Taiwan High Speed Rail

Taiwan High Speed Rail 0141

Taipei – Zuoying

Business, Car 6 Seat 9E

 

Prologue

Born out of a pressing need to alleviate congestion on Taiwan’s highways, air traffic and conventional rail networks arising from rapid economic growth in the latter half of the 20th century, the 348.5-kilometer Taiwan High Speed Rail was first mooted back in the late 1970s as a new, rapid link between Taipei and Kaohsiung. Utilizing a combination of Japanese Shinkansen and European technology, the system opened in early 2007 and today serves as a mainstay of north-south travel for the island. We rode on one of the sleek white-and-orange trains recently from Taipei Main Station to Zuoying.

 

Tickets & Boarding

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All Taiwan High Speed Rail services operate with both reserved and non-reserved seating. For our journey south, we elected to travel in Business class, which necessitated a seat reservation and magnetic ticket. This can be conveniently purchased from either a ticket office, automated ticket machine, mobile application or online. We elected to purchase our tickets early in anticipation of strong demand for the Sunday southbound trains, but need not have worried as ample ticket windows and machines meant short waiting times despite long lines. We made use of the dedicated Business class line and obtained our orange tickets for the 1531 hrs departure, one of many making the southbound commute.

   

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Taipei Main Station is an integrated rail hub with separate areas for the high-speed rail, conventional trains and the Taipei Metro. We made our way to the common waiting lounges past the ticket gantries 25 minutes before departure, from where passengers are invited to head down to the platforms just before their train arrives. With the line’s northern terminus now at the new Nangang station, it is advisable to be at the platforms early as trains stop for a few minutes only and depart on-time.

 

The Train

Taiwan High Speed Rail Corporation (THSRC) operates a fleet of 700T trainsets on the line, with varying express services covering the route between 1.5 to 3 hours. Manufactured in Japan, the white-and-orange trains are an enhanced version of the 700 series Shinkansen and represent the first-ever overseas export of Japanese bullet train technology.

The trains are designed to reach a top-speed of 300 kilometers per hour (although these are not reached in regular service) and are formed by 12 cars. Cars 1 – 3 are designated for non-reserved seating, with car 6 for Business class and the remainder for reserved ordinary class.

   

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The interior follows the proven design of the Shinkansen, laid out in a 2-2 configuration with a wide central aisle. An overhead shelf provides storage space for cabin bags, with luggage racks at the ends of the car for bigger items. The less dense seating allowed for a wider seat in Business class, upholstered in a bright burgundy fabric. Every seats has an airline-style flip down tray table, a generous amount of legroom and recline, with the window seats also having a wall-mounted coat hook.

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Business class passengers also have their own footrest, as well as a personal reading light overhead.

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Like most trains, onboard entertainment was a case of bring-your-own, with the 700T trains equipped with electrical outlets in Business class. Taiwan High Speed Rail also offers a choice of audio channels, with every seat also having a copy of the in-train T-Life magazine. This had write-ups and guides on attractions and activities found along the entire high-speed rail network which serves to boost tourist interest and visitor numbers, a key objective of the project.

   

Owing to the relatively short distance travelled, the trains do not feature a dining car but instead offer vending machines at the vestibules and an onboard trolley service for light meals and beverages. During lunch and dinner hours, boxed meals are also retailed with the same available at the stations at other times.

 

Business class passengers are entitled to a complimentary beverage and snack, as well as bottled water and newspapers. We opted for a cup of hot tea, which was served together with a packaged red bean pancake.

 

Route & Highlights

Running the length of Taiwan’s western corridor, the Taiwan High Speed Rail line begins from its northern terminus at Taipei’s Nangang Station to Zuoying Station outside Kaohsiung, with 10 intermediate stations enroute. Boarding the train at the busy Taipei Main Station, it was a brief 8 minute sprint to Banqiao Station before we sped on underground to leave the greater Taipei metropolis behind.

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Service 0141 is operated as one of the fastest on the line, stopping only in Taichung and bypassing all other intermediate stations. Moving above ground, the urban landscrape gradually thinned out nearer Taoyuan and Hsinchu, before giving way to the mountains of Miaoli County and vast expanses of padi fields as we approached central Taiwan.

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We decelerate and pull into Taichung Station on-time at 1620 hrs, with the 700T stopping briefly to take on more passengers, many of whom were heading back to Kaohsiung after a weekend away. The elevated track and outskirt location of the station gave us a good view of the city as the train picked up speed and continued on its way.

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With no more stops ahead, the train accelerated back up to speed. Although rated for a top speed in excess of 300 kilometers per hour, services actually run slightly slower for safety and operational reasons. We quickly pass Changhua, Yunlin, Chiayi and Tainan stations, with farmland giving way to the urban sprawl again as we approached the terminus at Zuoying, where we pull into platform 1A at exactly 1705 hrs.

 

Verdict

In its 9 years of operation, the Taiwan High Speed Rail has proven to be a game changer in the island’s intercity transportation. Inheriting the safety and reliability of the Shinkansen it is based on and coupled with a proven hard product and excellent customer service standards, the system has brought about greater convenience and connectivity for Taiwan’s secondary cities and counties to its largest economic hubs.

 

Taiwan High Speed Rail Corporation

www.thsrc.com.tw

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