High speed rail bureau chief resigns over project delays

Taipei, May 8 (CNA) The head of the Bureau of Taiwan High Speed Rail (BTHSR) tendered his resignation Wednesday to take responsibility for repeated delays of a mass rapid transit (MRT) line linking Taoyuan international airport and Taipei Main Station in downtown Taipei. Transportation Minister Yeh Kuang-shih has approved BTHSR Director-General Chu Hsu's resignation, the Ministry of Transportation and Communications (MOTC) said in a news statement. According to the statement, Chu decided to resign because he failed to fulfill his mission of completing construction of the Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport Access MRT System on time. Chu's resignation will not take effect until June 5 -- the day he is due to retire -- a move designed to ensure that he does not lose any of his pension benefits. If he were to resign before retiring, he would sustain substantial losses in his pension entitlement. Chu, whose mandatory retirement date falls on July 16, 2016, applied to take early retirement with effect from June 5. He will go on annual leave starting May 9, the MOTC said, adding that BTHSR Deputy Director-General Hu Hsiang-lin will serve as the bureau's acting chief. Chu's resignation was announced after the MOTC's high speed rail bureau said earlier in the day that the first phase of the airport MRT line construction project -- the Sanchong-Zhongli section of the system -- could not be completed until the end of 2015. That section was originally scheduled for completion in June this year but the MOTC last August postponed the completion date to October 2013. Fielding questions at a Legislative Yuan Transportation Committee hearing, Yeh said the completion date of the section linking Sanchong in New Taipei and Zhongli in Taoyuan County has to be postponed further for more than two years. He told lawmakers that the civil engineering and most of the electrical engineering aspects of the project have been completed. "The repeated postponement has resulted mainly from delays in the construction of the signal system," Yeh said. "I'm confident that the section will be completed, but it will take time," he added. According to the project contract, the BTHSR can seek compensation from the contractor for failing to meet the deadline, Yeh said. The contractor could be fined NT$12.5 million (US$425,618) per day starting Oct. 1, up to a maximum of NT$2.5 billion in total, he said. Yeh further said the ministry does not rule out the possibility of terminating the contract. Meanwhile, he said, the scheduled date for the completion of the Taipei-Sanchong section will depend on the progress of the Sanchong-Zhongli section. Several ruling and opposition lawmakers have criticized the government's choice of Marubeni Corp. as the contractor for the airport MRT project. They have questioned why a contractor that lacks adequate electrical engineering experience has been selected for such a huge project. Because of the contractor's inexperience, the project has fallen behind schedule, they said. In the process, Marubeni has been involved in contract disputes with electrical engineering and rail track construction subcontractors, which has also contributed to construction delays, lawmakers said. According to the government's plan, the airport MRT line will be extended later to connect the Taoyuan City MRT stop and the Taoyuan High Speed Rail station. (By Wang Shu-fen and Sofia Wu)