Touring Taiwan by Rail "Formosa Star"

Tourism Bureau of MOTC, ROC    January 13, 2005

Photo courtesy Tourism Bureau of MOTC, ROC.

Taiwan’s railways offer an endless variety of experience, and the scenery lining their routes provides an infinite range of fascinating scenery. If you want to get a close look at the island’s beauties without having to suffer the problems of unfamiliar roads and the frustrations of traffic congestion, then you could do no better than to choose a railroad tour and immerse yourself in the delights of enchanting coastlines, awesome mountains, placid farmlands, and engrossing countryside.

Taiwan’s total land area is only about 3,600 square kilometers; it is shaped like a tobacco leaf that is narrow at both ends. It lies off the southeastern coast of mainland Asia, across the Taiwan Straits from Mainland China — a solitary island on the western edge of the Pacific Ocean. To the north lies Japan and Okinawa, to the south is the Philippines. Many airlines fly to Taiwan, helping to make it the perfect travel destination.

Taiwan lies on the western edge of the Pacific “rim of fire,” and continuous tectonic movements have created majestic peaks, rolling hills and plains, basins, coastlines, and other natural wonders. Taiwan experiences climates of many types: tropical, sub-tropical, and temperate, providing clear differentiation between the different seasons. There are about 18,400 species of wildlife on the island, with more than 20 percent belonging to rare or endangered species; among these are the land-locked salmon, Taiwan mountain goat, Formosan rock monkey, Formosan black bear, blue magpie, Mikado pheasant, Hsuehshan grass lizard, and many more.

The government has established 6 national parks and 11 national scenic areas to preserve Taiwan’s best natural ecological environment and cultural sites. The railroad system provides excellent access to these treasures.

The history of railroads in Taiwan dates back to 1887, in the declining years of the Qing Dynasty, when court official Liu Ming-chuan started work on a section of track in the northern part of the island. The Japanese expanded on that beginning when they occupied Taiwan from 1895 to 1945, and the round-the-island network was completed after the island was restored to Chinese rule. Today, more than a century after its small beginning, Taiwan’s convenient railway network consists of the West Coast Trunk Railway, East Coast Trunk Railway, North-Link Railway, and South-Link Railway. Passenger service is divided into four classes, offering travelers a choice depending on their destination, the urgency of their trip, and the size of their pocketbooks.

The scenery along the railroad glides by in a never-ending sequence of change, and each line has its own unique characteristics. The long, narrow, mountainous nature of the island’s terrain lines the length of the railways with exquisite scenes of mountains and rivers, and the rail passenger gains access to scenes that are out of reach of the highway. Taiwan’s railroads are far more than just a tool of transportation; they embody a deep affinity with the development of local culture and society, and have left behind large numbers of historic relics, including old stations and track sections that hark back to the past and reveal unique facets of local history.

Following is a brief description of the characteristics of travel on Taiwan’s trunk railway lines:

West Coast Trunk Line System: This includes the Keelung to Kaohsiung north-south line, the Taichung Line (Zhunan to Changhua), Pingtung Line (Kaohsiung to Fangliao), and South-Link Railway (Fangliao to Taitung New Station).

(1) Main Line, Taichung Line, Pingtung Line: The main cities served by this system include, north to south, Keelung, Taipei, Taoyuan, Hsinchu, Miaoli, Taichung, Changhua, Yunlin, Chiayi, Tainan, Kaohsiung, and Pingtung. Each of these cities has its own local customs and natural scenery, and itineraries through them are quite diverse. Travelers can arrange tours of the Taipei, Taichung, and Kaohsiung metropolitan areas, savor the famous delicacies of Miaokou (Temple Mouth) in Keelung, see the fascinating City God Temple in Hsinchu, taste the snacks of Danshui and the seafood of Pingtung, enjoy the pottery of Yingge and the wood-carving culture of Sanyi, and observe the historic sites of Sanxia and Tainan. They can also choose a tour through the countryside of Chiayi, or go bird-watching at the estuary of the Keya River in Hsinchu or the Zengwen River in Tainan.