Sunday, January 15, 2017

TRA wary of Alishan railway takeover

TRA wary of Alishan railway takeover

TRANSFER:The agency voiced concern over the forest railway’s financial difficulties should it assume ownership as stated in a contract it has with the Forestry Bureau

By Shelley Shan  /  Staff reporter

A train runs on the Alishan Forest Railway in an undated photograph. The Forestry Bureau on Tuesday said that the bureau has no plans to terminate the Alishan train service.

Photo courtesy of the Forestry Bureau

The Taiwan Railways Administration (TRA) on Tuesday said it would not take over the operation of the Alishan Forest Railway until it has sorted out its financial and asset transfer issues.
Launched in 1912, the railway was built for logging purposes, but was converted into a passenger transport system after the government banned logging in Alishan Forest in 1963.
It has since been managed by the Forestry Bureau, which outsourced the operation of the railway to a private contractor.
In April 2010, a train derailment caused by a falling tree killed five commuters and led to the termination of the contract.
The bureau later entrusted the task of operating the forest railway to the TRA, with funding provided by the bureau’s Forestry Development and Forest Building Fund (林務發展及造林基金).
A contract signed by the two government agencies stipulated that ownership of the railway was to be transferred to the TRA by Dec. 31, 2015. However, the transfer was delayed, because the railway was severely damaged by Typhoon Dujuan in September 2015.
On Tuesday, a report in the Chinese-language United Daily News claimed that the forest railway might be shut down because the Forestry Development and Forest Building Fund would soon run out of funds.
The report added that the bureau had insisted that the TRA take over the operation of the forest railway.
TRA director-general Jason Lu (鹿潔身) cited the high cost of maintaining the railway because the slopes are prone to landslides during inclement weather.
Lu said the government subsidy has to be in place before the TRA can fully take over the operation of the system, which has been logging annual operating losses of about NT$300 million (US$9.3 million).
The TRA will also need to ascertain how funding for the railway’s operation should be budgeted and ways to address the financial losses, he said.
“The TRA only assists the bureau in operating the forest railway, and it is the bureau’s job to figure out what it has to do with the Forestry Development and Forest Building Fund. [The bureau] cannot force us to take over the forest railway, because we are experiencing financial losses as well,” he said.
Bureau Deputy Director-General Yang Hung-chih (楊宏志) denied that the fund would soon run out of money, adding that the bureau has budgeted NT$6.7 billion for the fund this year, which would pay for forest-building initiatives and maintenance of forest parks nationwide.
Both agencies are negotiating issues relating to the ownership transfer, which has been rescheduled for the end of this year,
The bureau would submit a more detailed plan in March, he said.
The forest railway generated an annual revenue of NT$100 million when the bureau was in charge, with annual losses limited to NT$300 million, Yang said.
Since the TRA began operating the forest railway, annual revenue and operating losses have expanded to NT$120 million and NT$400 million respectively, he said.

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