TAIPEI, Taiwan -- Taichung Mayor Lin Chia-lung yesterday dismissed speculation that the deadly accident at an MRT construction site had anything to do with government pressure to rush the completion of the city's mass rapid transit railway project.
The mayor, who cut short a trip in South Korea to return to Taiwan after the mishap, said his government had only demanded that the administrative process of the project be accelerated - such as the acquisition of land - but never exerted pressure to rush the construction work.
Lin said human error was clearly to be blamed for the accident, but said an investigation is underway to determine the cause.
He visited the victims and their families at hospitals early in the morning soon after returning to Taichung.
A steel girder weighing almost 300 tons fell as it was being fitted onto an elevated section of the city's under-construction MRT system Friday afternoon, killing four people and injuring four others at a busy intersection during rush hour.
One of the victims was a woman who was crushed to death when the girder fell onto the car she was driving. All the other victims were construction workers.
Speculation ran wild that the contractor failed to observe safety protocols because of pressure from the city government to have the work done as soon as possible.
Lin said he is looking for an explanation as to why the work was being done during the day and no traffic controls were being imposed.
The city government already imposed a NT$100,000 fine on the contractor, Far Eastern General Contractor (FEGC), for failing to stick to the original plan of doing the work at night.
Eight people from FEGC and the sub-contractor handling the steel work were questioned by prosecutors investigating the accident. They were released after seven of them posted bonds ranging from NT$100,000 (S$4380) to NT$800,000.
The ones posting bond included an engineer and a construction site manager from FEGC; and an executive, an engineer and a construction site manager from the steel work sub-contractor.
The employees from FEGC claimed that the steel work sub-contractor was supposed to control the traffic at the time.
The mayor said the construction firm must now learn its lesson and strictly observe the safety requirements that such work must be done during the night.
He said the city's transport authorities have made inspections of the MRT construction sites twice a month in the past, but now the frequency will be raised to once a week.
Wang Yi-chuan, head of Taichung's transport department, said FEGC was supposed to inform the city authorities of such large-scale work three days before it was to begin.
But the authorities wee notified of the Friday work only after 3 p.m., less than two hours before it began. Wang said.
Wang noted that the safety protocol clearly indicates that the lifting of steel girders was to have been done between 11:30 p.m. and 5:30 a.m. the next day.
Taipei's Department of Rapid Transit Systems (DORTS), which is building the metro project on behalf of the central city, said the work progress has actually been slightly ahead of schedule, and there has been no pressure to rush it.
The project, scheduled for completion in March 2019, is 43 per cent complete, slightly more than the 40.5 per cent originally scheduled, DORTS said.