TEST running on Taiwan High Speed Rail Corp’s 346 km line between Taipei and Kaohsiung is being stepped up as the revised October 31 deadline for completion creeps nearer.

Demonstration runs for politicians and journalists have been staged, but information about planned service levels, fares and timings remains vague. It is already clear that the section between Panchiao and central Taipei will not be completed until early 2007, but there are persistent reports in local media that all is not well with the rest of the scheme.

One magazine reported that thefts of copper cable were causing delays and disruption, with police investigations adding to the difficulties. While the cable is easily replaced, it represents an additional cost, which is the last thing that THSRC needs at the moment.

THSRC is already paying heavily for the delays after the original opening date of October 2005 was missed. An agreement for a loan worth NT$40·7bn was signed on July 31 with a group of seven Taiwanese banks. Chairman Nita Ing told local media that the new loan was ’the foundation of our company’s new financing plan’, suggesting that further funds will need to be raised soon. An agreement with Deutsche Bank for an issue of euro convertible bonds worth US$200m has also been initialled.

Concerns remain over technical and operational issues. For example, most train drivers recruited to date are French. While they may have expertise in driving TGVs, their unfamiliarity with the Series 700T rolling stock and Japanese train control systems implies a huge learning curve.

Before commercial services can start THSRC must obtain an operating certificate from the Bureau of Taiwan High Speed Rail, which is the government body overseeing the project. A Commissioning Inspection Committee was established in June, and this body is expected to submit its recommendations to the Ministry of Transportation & Communications on September 30. Lloyd’s Register Rail, which has a key role in providing independent validation and verification of the project, was not able to comment on THSRC’s October opening plans.