WORK PROTEST:To highlight their safety and schedule concerns, drivers said that starting today they will slow down at every railway crossing on their routes
By Lin Chia-chi and Jake Chung / Staff reporter, with staff writer and CNA
Trains are seen at a station in Taitung on Sept. 25 last year.
Photo: Wang Hsiu-ting, Taipei Times
Taiwan Railways Administration (TRA) train drivers are launching a protest today after their demands for improvements to railroad crossing safety systems and working conditions were not met, National Train Drivers’ Association leader Lin Tsung-chi (林聰吉) said.
The protest will begin when the first trains of the day set off, with the 700 to 800 drivers on duty slowing down before every crossing, he said, adding that the protests will continue until the union’s demands are met.
While last week’s TransAsia Airways (復興航空) crash in Taipei has raised concerns about a shortage of qualified pilots, train drivers say they are under pressure from new work schedules and staff shortages.
The decision by the drivers comes at the worst possible time of the year for the railway operator, as the annual Lunar New Year holiday — which begins on Wednesday — means trains will be packed before and during the holiday.
The association said the TRA has seen a record number of passengers in recent years with the introduction of new trains, including the Taroko, the Puyuma and the 800 series, which have slashed travel times.
However, the lack of changes to railway crossings, routes and signs, along with new trains and new drivers’ schedules — often a reversal of the usual day-night cycle — have created a great deal of work and stress for the drivers, the association said.
Aging equipment jeopardizes transportation safety, and such risks have been heightened by overworked drivers who are too tired to react quickly to problems on the track, it said.
It highlighted one recent incident in which a crossing gate rose too early, and several cars and motorbikes were nearly hit by a passing train.
The agency said the proposed driver slowdown would severely hamper Lunar New Year travel plans, given that its trains use 463 railway crossings around the island of Taiwan.
For example, it would take a Tzuchiang-class (自強號) train an additional 20 seconds if its speed dropped from 110kph to 60kph at every crossing, meaning that a train from Keelung to Kaohsiung, which goes through 213 railway crossings, would arrive in Kaohsiung an hour later than scheduled, the TRA said.
Such a delay would then have a ripple effect on the schedules of subsequent trains, it said.
Passengers are eligible for refunds if their train arrives more than 45 minutes later than scheduled.
TRA transportation department deputy director Peng Ming-kuang (彭明光) said that the company was looking to hire 289 additional drivers over a five-year period, including 43 by the end of this year.
The company has already hired 153 more workers to maintain railway-crossing safety, Peng said.