The latest pavement cave-in related to the Kaohsiung mass rapid transit system project was caused by excessive underground drilling that weakened the ground above it, project officials announced yesterday.
By removing too much earth, the road above was left vulnerable to the weight of passing vehicles and eventually subsided.
According to Kaohsiung Rapid Transit Corp. Chief Executive Officer Fan Chen-po, the shield machine used by workers prior to Saturday's collapse had sat idle since November 11.
A machine that remains unused for too long and then is abruptly called into duty, cannot precisely calibrate the amount of earth removed and cement applied. As a result, the road support was not firm, causing the accident, the KRTC said.
The collapse induced a three-meter-deep hollow on a well-traveled road in downtown Kaohsiung, that was patched up by Saturday night. Fan said precautions have been taken to prevent a similar accident from occurring in the future.
"All MRT workers at every construction site are required to use ground-penetrating radar on the job, to ensure that nothing of this sort happens again," he said.
However, Kaohsiung residents and opposition lawmakers were not convinced that the KRTC was doing the maximum to solve problems, and appealed to the Ministry of Transportation and Communications yesterday to take over the crisis-ridden MRT project.
Legislator Pan Wei-kang of the opposition Kuomintang said that the governing Democratic Progressive Party had abandoned its institutional ideal to serve the people, and urged the government to pay more attention to the safety of Kaohsiung citizens instead of focusing on the MRT operational deadline.
Independent Legislator Chiu Yi (邱毅) called the project a "reincarnation of the 1979 Kaohsiung Incident," referring to Taiwan's first major celebration of Human Rights Day that ended in chaos after police used tear gas on a crowd calling for island-wide democracy.
Many believe the incident galvanized Taiwanese people around the world into political action against the KMT government.
Chiu compared the MRT project to the Kaohsiung Incident, saying that building the MRT was not benefiting Kaohsiung's residents, and instead had heightened fears of living in such a geologically unsafe environment.
Chiu further demanded the MRT project be halted for a thorough inspection "so that Kaohsiung residents could sleep soundly without fearing that their houses will collapse in the middle of the night."
The KRTC's Fan used the example of the idled equipment creating problems to refute calls for a halt in the system's construction, arguing that long periods of inactivity were counterproductive and increased risk.
MOTC officials replied that the Kaohsiung City Government was legally responsible for the MRT project, and, therefore, the ministry had no right to intervene. They added that a ministry technician had been appointed as an exclusive consultant to offer professional assistance to the local government.
The collapse on Saturday came not long after Premier Frank Hsieh (謝長廷) and Vice President Annette Lu (呂秀蓮) separately visited construction sites of the MRT system.
Lu said shortly after her visit to Kaohsiung that a private supervisory alliance should be organized to ensure the quality and safety of the mass rapid transit system.
Noting that the Kaohsiung MRT project has been hit by a spate of serious accidents since construction began in 2001, Lu said the planned supervisory alliance would review the MRT railway's design, construction methods and groundwater hydrology at the construction site and come up with improvement proposals.
Hsieh, however, replied cautiously to Lu's comments yesterday, concerned that such an alliance would be accused of political interference in the project and affect local government-appointed professionals, who were already probing the technical problems of the MRT system.
"The responsibility for the MRT problems should be shared by all, regardless of party affiliation," said Hsieh, who many suggest should take responsibility for the problems since he was mayor of the city as the system was being built.
Hsieh added that responsibility should not be shifted to one person alone in an attempt to "kill me with one shot."
Sources also reported that a representative of the Kaohsiung Professional Civil Engineer Association doubted that Lu's proposal could be implemented, since "in some situations, you have to see things for yourself in order to determine the problems, and you can't possibly do that without authorization."
Huang Tien-tsai, the chief of the infrastructure committee in the Kaohsiung City Council, also pointed out that it was hard enough for them, let alone the vice president's alliance, to gather documents on the MRT project.
The cave-in on Saturday was the ninth accident resulting in the disintegration of roads or houses that the MRT project has encountered in the eighteen months since construction began and the fourth cave-in in two years.
Last Tuesday, another busy road in Kaohsiung collapsed because of the MRT construction. It left a massive crater when underground water surged through a tunnel wall on the project's Orange Line and eroded support for the road above. Local transportation officials have predicted constant traffic congestion in the area for the next six months.