CEREMONIES were held in Kaohsiung on March 26 to mark the formal groundbreaking for construction of the 345 km Taipei - Kaohsiung high-speed line. Participants included Vice-President Lien Chan and Transport Minister Lin Feng-Cheng. President Vincent Siew joined Lin for a second event at Taipao in his home state of Chiayi on April 5.

Under the terms of the 35-year build-operate-transfer concession, the line is due to be operational by July 1 2003. Although Lin insisted that this date would be met, Taiwan High Speed Rail Corp has yet to assemble the financing needed for the NT$430bn project. An NT$25bn equity placing scheduled for the end of last year has been postponed because of the weak economy, and THSRC is holding discussions with the Finance ministry and a consortium of banks over loan guarantees.

A decision is still awaited on the use of European or Japanese technology, despite the presence of Siemens and Alstom as partners in the consortium. This is in turn delaying the award of the first civil engineering contracts.