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An international partnership

29 Nov 2007

THE TAIWAN high speed line has been a truly international project, according to THSRC Chief Executive Dr Ou Chin-Der. Over the past decade engineers, contractors and consultants of more than 40 nationalities were involved in the design, construction and commissioning of the railway.

'We have enjoyed more than a contractual working relationship with our suppliers and the Japanese authorities', comments Chairman Nita Ing. 'By world standards this is a small railway, and we hope to have an ongoing relationship even as we become self-sufficient in operations and maintenance.'

Today THSRC employs around 1 600 operating staff and a further 850 for maintenance. In addition there is still a large contingent of more than 100 support personnel involved in technology transfer and staff training, as well as suppliers' staff undertaking warranty work.

In particular, the Taiwan Shinkansen Consortium has established a small joint venture company (Tsmsc) to support the development of maintenance skills. Engineers and technicians from the Japanese partners - primarily Kawasaki, Toshiba, Mitsubishi and Nippon Sharyo - have been seconded to the company to work alongside THSRC's local employees, initially demonstrating the maintenance of rolling stock and signalling, then supervising the local team and finally stepping back to a monitoring role when the local staff are confident of their ability to take charge.

According to Special Adviser William Donald, routine daily and monthly inspections of the trainsets have largely been taken over by the in-house team at Zuoying, and the next step will be the first heavy overhauls, involving bogie drops and structural examinations. He believes the transition period may last up to three years, although the number and mix of Japanese secondees will vary continually.

On the operating side, JR Central provided a small team of drivers to demonstrate the operation of the Series 700T trainsets. With little local knowledge of high speed operation, THSRC recruited 55 experienced drivers from Europe - particularly France and Germany - to provide an initial operating team. Once briefed by the Japanese, these European drivers could in turn act as mentors for locally-recruited staff. THSRC's first Taiwanese drivers received their official certification in May, and by the end of October around 45 had passed out, ready for the November 9 timetable change.

Thanks to some 'very high-class training facilities', including a full-motion simulator, the full training of a new driver with no previous experience can be completed in around a year, says Director of Train Operations Steven Kaiser. All drivers are tested by MOTC inspectors before receiving their final licences.

Whilst Europeans have formed the core of the driver team, the operations control room team has come mainly from Hong Kong and Australia, with MTR Corp acting as principal adviser. OCC equipment supplier Toshiba also provided some technical support during the initial commissioning phase.

With such a mix of nationalities, language has been a critical issue, with THSRC employing 'interpreters in every workshop', according to Donald.

Most of the maintenance procedures were transferred from Japanese practice, but operating rules and regulations have been imported from many sources and adapted for the local environment. 'We have been looking to outside experts to review and verify all the documents, safety handbook and operations procedures', he explains.

The training manuals were initially written in English, and are now also available in Chinese. At present the OCC command language is English, but the intention is to switch to the local language at some point in future. Whilst Donald accepts there is 'always a risk of misunderstanding', he says this has been minimised by adopting a strict radio prototcol. 'I don't think it's a great problem', he adds. 'So far we have coped, although it can be laborious.'

Another key issue in the development of local operating rules has been provision for typhoons and earthquakes, which are prevalent in the area. Once again Japanese experience has been invaluable, leading to what Donald describes as a 'measured response'. The typhoon rules provide for a graduated shut-down based on three warning levels as wind speeds increase; all services will have been halted by the time the wind speed reaches 30 m/s. And he confirms that this approach worked satisfactorily when the island was hit by three successive major typhoons during September.

With earthquakes, the biggest issue is starting up again and the risk of infrastructure damage. Donald says THSRC's procedures are based on ground acceleration forces, with different responses according to the severity of the quake. Minor tremors will see trains resume at 70 km/h during an initial check of the line, whereas stronger movements would require a more extensive check before the first train. Speeds would then be stepped back up to 300 km/h on a gradual basis. After really strong earthquakes, the speed restrictions would remain in place for 48 h in case of any aftershocks and progressive settlement.

  • CAPTION: The first Taiwanese driver to graduate from THSRC's training scheme awaits departure time at the controls of the VIP special on October 24