Workers lambaste plans for rail track giveawayo

By Hung-fu Hsueh, Taiwan News, 25 February 2003

Protesters say move would lead to layoffs and demise of system

Around 2,000 rail workers gathered yesterday in the lobby of the Taipei Railway Station to demonstrate against the government-run railway administration's plan to hand over—free of charge—two platforms and four tracks to a private high-speed rail company.

The demonstration, organized by the Taiwan Railway Labor Union, ended peacefully after the director general of the Taiwan Railway Administration Huang Te-chih (ż) promised that TRA management would not share Taipei’s main station with the Taiwan High Speed Rail Corp. unless the union approved.

The protests came as the TRA yesterday closed off one of the two tunnels that run from Taipei to Sungshan to allow THSRC to begin construction work on their new line that is scheduled to be running in 2005. Six daily trains between Keelung and Taipei will be canceled to accomodate the construction.

We insist that the tunnel, platform and other facilities not be handed over to the THSRC, said the secretary-general of the union, Chang Wen-cheng (ĥʸ). We demand that the authorities follow the agreement negotiated with the union last year that TRA will not cooperate with the THSRC until the union’s concerns have been met.

A union spokesman added, If the transportation ministry does not react positively to our appeal, we might take dramatic action, hinting at a possible strike.

The demonstrators also clearly feared that the high-speed railway would cause heavy layoffs in the future and could lead to the heavily indebted railway administration’s demise. Once the THSRC begins operations, it is expected that 104 trains between Keelung and Hsinchu will be cut, or one-third of the total amount of service offered at present.

If we share the platform with THSRC, then the TRA is doomed, the union said in a publicly released statement.

The worker's union strongly criticized the closure of the tunnel, arguing that a more tightly packed schedule operating on fewer tracks would endanger train safety. Platform usage would increase from the current 70.29 percent to 121.68 percent, according to the union.

In its public announcement, the union accused the TRA of parceling off one's own land while still paying compensation to others—a slogan usually used to describe the Qing dynasty's submission to foreign powers in the 19th century.

The union described the TRA director general as the killer of the railway administration, and demanded his resignation. y Huang, however, under pressure from the union, agreed to cancel the sealing of the tunnel and respect the TRA's prior agreement with the union. He promised to step down if he did not live up to his word.

If my resignation could solve the problem, I would be happy to offer my resignation immediately, said Huang.

The TRA director also claimed, though, that the tunnel was closed off to allow the TRA to perform its own construction work rather than to allow the THSRC to begin work on its new line. He also contended that the handover of platforms and track to the high-speed rail company was still under negotiation.

The rally nearly got out of control later in the day, at around 3:30 p.m., when approximately 1,000 workers took more drastic action and staged a sit-in on the railroad track in the closed off tunnel, but they quickly returned to the rally site in the train station lobby.

It was then that director Huang appeared to appease the protestors.