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Kaohsiung MRT vs. Taipei Neihu Line

27/07/2009

The Taipei Mass Rapid Transit system (MRT) Neihu and Muzha lines had a major system failure at 3:27pm on Friday, 10th July 2009, six days after it was open. Over seven hundred passengers were trapped in the trains stopped between stations without air conditioning and ventilation for between 30 and 50 minutes and others were delayed in the stations. Some of them tried the emergency phone but there was no response. When it was picked up, the customer service receptionist hung up on them. In the end, some passengers had to walk along the rail to get to the nearest station building, which was rather dangerous. The whole system was down for about 8 hours. It was estimated that between 80,000 and 100,000 people were affected by this system breakdown. For photos and details, please see this link. This link has the details and a clip. There is a clip for a TV news report. On the following day (11 July), the doors wouldn’t open and shut properly.

Taipei Times had an article which briefly explained the issues. The source of the failure was said to be the problematic system integration of the two lines – the first MRT system in the world that combines two different operating systems, which were completed 13 years apart. Furthermore, the decision to have a medium-capacity system was made without considering the growth of future demand as the number of residents in Neihu is double that of Muzha and the number of potential users from the surrounding areas would be far greater. Another article in Taipei Times pointed out that Ma Ying-jeou was the Mayor and decision maker when the key decisions on the Neihu line were made. Dixteel explored the thinking behind those decisions.

Even more intriguing was the relationship between the main contractor and the Chinese Nationalist Party. The owner of the company which the Taipei City Government under Ma Ying-jeou contracted was said to be one of the committee members of the KMT. He has made donations to Ma’s campaign. According to some Taipe City Councillors, this company won the bid with an unreasonably low budget and then kept requesting increases in the budget with various reasons afterwards. This contractor farmed part of it out to the Canadian company Bombardier after they won the bid, so Bombardier does not have any contratual agreement directly with Taipei City Government. In other words, when the curren Mayor Hau said he would take it up with Bombardier, he skipped the one who actually signed the contract with Taipei City Government. Even IF there is nothing wrong in the handling, questions still need to be asked.

Although the decision making was flawed and some questions have to be answered, Control Yuan member Ger Yeong-kuang only said that he might ‘consult’ Ma. Apparently, Ger campaigned for Ma during the 2008 presidential election and was said to have known Ma and his father well since the 70s. It will be interesting to see how Ger handles this case. Ma argued that he was not the one who decided on the capacity but some Taipei City Councillors dug out the records at the time and found that he was. The prosecution service says that they will  not investigate the Neihu line unless someone presses charges, which is in stark contrast to the way they treated the Kaohsiung MRT system. When Frank Hsieh was the Kaohsiung mayor and working on the Kaohsiung MRT system, the prosecution service wouldn’t even let go of a hole on the ground.

Yesterday, Taipei City Councillors, Chien Yuyen and Lee Ching-feng, said in a press conference that those new trains on the Neihu line have serious leaks. Questions were raised over the quality control and inspections.

In the mid of all this, people thought a bit more about the Kaohsiung MRT and drew a comparison because the work started around the same time as that of the Taipei Neihu line when Frank Hsieh was the Kaohsiung Mayor but the Kaohsiung MRT has already started running.

The following table summarises the comparison. I got the main idea from this post and also incorporated information from the various links above. The columns in blue highlight more difficult work or better value or quality.

Kaohsiung MRT

Taipei MRT Neihu line

Mayors’ party affiliation

Democratic Progressive   Party

Chinese Nationalist Party

Total length 42.7 kms with a main junction 14.8 kms, a single line
Type 8 stations elevated
2 stations above the ground
28 stations underground
10 stations elevated

2 stations underground

Number of stations 38 stations 12 stations
Capacity high medium
Size of carriage Length 21.9m,
Width 3.1m,
Height 3.6m
Length 11.12m
Width 2.09m
Height 1.88m
Start date 24 Oct 2001 23 May 2002
Completion date Red line: 9 Mar 2008
Orange line: 14 Sept 2008
4 July 2009
Budget requested and approved US$ 3.46 billion US$ 1.13 billion
Further requests for budget increase None 0.87 billion over 5 requests
Testing Safety testing completed before allowing passengers onboard.

Completely free of charge during nearly a year of consumer satisfaction trial

Safety issues were not ironed out before allowing passengers onboard.

Charged the full fares from day 1. Discounts were only given after a major breakdown and a series of technical glitches.

Cost per km US$ 87 million US$ 146 million (inc. land cost)
US$ 109 million (exc. land cost)

Overall, the Kaohsiung MRT, the majority of which were designed and completed under former Mayor Frank Hsieh, cost less with more technical difficulties and was completed with much higher efficiency. Not only is the infrastructure of better quality, the interior designs of the Kaohsiung MRT stations are much more pleasant and artistic than a lot of the Taipei MRT stations. Another thing that makes the Kaohsiung system different was that the city government also re-designed areas surrounding each station to improve the roads, sidewalks, bus access and bike access etc. from the beginning, which is not the case for the majority of the Taipei MRT stations. At least, it was not incorporated in the original plan of the Taipei system and most of the additions were designed post hoc. Anyway, I recommend everyone who visits Kaohsiung try the MRT there and see for yourself.

15 Comments leave one →
  1. 27/07/2009 21:08

    I went to Kaohsiung to attend the World Games competition over the weekend, I rode the MRT several times, and I was quite impressed. For one thing, the signs in Kaohsiung are much clearer than the ones in Taipei’s MRT.

    Tim Maddog

    • Claudia Jean permalink*
      28/07/2009 00:23

      Sounds cool! I hope you enjoyed the competition.

  2. Fred permalink
    29/07/2009 12:41

    Your article is biased. Right now you are comparing the whole of Kaohsiung’s MRT to Taipei’s Neihu line. Especially when in your comparison table you highlighted the number of underground stations and the capacity of the Kaohsiung MRT was way more superior than that of the Neihu line. If you want to compare please take in consideration the whole Taipei MRT, I’m sure the results will look pretty different. Oh one more thing, if you do some research online you will find that Taipei’s MRT system is the best in the world.

    • Claudia Jean permalink*
      29/07/2009 13:56

      I purposely only compared Neihu line and Kaohsiung MRT. I didn’t intend to compare the whole Taipei system with the Kaohsiung system in the first place because it has taken more time for Ma and Hau to complete that single line than for Hsieh to complete the whole Kaohsiung system.

      Also, a lot of the Taipei MRT was done by Chen Shui-bian’s administration when he was the Taipei Mayor. This Neihu line was solely under Ma’s administration.

      I’m simply trying to highlight the differences in their works.

    • 29/07/2009 16:12

      Fred, your comment is biased.

      Claudia Jean showed us a comparison between a DPP-led project and a KMT-led project. Look at the start and finish dates, for example. Look at the cost per kilometer. Calculate the time per kilometer ratio for yourself. Look at the ratio of above-ground to below-ground stations.

      Most of all, look closely at which party built a pile of junk (which had problems today with doors that wouldn’t close). Can you say “corruption” and “incompetence”? Those are the domains of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT).

      Here’s a photo I took over the weekend at the New Zuoying station of the Kaohsiung MRT.

      Tim Maddog

    • 30/07/2009 16:42

      Fred, you are probably a troll.
      How, during daylight hours or even beyond, could you imagine that a whole line (28 stations – complete with elevated, underground, and on the ground) would compare to Taipei’s mere 12 stations.
      If you are not a troll, I feel sorry for you. So many foreigners I meet here in Hsinchu seem to swallow the B.S. that the DPP was/is corrupt because Chen Shui-bian was corrupt. Remember martial? that was KMT. Remember cult of personality? That was Chiang Kai-shek – also KMT. Remember corruption? Oops, still happening. Some people are ooing and awing over how great and wonderful China is with its economic miracles. Just wait till World War Three, when China defends the indefensible, whether it is an authoritarian prison-state and slave-work state with a poisoned civilian population state under Ma Ying-Jeou in Taiwan, the same under Tang Shui in Myanmar, or the same under the next “Dear Leader” in North Korea. Welcome to the Dark Ages, Fred!!!

  3. Fred permalink
    29/07/2009 16:25

    Yes but Kaohsiung MRT’s scale is nowhere near that of Taipei’s. Taipei’s MRT system has a long history and if you look at it Kaohsiung’s MRT only has 2 lines. Furthermore if you do a bit of searching online you will see that there are many lines under construction in Taipei. If today Taipei was only to construct 2 lines I’m sure it could do just as well as Kaohsiung. I really don’t think we should take in too much politics and the two parties into this. It’s really about what the government, the officials of Taiwan, what they can do for the people. Not really about whos Green and whos Blue

    • Claudia Jean permalink*
      30/07/2009 17:03

      It’s perfectly OK to compare Green and Blue politicians and that’s how people in a democracy make decisions on who they are going to vote for the next time.

      Although Kaohsiung only has 2 lines, they have 38 stations altogether (19 stations per line). Taipei has 8 lines but there are only 81 stations (10 stations per line). There are over 20 kms per line but there are only 10 kms per line in Taipei. The Taipei system cost US$13.5 billion (US$200 million per km) but the Kaohsiung system only cost US$3.46 billion (US$87 million per km). In terms of personnell, the Taipei MRT has 1600 people working to run it but the Kaohsiung system only needs 125 people.

    • 31/07/2009 07:46

      Uh, no Fred. The Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) governments of Ma Ying-jeou and Hau Lung-bin spent over 7 years completing one MRT line in Taipei — and failed, putting people in harm’s way yet again! (Can that even count as “complete”?) Remember the wailing and gnashing of teeth about people who rode the newly-opened High Speed Rail during the administration of Chen Shui-bian being “lab rats”?

      Fred wrote:
      – – –
      Furthermore if you do a bit of searching online you will see that there are many lines under construction in Taipei.
      – – –

      … and didn’t bother to provide a single link. Tsk, tsk.

      Rememberthe Maokong Gondola !

      Tim Maddog

  4. Fred permalink
    29/07/2009 16:31

    mm I agree with you Tim Kaohsiung indeed did a very good job in their first MRT project. But the problem of the Neihu line was caused by the incompatibility of the Muzha line (which was built 13+ years ago by France) with the Neihu Line (built by Canada Bombordier). If today there was just one line in Taipei functioning by itself I think the Taipei can do a very good job handling it (as it did b4 the opening of Neihu line, with highest satisfaction in the world)

    • Claudia Jean permalink*
      30/07/2009 17:09

      It was the Ma Ying-jeou administration that decided to integrate the old and new line. They were advised against it but still insisted. Besides, why didn’t the Ma administration directly contract a company like Bombardier but a company associated with the KMT? Why did the Hau’s Taipei city government let it Bombardier off before they made sure everything was OK?

      If you really want to take such a holistic approach, why don’t you bring in all other constructions and infrastructure. After Ma became the Mayor, what else has been done except the Neihu line, Jiancheng Circle, the useless bus lane in front of the Taipei Train Station and the Gondola, none of which are very impressive?

      Frank Hsieh didn’t only build the 2 lines of MRT very well but also brought the World Games to Kaohsiung, cleared up 3 stinky rivers which the KMT couldn’t do for 30 years, brought clean drinking water to every Kaohsiung household, developed a wetland, re-designed and renovated the whole city. What else has Ma done for Taipei over the 8 years of his time in Taipei?

      Chen Shui-bian could open 2 lines and sort out the most of the lines when he was the Taipei Mayor (1 term, 4 years) and Ma (2 terms, 8 years) couldn’t even get the Neihu line straight.

      I really wonder why you want to avoid a comparison between DPP and KMT.

    • 30/07/2009 17:12

      I’m sorry, Fred. I do not buy your drooling over Taipei.
      “Highest satisfaction in the world.” Those are your words. Yes, and who was administering then? Chen Shui-bian, who is supposedly so corrupt. If the Greens are supposedly so corrupt, then quit saying, “It’s not about who is Green or Blue but about what they do for the people” and concede that the Blues have done a pretty crappy job for the people.
      And Fred, quit using a pseudonym, stand by who you are, so we can link back to your blog or bio and so I can go to where you live? Virtually speaking, so to speak. But you are just here to shout from your megaphone, rather than conceding to Claudia Jean’s undisputed facts?
      As the host of this blog says so truthfully, “Taiwan, also known as Formosa, is NOT part of China. Most of us see ourselves as Taiwanese, NOT Chinese.”
      Well said, Claudia Jean!
      Down with the People’s Republic Chinese government and the “pro-People’s Republic of Chinese” government trolls!
      Taiwan rules!

  5. Jerry permalink
    27/08/2009 08:57

    Claudia Jean, I have been paying attention to the news, blogs and commentaries about the Neihu MRT Line during the past few months.

    I have some comments and questions. I have refrained from commenting until I got a better feel for the issue. I live in Taipei.

    > From the number of problems, shutdowns and issues with the Neihu line, I strongly suspect 2 things. First of all, poor design. Secondly, poor implementation – namely cheap-skating.

    > I was on the Muzha line a while ago, and noticed that it uses cars with rubber tires. I have seen pictures and videos of the Neihu line; it appears to also use rubber tires. Why? The rest of the lines I have ridden here all use rails. All of the systems I have seen in the US and Canada use rails; hence the term “light rail”. They can carry more passengers because of that factor.

    Portland’s (Oregon, USA) MAX light rail was opened 23 years ago. It has rails. Again, I don’t understand the rubber tires.

    It is quite possible that the inter-terminal train system at Sea-Tac (Seattle USA) Intl Airport has rubber tires. It is in a sealed, underground tube. The airport, on their website, refers to tracks and rails. I will have to look next time I am there. BTW, they use Bombardier cars.

    > It seems that most of the lines here have drivers for each MRT train. Why is the Neihu line pilotless? Most of the light rail systems I have seen in the US and Canada have drivers. Vancouver BC’s are pilotless.

    > Why do all of the newspaper reports I read refer to Bombardier as the “contractor”? Are they the General Contractor? Or is the KMT-affiliate you mention the GC? If so, Bombardier is a sub-contractor.

    > One of my friends, who lives in the US, used to live and work here; his wife is Taiwanese. He mentioned that many good foreign companies have been involved in infra-structure projects here in Taiwan. They will make recommendations to improve certain aspects of the project; usually the recommendations are related to geologic, soil-based or hydrologic concerns. The government wants to build it on the cheap and hence rejects the recommendation(s). Sure enough, the concern manifests itself as a problem. The government will blame the foreign company for shoddy work. Sound familiar?

  6. Kevster permalink
    08/09/2009 17:02

    Thanks to Claudia Jean for the research! Though Claudia might have her political point of view, I think the table of comparison is pure stats and hence is quite fair in its presentation.

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  1. Weekly Links – July 30, 2009 « The Daily Bubble Tea

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