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TRA may take control of Alishan railway in 2014

The Taiwan Railway Administration (TRA) could take over the operation of the Alishan Forest Railway as early as 2014 after the repairs that need to be done to the high mountain railway have been completed, the Ministry of Transportation and Communications (MOTC) has announced.

“We have reached an agreement with the Council of Agriculture (COA) to let the TRA take over the management of the railway,” said Vice Minister of the MOTC Chang Chiu-chuen (張邱春) yesterday, when asked by lawmakers during a legislative session.

The exact date for the officially transfer of management of the Alishan Forest Railway to the nation's largest railway system will not be decided until later this year, Chang said.

The TRA will not take over management of the railway until full repairs of all parts of the railway have been finished, he noted.

Some parts of the line are still closed for repair because of damage caused by earthquakes and typhoons.

The project also includes upgrading the forest railway service, including replacing old and damaged railroad ties and fortifying the foundations of the line.

According to the COA's Forestry Bureau, which is currently responsible for supervising the railway, the project to repair and upgrade the line will not be completed until 2014.

Also, the Alishan train currently runs on a 762 mm narrow-gauge railway, while the standard gauge used by the TRA is 1.067 mm, Chang said.

All the traffic signs and related systems used in the popular mountain resort are also different than those used by the TRA, which all adds to the difficulty of taking over control of the line, he added.

He further added that the MOTC worried that managing the forest railway would place an additional burden on the state-run railway operator, which has already accumulated NT$100 billion in debt.

The COA has repeatedly been urged to ask the TRA to operate the hundred-year-old railway, built in the Japanese colonial era, after a failed attempt to outsource it to Hungtu Alishan International Development Co. in 2008.

The council terminated the contract with Hungtu as the company failed to repair damage caused by Typhoon Morakot in 2009. The two remain entangled in lawsuits to determine who has the right to manage the railway.

Several fatal accidents have occurred on the national heritage railway over the past few years due to a lack of proper management. This includes the recent case in April when a train was hit by a falling tree, causing a derailment that killed five Chinese tourists and injured 109.

The railway is current closed down for safety inspections following the incident.

Meanwhile, Premier Wu Den-yih yesterday said the railway will not resume operations until all related safety inspections have been completed, he said.

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