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HSR system sets several world records

Taiwan's high-speed rail (HSR) system, which officially debuted this morning, has set quite a few records domestically and globally, in addition to linking the island's north and south and dramatically altering its economic landscape.

It is the world's most expensive single BOT (build, operate and transfer) project, with total construction cost running up to NT$480.6 billion.

The system has witnessed the injection of the largest amount of engineering manpower ever seen for a transportation infrastructure project, with more than 2,000 professional engineers from over 20 countries as well as over 20,000 domestic and foreign workers joining the project.

Also, up to 73 percent of the rail system is elevated railway and bridges, 18 percent tunnels, and 9 percent on ground roads, with the world's longest elevated rail, running from Pakuashan in central county of Changhua to Tsoying in Kaohsiung, measuring 157.317 kilometers.

The system has a total of 48 tunnels, including the longest one of 7.4 kilometers crossing the Pakuashan in Changhua County. But it took only 17 months to carve the Pakuashan tunnel, marking the shortest time required for similar engineering in Taiwan.

In addition, the system is also the world's first outside of Japan based on bullet train technology.

Trains will speed along the 345 km (214 mile) line roughly every hour, coming close to the island's major southern port and hitting eight stations in densely populated western Taiwan.

The launch of the rail will cut travel time between Taiwan's top two cities, Taipei in the north and Kaohsiung in the south, to about 90 minutes from up to five hours on the conventional rail service.

The system represents a colossal effort to provide state of the art transportation solutions to Taiwan's 23 million people, while conserving energy and preserving the environment. Construction of the system began in 2000 with an original launch date of October 2005, but a delay in the completion of the project's core electrical systems forced a postponement to October 2006.

The service was further held up after the operator failed to obtain a safety certification from independent verification and validation firm Lloyd's Register. The certification was eventually obtained on Nov. 20.

Nevertheless, the government has high hopes about the economic benefits of the service which will cut three hours off the current four-and-a-half hour journey between Taipei and Kaohsiung.

President Chen Shui-bian, who took a test ride on Monday, ambitiously asserted that "the revolutionary vehicle would virtually transform Taiwan into a city state like Singapore."

Possibilities of commuting to Taipei from central Taichung or even Kaohsiung, unthinkable previously, are now being widely discussed.

And land prices around the line's eight stations — formerly rice paddies or sugarcane farms — have soared, turning hundreds of farmers into millionaires.

The railway system will be managed by the THSRC for 35 years before it is turned over to state control under the terms of the build-operate-transfer project.

Japan's Taiwan Shinkansen Consortium won the US$3 billion contract in 1998 for the supply of the core system — trains and carriages as well as signalling, electrification, communications and operation control.

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