EMUs. Suburban traffic now accounts for nearly three-quarters of TRA’s passengers. Growth has led to serious overcrowding, as most trains outside the Taipei area are formed of only four cars. TRA plans to procure more EMUs to expand the existing fleet of 360 cars on the West Trunk line, allowing it to introduce more eight-car trains.

Further problems may arise once THSRC opens for business in 2005, as demand will grow for commuter services in major cities. If this is to be effective, services will need to be integrated to feed in and out of trains on the high speed line. All three THSRC stations in the Taipei metropolitan area (Taipei, Panchao, and Nankang) will be rebuilt to provide convenient interchange. New stations are planned in Taichung and north Kaohsiung to facilitate passengers changing between services. More rolling stock will be essential, and changes to station layouts will be unavoidable.

Signalling and train control

CTC is currently in use on the West Trunk line, but TRA plans to adopt CTC on all routes with dispatching from a single control centre located in the Taipei Main Station building. Improvements are also planned to train protection systems.

Locomotives and rolling stock

TRA’s investment plans include acquisition of 40 new locomotives and 192 passenger coaches for inter-city services, 96 EMU cars, and 108 air-conditioned diesel railcars.

CAPTION: TRA plans to modernise its passenger and motive power fleets. EMD diesels (below) handle many of the services away from the electrified West Trunk line. Regional branch lines are worked by relatively modern diesel railcars (left)

CAPTION: EMUs with Siemens traction equipment handle commuter traffic in Kaohsiung

CAPTION: Several tunnels are being built on new alignments alongside the existing single track route as part of the East Coast line modernisation. Electrification masts are in position on some sections of the route (inset)