ARM Trip Report

Riding Trains in Taiwan / China - June 5-24, 2007

The following train rides occurred during a three week business trip to Taiwan and China.  I am fortunate that I work for a company that allows me to use personal vacation days while traveling (at my expense, of course) to enjoy some of the local sights/sounds/culture of the local country.  Wherever practical, I try to maximize my usage of rail transportation be it High Speed, Local Passenger, Light Rail, Subway, etc. Using these are invariably less costly than other transportation options.

June 5, 2007 - High Speed Trains in Taiwan - Taipei (Taoyuan) to Tainan.

    OK, my mood was not all that great due to a couple of factors.  First, the airlines lost my luggage on the first day of a three week international trip.  Second, the country was covered in a heavy downpour of rain combined with 90 degree weather ("hot and steamy" is accurate). 

    Taiwan has recently launched a new Taiwan High Speed Rail (THSR) line that runs north-south from Taipei to Kaohsiung.  This is a all new dedicated train/track system for moving people across the island country very quickly.  The track is constructed so that there are no grade crossings.  The transit from the Taoyuan airport to the High Speed Train was easily accomplished by using the shuttle bus service.  Interesting thing about the High Speed Train Terminals is that they are not necessarily located near the major populated areas.  This is partly due to acquiring the necessary right of way but also to spur increased economic development around the new terminals.  The Taoyuan and Tainan terminals were quite modern, clean, and well thought out.  The trains are of Japanese design similar to the Shinkansen Bullet Trains.  The ride was smooth and quite.  The fold down table featured a train "map" showing the location of onboard services (bathrooms, etc.).  The information is even in English.  As we sliced through the rain at 300kph (186mph), the scrolling marquee above the doors proudly displayed the speed and next station in Chinese and English.  The audio announcement was also in Chinese and English.

Interior of Taoyuan THSR Station.  Clean, efficient and orderly. Digital camera did not snap fast enough to capture the train arriving. Interior of cars are nice, well lit.  Scrolling marquee above door provides multi-lingual information to travelers.
Underside of fold down table provides "map" of onboard train services. Digital camera too slow to capture train departure at Tainan Station. Interior of Tainan Station.  Modern and clean.
Exterior of Tainan Station.  Rain has soaked everything. View of the elevated track at Tainan Station.  

June 8, 2007 - High Speed Trains in Taiwan - Chiayi to Taipei.

    This was the return trip from Chiayi back to Taipei after riding the Alishan Forrest Railway.

Continuous stormy weather.  View from the Chiayi THSR platform. View of the Chaiyi station from the platform.  Very modern, very clean. The train arriving at Chaiyi going to Taipei.

June 7/8, 2007 - Alishan Forest Railway (Taiwan)

    OK, after an emergency purchase of clothing for several days and a little business, I was off to ride the Alishan Forest Railway.  For those who have never heard of this railroad.... YOU MUST RIDE THIS TRAIN!  This narrow gauge line was built during the Japanese occupation of Taiwan (Formosa) in 1910 to access timber high in the mountains that run the length of the island.  This line runs 71.4km (44miles) through 35+ tunnels, over 75+ bridges and climbs from 33m (108ft) at Chiayi to 2216m (7270ft) at Alishan.  The maximum gradient (slope) of the line is a wheel slipping 6.25% almost continuously.  The ride takes 3 1/2 hours and requires an overnight stay at the top (Alishan).  Near the top, there are two switchbacks to gain elevation.  Halfway through the journey, the line folds over itself three times giving the passenger an change to see Dulishan Station four times as the train climbs the mountainside.  The line was originally operated with Shay locomotives.  Several are on display along the line and one is still operational and runs during the early months of the year.  Currently, the tourist train is powered by diesel locomotives of Japanese construction (built 1982).  The train departs from the "regular" train station in downtown Chaiyi.  The narrow gauge train sits off to one side of the station and the Alishan line rapidly departs from the regular line as it leaves the station.  After some straight running track through Chaiyi, the line hugs the mountains and climbs unceasingly for the remainder of the trip.

Back of ticket with route map showing major stations and elevations. Detailed track view of line near Dulishan.  Dashed areas are tunnels, dark area are "open" sections of track.  Dulishan is in lower left (arrow).

    The day of my ride, the rain gods were unkind.  Torrential downpour meant limited visibility and low lighting.  On the upside, every river, stream, wash and gully was flowing with water.  Several waterfalls are visible on the trip.  Along the way, I kept wondering why they would go through such extraordinary troubles (so many bridges and tunnels) to reach the forest.  Well, after seeing the forest I now understand.  The trees at the top are HUGE! The trees are similar to Juniper Pine except they are gargantuan like Giant Redwoods of California.  Along the way, the tracks claw their way up, around, through the mountains.  Even in the rain, the views were magnificent.  If you are a fan of narrow gauge, "climbing" railroads, this ride is a must!  Simply fantastic.

June 7, 2007 Chiayi - Alishan

Alishan Forest Railway schedule in Chaiyi Station.  One day up, next day down. Regular "local" class passenger train in Chaiyi Station, Regular "express" class passenger train in Chaiyi Station.
Regular "commuter" class passenger train in Chaiyi Station. Japanese built diesel locomotive providing "push" service to the uphill train. Alishan Forest train consist of four passenger coaches getting ready to depart Chaiyi Station.
My view from the "front" car.  Conductor is sitting in front behind public water container.  To the right is the bathroom. About 14km from Chaiyi, the train stops at Jhuci Station. Rain keeps most passengers inside.
Continuous rain provides numerous waterfalls along the ride. Another stop at the halfway point waiting for downhill train to pass. Lurking in the mist is a Shay!
An overcast view of the mountain tops. An evening walk finds a HUGE section of tree.  No wonder they built this railroad!  

June 8, 2007 Alishan - Chiayi

    After a good nights rest high in the mountains of Taiwan, we boarded the train back to Chiayi.  While waiting at the Alishan boarding area, I spied the one operational Shay in the adjacent train shed.  It was obviously under repair as the main drive shaft and bearings were removed.  On the downward journey, we paused briefly near the shed which housed two other Shay locomotives on display.  All in all, this was a fantastic ride even with reduced visibility and the ever present rainfall.  Given more time, this would be a fun line to ride again.

Morning walk among the giants.  Trees are 12-15' diameter at base. Tail end of upper switchback.  The greenery trying to reclaim the trackage. Japanese built locomotive ready for trip downhill.
Covered waiting area. Yes, those are link and pin couplers! Shay #31 under repair in the Alishan engine shed.
Less fog, but still raining.  Shays on display. Shay #18 on display. Shay #29 on display.
Uphill and downhill trains pass at Chiaoliping. New construction to ease curvature around hairpin corner. Freight diesels moving cars back at Chiayi station.

June 24, 2007 Wuxi - Shanghai, China

    After an airplane flight (my luggage did eventually find me) from Taiwan, to China and several other flights within China, I reached my final destination of Wuxi, China.  At the conclusion of a week long business visit, I inquired about the possibility of riding the Chinese high speed train back to Shanghai instead of a 3-1/2 hour car ride.  My hosts informed me that yes, it would be possible to ride the train.  My only requests were A) A First Class Reserved seat.  B) A window seat (for taking pictures of course).  C) Arrival in Shanghai with enough time to make TWO subway transfers to reach the Shanghai-Pudong Maglev to reach the airport.  I was informed that all were possible and the one way ticket price would be 55RMB (about $8 US) and that the trip would take about 1-1/2 hours.  I replied that that would be within my budget....

The ride was nice.  Again, a scrolling marquee displayed the next station stop in multiple languages.  The ride was nice.  Maximum speed was *only* about 280kph but understandable considering the tracks are shared with regular passenger trains and also freight.  The ride was a bit rough over the switches.  Interior was clean, cool and quite.  The landscape streamed by while I reflected on three weeks of business and travels.

Chinese bullet train arriving at Wuxi Station. First Class car.  Nice seats.  Nice windows. Mid-train connection between train sets.
Even sitting still, they still look fast. I was taking a picture of the sign below the coach window.  Did not realize the reflection of the bullet train until later.  

June 24, 2007 Maglev - Shanghai, China

    Let me start by saying this is wicked fast!  The ride between Shanghai and the Pudong International Airport takes 8 minutes and costs 40RMB (about $6US).  This is one ride you must take.  While technically not a "train" (wheels on tracks) THIS is the worlds fastest land based form of regularly scheduled transportation.  The French have demonstrated faster speeds, but not every 8 minutes, every day!  In three minutes this rocket reached 431kph (268mph), held this speed for about a minute then slowed to a graceful stop at the Pudong airport.

Maglev "train" arriving at Shanghai. Less than 1 minute into the ride. Faster.
Topping out at 431kph! Close up of Maglev nose. Seating was comfortable.

    One final note about the Shanghai subway system.  I found it to be quite user friendly.  Buying single use tickets can be daunting if you don't speak Chinese.  Each line is divided into several zones with varying fares based on distance from the current station.  Making connections gets even more challenging.  The cars were relatively clean and well lit.  A "tourist" or "all day" pass would be helpful for visitors (if it exists, I did not see any information).  The most challenging aspect of using the subway is that some of the stations (at least the ones I used) required the use of stairs making it exhausting to haul suitcases up/down to the platforms.  Maybe this was by design.  In retrospect, I probably would have taken a taxi between the main train station and the Maglev.

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