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Thursday, January 10, 2008

Taiwan's Shinkansen in the news 台湾の新幹線

It's been one year since Taiwan's high speed rail network began operating, and the Daily Yomiuri has an article today on the milestone http://www.yomiuri.co.jp/dy/world/20080109TDY05301.htm:

"The Taiwan High Speed Rail train, which started operating Jan. 5, 2007, connects Taipei 台北 in the north to Kaohsiung 高雄 in the south, and by the end of last year passenger numbers had exceeded 15.55 million."

Taiwan's venture into bullet trains has attracted some attention in Japan as this is the first time that Japan's shinkansen technology has been put into use outside the country (Japan also has its fair share of trainspotters). The article points out both the successes:

"...contrary to critics' expectations, there have been no major safety errors over the last year."

and the failures:

"...on a financial level, business is bad. Passenger numbers are about half the 110,000 to 120,000 customers needed each day to generate a profit. Potential patrons complain that the train's stations are too far from the city center and that fares are too high."

I would like to ride the shinkansen one of these days, but as the story indicates, the stations are not very convenient. The closest bullet train stop to Fengyuan (Fongyuan) 豊原, for example, is in the small town of Wujih (Wurih) 烏日, outside the T'aichung (Taijhong) 台中 city limits. For us to go to T'aipei (Taibei), we would first have to take a train south to Wujih from Fengyuan, then transfer to a high-speed train for the trip north. There are shinkansen stations in Japan that are located out in the boonies, but for the most part, the connections by regular train and bus from such stops into the cities is smooth. This is most likely due to the fact that the bullet trains are part of the overall Japan Railways Group (JR). In Taiwan, the regular train service and the high speed rail are operated by separate companies in competition with each other: the Taiwan Railway Administration (TRA) 台湾鉄路管理局 for the former, and Taiwan High Speed Rail (THSR) 台湾高速鉄道 the latter. There is also the possibility that Taiwan just may be too compact for a shinkansen system to be profitable. Only time will tell.

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