A tale of Taiwan

Taiwan - the railway trip

At the end of the eighties the TRA – Taiwan Railway Administration published a booklet both in English and Chinese named; the railway trip. A touristic brochure.
Twenty-five years later still a precious item in my collection oversees railways or at the first encounter; a peculiar company on 1067 mm gauge the so-called Cape gauge with no specific ideas about. The Internet still in his infancy and by far the common electronic encyclopaedia as it is today. Even armchair (rail) travelling by surfing the sites could be quit adventurous though never beats the reality; being there!

I have been there several times, starting in 1990. In Taipei running on street level through the inner-city (own way of right) was given up and replaced by a tunnel. A new train station let the old one dwarfed in her shadow, not much later in time it was demolished. On the south side tunnelling would go on and these days no train can be spotted on the surface in the city. Also the subway system took shape and the end of it is not in sight. Opening next is the 53.5 kilometre long line to Chang Kai-shek International Airport and from there the beginning of a system for the town Taoyuan (Blue line).
Another remarkable achievement is the private funded 339 kilometre long high-speed standard gauge line from Taipei to Kaoshiung. THRC – Taiwan High-speed Rail Cooperation take care of the exploitation with a Sinkhansen type of train as in use by JR-West in Japan. In 1990 the latter only far away music.

On the subway system (VAL) only a part of route Nº 1 (Brown) and route Nº 2 (Red) (heavy rail) were open to the public but meanwhile extended and accomplished by three other lines. Focusing on the capital doesn’t mean other cities did not develop. Kaoshiung e.g. with a subway system and tramway (light rail) the first in the country. More cities will follow suit at least in planning, to describe them all in detail goes beyond the meaning of this story.
1990 was a real railway paradise discovery with a lot of things to see but due to the length of visit impossible to comprehend it all. Two outstanding highlights. In the outskirts of Taipei (Wulai) a 750 mm gauge line as a survivor of the push-cart era. A lorry with seat pushed by one or two men running in mostly remote areas. It’s stated that on the isle once were round and about fifty separate lines with this kind of transportation. Wulai survived; some carts were motorized and others turned into trailers, as three-car set they function successfully as recreation rail (only on weekends and holidays).
The second surprise and this time a lot smaller – 440 mm gauge – were the transport lines of a mining company in the Ping-shui valley. Transferring coal to a transshipment installation for further transport by the TRA. During my second visit in 1995 all abandoned, a pity but also understandable. Like the line in Shuili; a special build suspension bridge with continuous running (worn out) cable only to get the tip-carts to the transshipment installation on the town side shore of a river. A marvellous sight and lovely enterprise, too bad it couldn’t resist the pressure of time although it must be told as well, a similar system in a more or less deplorable condition in Western Europe wouldn’t have survived the seventies. So twenty years of prolongation.
A third best part would have been riding a passenger train on the extensive 762 mm gauge TSC network mainly on the West Coast. TSC stands for Taiwan Sugar Company, also here transport lines for the harvest (sugar cane) to the nearest factory. Not all lines had passenger services but Chaiyi and Xinjing did. 1990 was just a little to late for a joyful getting acquainted with it. A pity I did not visit the beautiful isle (Formosa) earlier in time, still it was worth the trip as it is today.

Pictures below all from 1990

Wulai; a tree-car set on the once push-cart line and depot
Houtung; a coal train passes the village.
Shihfen; a tip-cart on the suspension bridge.
Xinjing; motorcar for the sugar lines.
Furthermore see the album: History on rail in Taiwan https://www.flickr.com/photos/76521871@N05/albums/72157629457172277



Houtung 2

Shihfen 4

TW 215.50.096





About Robert von Hirschhorn

Author / Performer or in Dutch: schrijver / dichter
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