Kaohsiung MRT vs. Taipei Neihu Line
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.
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|
|Size of carriage||Length 21.9m,
|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.