Premier Su Tseng-chang on Thursday led the entire Cabinet in a moment of silence to mourn victims of Friday's fatal crash of Taroko Express No. 408, and expressed his deepest condolences to the families and the nation. During the Cabinet meeting the premier received a briefing from the Ministry of Transportation and Communications (MOTC) on the handling of the accident and the status of railway infrastructure in eastern Taiwan. In addition to conveying the government's sincerest apologies to the victims, injured passengers and all family members, he instructed the Taiwan Railways Administration (TRA) and MOTC to learn from the painful tragedy and accelerate reforms to the TRA, not only better meeting transportation needs in eastern Taiwan but also developing smart monitoring and warning systems.
Presently the government's most urgent mission is to conduct a thorough and comprehensive examination of the safety of the TRA system, Premier Su said. Safety must be ensured before normal train operations can resume. A stringent inspection of construction site management and project outsourcing must also be carried out.
Directions for future TRA reform include: strengthening and modifying the agency's organizational functions, improving TRA safety management and operational efficiency, resolving the agency's financial losses, and finding the optimal model for business sustainability. These efforts will provide for safer and more convenient transportation in Taiwan.
Given Taiwan's strengths in technology, the government stands ready to take on the responsibility for the comprehensive and expedited development of a smart system to handle monitoring and signaling. System capabilities would include an early warning function to issue immediate alerts of any possible track obstruction threatening transportation safety, so that moving trains can come to a halt in the short time available.
The government has for many years now given very high priority to improving transportation along Taiwan's eastern coast, Premier Su emphasized. With respect to roadways, daunting obstacles were overcome to open two major improvement projects along the South Link Highway and the Suhua Highway ahead of schedule around the end of 2019. The premier followed up with the approval of two projects for roadway widening and safety enhancements along the Suhua Highway and the Huatung Highway budgeted for NT$36 billion (US$1.3 billion) and NT$14 billion (US$492.5 million), respectively.
As for railway, January this year saw the opening of the fully electrified south-link railway line, connecting Kaohsiung to Taitung and shortening the trip in between by half an hour. The Executive Yuan has also already approved nearly NT$46 billion (US$1.6 billion) for full electrification and double tracking between Taitung and Hualien, which will cut travel times while further increasing the number of available seats and train services running along the line. Premier Su pledged an even greater government effort to expand the scale, safety and speed of the region's links to meet the transportation needs of eastern Taiwan.