The Railways of Taiwan
For frustrated, non-Chinese speaking Railbuffs!!!!
(Note the following acronyms: THSRC – Taiwan High Speed Rail, TRA Taiwan Railway Administration, TSC Taiwan Sugar Corporation)
The 3'-6" gauge TRA railways are currently (mid 2006) receiving some considerable investment. Amongst the many current works going on are the sinking of the line to the east of Tai-pei into tunnel through Sung-shan station and eastwards and then raising on viaduct further towards Kee-lung in the region of Chi-du in order to eliminate the numerous level crossings, a process being repeated though I-lan. Other work in hand includes new workshops at Chi-du to replace the older shops in Tai-pei and Sung-shan (the latter have now closed and been demolished), new locos and EMUs, colour light signals and CTC, a proposed branchline from Hsin-chu to the THSRC station, new stations to interface with the THSRC high speed line at Tai-chung and Zuo-ying etc etc. TRA is now electrified from Hua-lien in the east, anti-clockwise through Su-ao, I-lan, Tai-pei (with the Kee-lung branch) - Chu-nan (both Mountain and Coast Lines) - Chung-hwa – Tai-nan – Kee-lung - Ping-tung with the remainder Ping-tung - Tai-dong – Hua-lien diesel operated but with electrification planned. The railway tunnels that run under the streets of Tai-pei currently extend from Ban-chiao in the west to Sung-shan in the east with stations at Ban-chiao, Wan-hua and Tai-pei Main station. Separate parallel tunnels are in situ for the THSRC lines currently under construction. The main lines also include short branches from Ba-du to Kee-lung and from Su-ao New to Su-ao. These exist on original alignments and were left as termini when Taiwan's rail network expanded around the island. The short branch from Tai-dong New to Tai-dong was closed in 2000.
THSRC currently operates three classic country passenger branch lines, these being from Ching-dong to San-tiao-ling on the east coast line (The "Ping-hsi Line"), from Nei-wan to Hsin-chu on the west coast line (The "Nei-wan Line) and from Che-cheng to Er-shuei, also on the west coast line, (The "Chi-chi Line").
Each of these diesel-operated branches seems to be doing well, particularly at weekends when passengers often can be seen standing all the way, with both the Chi-chi branch and the Nei-wan branch having required considerable remedial work after the 9/21 earthquake, now complete. They are single track, with the minimum of fencing (The Ping-hsi line runs down Shih-fen main street and the tunnels are used by walkers at the waterfalls!!!). They are operated by single line token machines and electric telegraph, are well maintained and popular, particularly at weekends and holidays. The original purpose of all three of these lines were freight, namely coal and timber, all traffic of which has now ceased leaving very little freight if any on these three remaining branches.
The remaining former passenger branch lines have all closed and are discussed roughly in north to south order below.
Tam-shuei to Tai-pei - closed to all traffic on July 16th 1988 and converted to standard gauge and incorporated into Taipei MRT system.
Sui-nan-tung to Rue-feng - closed to passengers August 20th 1989. Truncated to Shen-ao power station, still served by coal trains.
Hsin-tien to Wan-hua - closed in March 1969
Chung-ho to Ban-chiao - closed to all traffic 23rd September 1990.
Tung-shih to Feng-yuan- Closed on August 31st 1991 when the old “Mountain Line” was diverted to a new high speed double track alignment, largely in tunnel. It is still largely extant and was once considered for use as a "heritage" line.
Sheng-kang to Tan-tzu - mainly built to supply the adjacent airbase, closed to passengers February 28th 1991, now closed completely.
Freight branches still operate to Tai-chung, Kaoh-siung and Hua-lien harbours and the power station at Lin-kou. It has been reported that TRA now run two return passenger workings on work-days only along the Lin-kou branch and tourist trains also run around Kaoh-siung harbour, reportedly steam operated on occasions. Details of these will be added later.
The Tai-pei metro is currently being hugely extended, including the “Mu-cha” line using a French rubber-tyred system. This is looping around the north of the city with a station at Sungshan Domestic airport. Another metro in Kaoh-siung will be opening to traffic shortly and Metros are planned for Tai-chung and Tai-nan.
TSC have now almost abandoned both sugar production and rail traffic. In 2004 it was said that there would be no more sugar trains after that harvest (during December to March) but there were some reported somewhere in the Chia-yi area in 2005. TSC also operate some tourist undertakings, including a section of line based on the old TSC station at Wu-shu-lin, near Tai-nan (NB TSC once operated an extensive narrow gauge passenger system but this started to contract in the 1960s and ceased over ten years ago). At Wu-shu-lin there is also an operative narrow gauge steam loco that is steamed on a regular basis.
The Ali-shan Forestry Railway is the last surviving of the six original forestry railway and is one of the wonders of the railway world, deserving much more recognition than it gets as it easily matches the Darjeeling and Himalayas Railway. There is much investment going on here too with new tunnels and viaducts, work taking place to reopen the Monkey Rock line and rebuild Ali-shan station (in truly grand style) both of which were damaged in the 9/21 earthquake). There are seven brand new locos on order and a batch of coaches are being equipped with proper driver’s positions to allow them to be used as driver trailers in push-pull formation. Two Shays are also now steam able, the second to be restored being equipped with a computer controlled oil-fired boiler. Eight replica wooden bodied coaches are also currently under construction (July 2006). There are also a small tourist operation on parts of the Tai-ping-shan and Chi-nan forestry lines, the former being quite extensive but the latter being a mere 100 meters or so.
There are no man powered “push car” lines left, with the exception of one example now used as the petrol-operated tramway at Wu-lai and this is extremely popular at weekends. These push car lines originally reached many parts of the island and a couple of examples are described in the now out of print book "Rails to the Mines" by Charles Small.
There are no operating coal mines in Taiwan any more and the coal railways have all closed, as have the other mineral working (salt, gold and sand). A tourist line to the mining museum operates to the east of Shih-fen, starting from the TSC sidings which have been disconnected but restored with a “pump-trolley” for tourists to play on. The hoppers and conveyor equipment from the upper level where the narrow gauge railway terminated are derelict and falling down but a path leads up to where the narrow gauge railway originally discharged in to the conveyor system. The narrow gauge line was originally electrified on an overhead trolley wire system but this has been de-energised and largely removed and the locos now are powered by battery. Passengers travel in crude unsprung coal tubs with seats fitted. The old mine adit has been restored and a museum built around it. It was the last mine in Taiwan to shut and ended a long history of mining in the Ping-hsi Valley. The other systems in this area have left little remains.
The old colliery company workshops, offices and loading buildings at Hou-tung are still extant but very derelict and covered with “Danger – Keep Out” warning signs. The beautiful bridge still exists over the river and has been gentrified a bit with old coal tubs restored and placed on lengths of rail. The exchange sidings have gone but there is a derelict TRA shunting loco still inside the building!!
As to the future, the most significant coming event will be the opening of the 300km/hr THSRC high-speed route from Tai-pei to Kaoh-siung in October 2006, with station at Tai-pei, Ban-chiao, Tao-yuan, Tai-chung, Chia-yi, Tai-nan and Kaoh-siung (Tso-ying). This is an event firmly of the future and will be included on here in due course. In the meantime, however, this website is a celebration of Taiwan railway's fascinating past.