Taiwan official resigns over airport MRT delay until 2015

Government to contemplate fines for Marubeni

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) – The chief of the Transportation Ministry’s Bureau of High Speed Rail, Ju Hsu, resigned Wednesday after Minister Yeh Kuang-shih said the Mass Rapid Transit line connecting Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport with Taipei City might not be ready until late 2015.
Construction work on the 51-kilometer line has been facing repeated delays, most of them blamed on poor coordination between main contractor Marubeni Corporation and subcontractors.
In the latest official postponement, Yeh told lawmakers that counting from the end of this year, the opening of the line would have to be delayed by at least one year. Legislators attacked him for failing to provide a precise timetable and to promise no more delays would occur.
Later Wednesday, the ministry issued a news release saying Yeh had accepted Ju’s offer of resignation over the problems. His retirement would become effective next June 5 instead of on the original date of July 2016. The ministry said it was putting Vice Minister Hsu Chun-yat in charge of high-speed rail affairs for the time being.
Under the original MRT plan, the segment between Sanchung, New Taipei City, and Chungli, Taoyuan County, would have started operating next month, but a first delay moved back the date to October. Conflicts between Marubeni and subcontractors caused delays in the handling of signaling equipment, necessitating further postponements.
Yeh explained to lawmakers that even though most elements of the project were approaching completion, problems with the signaling systems were responsible for most of the delays.
As reported before, inspectors discovered cracks in the wiring of the signal networks last October, leading to a complete replacement of the system and necessitating new tests.
The dispute between Marubeni and subcontractors was a thing of the past, Yeh said, and work was continuing at a fast pace, though “finishing by the end of next year was still a challenge.”
He rejected suggestions from lawmakers that it might take three years before the first passengers could board the trains to the airport.
According to the contract, the government can fine Marubeni NT$12.5 million (US$425,000) per day from October 12, 2013, with a total maximum of NT$2.5 billion (US$84.8 million). Yeh said that once the project was completed, the government would look into the details of the matter and see how much compensation it could demand from the Japanese group. The maximum amount for compensation stood at NT$25.49 billion (US$867 million), but if a ruling found that illegal practices such as fraud had been involved, there would be no maximum limit, officials said.
Lawmakers said that since the maximum level for the fines would be reached seven months after October 12 of this year, Marubeni might not make any efforts to finish faster, allowing construction to drag on for more than a year. Other legislators wondered if the government should not be considering abrogating the contract with the company, but Yeh replied that it was possible in the event of illegal acts, but that consequences for the project as a whole would also have to be taken into consideration.