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Premier Su: Safety is job one in Taiwan Railways Administration reform

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As part of the continued response to the fatal crash of a Taroko Express train in Hualien early April, Premier Su Tseng-chang on Thursday received a Ministry of Transportation and Communications briefing on planned reforms to the Taiwan Railways Administration (TRA). The three main directions for reform will be safety, stability and transformation, the premier said. With a firm resolve, the government will assemble the nation's resources to support the TRA's development and ensure transportation safety for the public.

The first component, safety reform, will include vehicle safety, construction site safety and operational safety. Regarding the overall operations management mechanism, for instance, major TRA construction projects in the future will be undertaken by the Railway Bureau, and the TRA will establish regional coordination centers in northern, central, southern and eastern Taiwan starting May 1. As for construction safety management, even if a private firm were contracted to carry out management, design, supervision and construction for a project, ultimate responsibility would still lie with the contracting agency, which should oversee compliance by the contractor in fully implementing risk assessment and site management measures as required by the contract and pertinent laws, the premier said.

Safety reform will also include efforts to improve the safety of people, trains and tracks. To improve emergency response capabilities, TRA construction site managers will undergo systematic training at the TRA to ensure site supervisors and construction workers fully understand the relationship between construction and track safety. In the event of an emergency, personnel should be able to contact the command center immediately and directly.

As for train safety, the premier remarked that the TRA is expected to take its first delivery of a new EMU3000 series intercity train in June, with a total of seven to be received by the end of the year. The trains will receive priority assignment to servicing the eastern line to raise capacity.

With respect to track safety, a nearly NT$10 billion (US$338.1 million) track safety and structural enhancements program approved last January and an ongoing six-year slope-adjacent railway improvement program will both be completed according to set schedule and requirements. To ensure safety and protections at construction projects along slopes and embankments, and keep foreign objects clear of tracks, physical barriers will be installed as a priority where possible. At sites not suitable for barriers, the installation of monitoring and warning systems will be accelerated to ensure track safety.

The second and third components of reform are stability and transformation, the premier continued. The TRA is structured as a state-run enterprise that shoulders the responsibilities of providing public transport while upholding transportation equality and justice. As the TRA undergoes "enterprization" in the future, the government will defend the rights and interests of current employees. The ultimate goal is to achieve stability in the personnel and financial components of the business, restructure the organization while preserving the interests of the workforce, and provide the public an even higher level of train service.

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