|Dates of operation||1887–present|
|Track gauge||3 ft 6 in (1,067 mm)|
|Length||1,117.9 km (694.6 mi)|
|Taiwan Railways Administration|
|Traditional Chinese||臺灣鐵路管理局 or
|Traditional Chinese||臺鐵 or 台鐵|
The Taiwan Railways Administration (TRA; Chinese: 臺灣鐵路管理局; pinyin: Táiwān Tiělù Guǎnlǐjú) is an agency of the Ministry of Transportation and Communications of Taiwan responsible for managing, maintaining, and running passenger and freight services on 1097 km of conventional railroad lines in Taiwan (gauge: 1,067 mm (3 ft 6 in)). Since Taiwan is heavily urbanized with a high population density, railways have played an important part in domestic transportation since the late 19th century. Most of the main lines are fully electrified and service is generally efficient and reliable. In 2011, the system carried 205.8 million passengers, or 563,915 passengers per day.
Railway services between Keelung and Hsinchu began in 1891 under China’s Qing Dynasty. Completely rebuilt and substantially expanded under Formosa’s Japanese colonial government (1895-1945), the network’s Japanese influence and heritage persists. Similarities between the TRA and the Japan Railways (JR) companies can be noted in signal aspects, signage, track layout, fare controls, station architecture, and operating procedures. As Japan’s southern base during WWII, Taiwan’s railways suffered significant damage by Allied air raids. The Taiwan Railways Administration was founded in 1945 to reconstruct and operate railway infrastructure.
With ~13,500 employees (4,700 in transportation and 7,700 in maintenance titles), TRA is a government organization under Taiwan’s Ministry of Transportation and Communication (MOTC) that directly operates 682 route miles of 3’6” (1,067 mm) gauge railways. Three mainlines form a complete circle around the island. TRA’s West Coast Mainline (WCML) and East Coast Mainline (ECML) Badu-Hualien section features mostly double-track, electrification, modern colour light and cab signalling, overrun protection, and centralized traffic control (CTC). Southern Link Mainline, ECML Hualien-Taitung (converted from 762 mm gauge), and three “tourist” branches are non-electrified single-track with passing sidings.
Since the early 1980s, conventional railway capital improvements are nationally funded and managed by the MOTC’s Railway Reconstruction Bureau, then turned over to TRA for operations. Taiwan’s challenging terrain meant all lines feature extensive tunneling and long bridges. Double-tracking frequently requires construction of parallel single-track railroads or bypass tunnels on new alignments. The US$14.5 billion standard gauge high-speed rail (HSR) line was built and operated by a separate public-private partnership under a 35-year concession, but TRA provides feeder services to HSR terminals. Although TRA operates all commuter rail, other quasi-private organizations operate subways in Taipei and Kaohsiung.
Local and intercity passenger services (5am – 1am, very few overnight trains) operate at 95.3% on-time performance. 2008 annual passenger ridership was 179 million (incurring 5.45 billion passenger-miles), generating US$434 million in revenue. Commuter trains carry 76% of riders (43% of passenger miles). WCML carries >90% of ridership. TRA’s loose-car and unit-train bulk freight services haul mainly aggregates (58% of tonnage), cement (26%), and coal (9%). In 2008, 9.5 million tons of freight (481 million ton-miles) generated US$28.6 million in revenue. Limited container services operate between Port of Hualien and suburban Taipei, but loading gauge restrictions preclude piggyback operations. During typhoon season, small trucks are carried on flatcars when highways are closed by flooding or mudslides.
In years past, an extensive shipper-owned light railway network (762 mm gauge, never operated by TRA) handled freight services throughout Taiwan and once boasted 1,800 route miles. Largely abandoned today, it served important industries including sugar, logging, coal, salt, and minerals. Unlike JR East and Hong Kong’s Mass Transit Railway, revenues from ancillary businesses accounts for only 17.8% of TRA’s revenues. TRA’s estimated farebox recovery ratio (including freight operations) is ~40%.
Staffing costs, pension benefits, capital debt, changing demographics, highway competition, and low fare policies resulted in accumulated deficits nearing US$3.3 billion. Locally considered large and problematic, TRA’s deficits pale in comparison to those incurred by European and U.S. transit agencies, and Japan National Railways (JNR) prior to its 1987 privatization. Like JNR and U.S. transit authorities, interest payments on long-term debt represents a significant burden for TRA. Planning for TRA’s restructuring had been underway since 2000.
Recent growth in the highway system and increased competition from bus companies and airlines has led to a decline in long-distance rail travel (except during major holidays such as Chinese New Year), though short and intermediate distance travel is still heavily utilized by commuters and students. The high-speed rail line is not run by TRA, and is also a major source of competition. To offset this TRA has begun placing an emphasis on tourism and short-distance commuter service. This has led to several special tourist trains running to scenic areas and hot springs, the addition of dining cars (originally deemed unnecessary due to Taiwan's relatively small size), and converting several smaller branch lines to attract tourists. Additionally, several new stations have been added in major metropolitan areas, and local commuter service increased. Its boxed lunches remain the company's most popular product with sales totaling NT$320 million (US$10.8 million) in 2010 (around 5% of its annual revenue).
On December 31, 2010, the TRA signed a NT$10.6 billion contract with Sumitomo Group and Nippon Sharyo to supply 17 tilting train sets capable of traveling 150 km/h (93 mph). These eight-car electric multiple units (EMUs) were delivered from 2012 to 2014 for Taroko Express services running between Taipei and Hualien on the Eastern Line. The system achieved a single day record on February 5, 2011 during Chinese New Year celebrations, transporting 724,000 passengers a day.
The first Taiwanese railway was completed during the Qing era in 1893. In 1895, the Qing Empire ceded Formosa (Taiwan) to the Empire of Japan after the First Sino-Japanese War. The line was about 62 miles (100 km) in length but in a poor condition when the Japanese arrived:
Accordingly work was commenced on the line at once. The Kelung-Taihoku branch was completely reconstructed as so to avoid the numerous short curves and the steep grades. The line leading from Taihoku to the south received also some attention, the total cost of these improvements reaching nearly two million yen.— J. Davidson, The Island of Formosa, 
We thus have practically a new line to Kelung and another to Sinchiku (formerly Teckcham). In addition to these, new lines were constructed from Taihoku to Tamsui, and from Takow [Kaohsiung] to Shinyeisho via Tainanfu, which gives us a total of ninety-three miles of rail. The trunk line connecting the north and south is now in course of construction.— J. Davidson, Formosa under Japanese rule, 
The Official Japanese Annual Report of 1935 states (under title Colonial Railways Section II Taiwan):
It was not until the cession of the Island of Taiwan (Formosa) from the Chinese Government to Japan that the island began to enjoy railway facilities, for prior that time the only railroad existing was a small light railway between Keelung and Hsinchu built at the time of the Qing Dynasty of China. Soon after the cession the Governor-General of Taiwan established a plan, with approbation of the Diet, to build a standard Japanese gauge railway connecting Takao (Kaohsiung) with Keelung at the expense of 28.800.000 yen. The work of construction was started from both termini and finished in April 1908. This 429.3 mile (690.7 km) line now forms the trunk line in the island communication system. The Imperial Taiwan Government Railway manages three workshops in the Island viz. one each at Taihoku (Taipei), Takao and Kwarenko (花蓮港). The last mentioned is for East Coast Line rolling stock.— Taiwan Railways Administration, History, 
TRA's network and services reflect strong centralized planning. Although TRA is one of many passenger transport operators, its infrastructure allows multiple and convenient connections between modes. Joint transportation and land-use planning make railway projects effective land-development tools.
The Japanese planned Taipei’s railway tunnel prior to WWII. Their main impetus was the major Chung-Hwa Road (Route 1) trunk highway crossing. Taipei’s Railway “Undergroundization” Project (Phase I) was approved in 1979, including Taipei Main Station (TMS), 2.8-miles of two-track underground railway, and Banqiao and Nankang yards. Completed in 1989 and costing US$600 million, it replaced the historic Japanese-era Taipei-eki (台北駅?) and Hwashan yard, eliminated grade crossings in Taipei’s congested Wanhua District, providing operating efficiencies. Like New York’s Penn Station project, which buried 5.5 route-miles between North Bergen, N.J. and Hunterspoint, Queens by 1908, Taipei Main Station catalyzed urban redevelopment. Development was extensive but not without cultural costs. Modern office towers and underground malls replaced Japanese-era wooden shanties and wholesale outlets, but historic temples were preserved. Later phases completed the four track mainline tunnels, relocated yards to permit transit-oriented development (TOD), and provided a corridor for a much-needed crosstown expressway (Civic Boulevard). By 2008, US$5.8 billion were invested: Banqiao-Xike (16.0 miles) was tunneled, including all trackage within Taipei City, and Xike-Wudu (3.1 miles) was elevated under the TRA elevatization program. Nankang’s Software Park, Exhibition Centre, and Xike’s Science Park were developed around this time.
Taipei is Taiwan's capital and ultimate destination for TRA's mainlines. Explosive growth since 1980 made Taipei a 10-million population metropolis sprawled over four counties. To accommodate suburban commuters, and to serve passengers traveling to/from suburban business districts, Taipei was envisioned as a through station, allowing West coast trains to operate to Taipei's eastern suburbs, and vice versa.
Like Philadelphia's Center City Tunnel, through-running reduces platform occupancy times, maximizes one-seat rides, and distributes passengers over multiple stations, reducing crowding. Trains can be moved through Taipei's terminal district in arrival sequence, providing some delay absorption capability. Only ~20% of passenger trips originated/terminated at Taipei Main Station (compared to ~50% at New York's Grand Central); 98% of scheduled trains run through (~4% at Penn Station). Trains are turned at outlying yards (where turnback tracks are expressly provided), minimizing conflicting movements. Observation at Banqiao revealed substantial transfer activity between TRA and metro.
In the 1990s, ECML trains terminated at Banqiao; WCML trains terminated at Nankang/Keelung. All trains thus operate over the busy Banqiao-Nankang (Bannan) section, effectively providing urban transportation by utilizing surplus capacity on longer-distance through trains. Commuter trains made all suburban stops, while Amtrak-like expresses stopped only at major hubs.
To support metropolitan growth, Banqiao yard moved west to Shulin, and Nankang yard east to Qidu during the mid-2000s, extending through operations to approximately 10 miles either side. Banqiao, Taipei, and Nankang became major interchanges. Like Boston’s NorthPoint project  planned for a Boston & Maine yard, the former Banqiao yard is now Banqiao station and a successful TOD site. Like the CREATE (Chicago Region Environmental and Transportation Efficiency) plan, through-running allows yards and freight facilities to move from center city (Hwashan, Songshan) to suburbs (Shulin, Qidu), with cheaper land and better highway access.
Taipei’s metro shows substantial integration with TRA’s network, reflecting Taipei’s close municipal central government relationship. Taipei Rapid Transit Corporation’s (TRTC) Red Line was converted from TRA’s Damshui branch, while Blue (Bannan) and Green Lines roughly follows TRA’s mainline and the former Hsindian branch. TRA accepts metro farecards within metropolitan Taipei. Four metro lines converge at Taipei Main Station, making subways TRA’s local distribution system. New intercity bus terminals were constructed near Taipei Main Station in 2009. Like NJ Transit’s Newark and LIRR’s Jamaica stations, Banqiao and Nankang interchanges afford TRA penetration into western and eastern neighbourhoods without long hackney rides or backtracking.
TRA’s maximum commercial speed is 130 km/h (81 mph) whereas HSR operates up to 300 km/h (187 mph). Although TRA’s long-distance services potentially competes with HSR, Taiwan’s HSR is focused on origin-destination markets over 100 miles like Taipei-Taichung (HSR – 50 minutes; TRA – 110 minutes), whereas TRA serves shorter-haul trips like Taipei-Hsinchu (35 versus 60 minutes). HSR serves Taipei and Banqiao TRA interchanges via shared corridors; a Nankang extension is under construction. Except for Taipei, HSR stations are located out-of-town, minimizing environmental impacts and property acquisition, maximizing economic development potential, and allowing low curvature alignments. Commuter rail connects HSR with established provincial downtowns, solving “last mile” problems.
In Hsinchu, HSR and TRA stations are three miles apart. Parts of TRA’s Neiwan branch were electrified and rebuilt as a modern commuter railroad, costing US$280 million to connect Hsinchu’s historic downtown with the HSR. Connections generate benefits for both modes and catalyze development near HSR stations, much as Interstate interchanges attracted economic activity. This is a transit-oriented version of Beltway success stories played out across 1980s America.
TRA's infrastructure might be described as making up for lower track miles with sidings. TRA operated single-track sections on busy mainlines until 1998. Double-track sections can accommodate trains at different speeds; passing movements don’t interference with opposing traffic, allowing scheduled throughputs of ~15 trains per hour per direction. Scheduling practices assume staff can respond to unforeseen delays and out-of-sequence trains by dynamically utilizing available infrastructure.
Double-ended sidings (loops) good for typical passenger trains (10~12 cars) are provided at 3~8 mile intervals, at local stations. Some stations have an island platform serving middle siding tracks, and straight-through outside bypass tracks. Schedules provide extra dwell time for trains to hold until an express passes, also serving as en-route recovery time, improving reliability. Some stations in single-track territory feature three passing tracks, allowing freight or other equipment to be stowed while opposing passenger trains pass one another. Close proximity of sidings allow TRA to squeeze 5~6 tph (both directions, mixed traffic) out of single-tracks.
Train terminations and transfers (express/local, branch/mainline) occur at strategic interchanges where double island platforms and full crossovers are provided. Platforms between siding and mainline provide cross-platform transfers, and allow staff to clear terminating trains without obstructing mainline. Where many trains originate/terminate, additional platforms are provided. Crossovers allow convenient layover access and easy multiple-unit (MU) reversals.
Island platforms are not ideal for vertical passenger flow. Side platforms allow direct access from stationhouse through fare control. Through track serves the stationhouse at major stations, where most expresses stop. Middle bypass tracks are available for switching, temporary equipment storage, train preparation, and allows passenger trains to pass freights. Stationhouses are usually on the northbound side (up direction, to Taipei), where originating passengers are voluminous. At minor stations, mainline serves the island platform; locals serve the stationhouse while waiting for overtaking expresses.
Like classic American railroads, TRA’s published timetable specifies train class (thus dispatching priority). Premium-fare expresses, like Tze-Chiang, have highest priority and almost never take sidings. Customers understand the system, and aren't surprised when lower priority trains are held, allowing others to pass. Dispatching decisions are fairly straightforward; even when trains are out of sequence, stationmasters wouldn't hesitate to hold trains if releasing them could delay a subsequent Tze-Chiang. Close proximity of sidings mean unscheduled holds are likely short, usually less than 5 minutes.
TRA’s schedules are not tightly constrained by clock face patterns or policy headways. Extra trains and cars are added on peak travel days to accommodate holiday traffic. 6~8% more departures are scheduled on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. TRA riders span the full gamut including lower-income (students, military) and minorities (Hakka, Taiwanese aborigines) but also choice riders (vacationing families, foreign tourists, monthly commuters). Elderly passengers are common, but wheelchair passengers are rare; not all stations are handicap accessible and not all rolling stock are level-boarding. Fare differentials between expresses and locals provide market differentiation. HSR ridership is observably more affluent, capturing many former airline passengers.
Operations on different railroads are variations of same general principles. TRA’s practices are like JR's – somewhat labour-intensive, but immediate on-site accountability and close supervision contribute to high service quality, good delay-recovery capabilities, skills to execute complex maneuvers, and throughputs closer to theoretical line capacity than otherwise achievable.
Many TRA stations have "stationmaster duty offices." Stationmasters (their deputies, or platform staff) perform train regulation and signalling functions right from the platform, and provide train crew oversight. Two station crewmembers work busy locations, one per direction. They sound a whistle to warn waiting passengers of imminent arrivals. Passengers standing in yellow danger zones are asked to step back. As trains approach, they hand-signal drivers. Unreserved trains (without assigned cars) berth close to fare control, while expresses berth according to platform car markers, minimizing onboard baggage-carrying by passengers looking for assigned seats. Stationmasters may indirectly reduce overruns by providing immediate accountability.
TRA's stationmasters and conductors jointly manage dwell time, like their counterparts at LIRR's Jamaica. Stationmasters regulate trains by enforcing correct train sequences and departure times; holding to time is actually a legal requirement. At transfer locations, they manage connections. About ½-minute prior to departure, stationmasters sound platform bells to signal impending departure. When trains are late, bell is given sooner, shortening dwell times. Once conductors close train doors, stationmasters give the "right away" using platform-mounted equipment. After departure, stationmasters remain on platforms, visually inspecting departing trains.
On board, conductors' primary responsibilities are not ticket examinations – station fare controls provide coverage. Instead, conductors operate doors and announcement systems, ensure onboard safety, sellonboard tickets, provide customer information and assistance, supervise onboard crews,perform emergency procedures, and troubleshoot equipment where possible. The position’s multidisciplinary nature is reflected in Asian terms for "conductor" – Chinese: 列車長 (Mandarin lieh che jhang), 車長 (Cantonese che jeung), or (Japanese) (Japanese sha-shou, still informally used on TRA) – which translates to "consist manager" or "train handler." They have overall responsibility for smooth onboard operations and customer experience, actively directing cleaners, attendants, even bento vendors.
On TRA expresses, cleaners periodically move through the train to remove trash, even proactively asking passengers if visible food items are finished. Train attendants offer bento boxes, drinks, souvenirs, and Sun Cakes (traditional gifts for visiting friends) from small carts.
TRA's tickets were printed on traditional Edmondson presses until Japan's NEC supplied a computerized ticketing and reservation system in the late 1980s. Almost all stations are divided into paid (platform) and unpaid (waiting room) areas. Normally, ticket examiners govern platform access, checking and punching tickets as passengers enter. Conductors perform onboard ticket checks near peak load points or every ~100 miles, verifying that passengers hold train-class appropriate tickets, and dispense step-up and zone extension fares from portable ticket printers. Examiners also control access to unpaid areas at destinations, ensuring all passengers paid full distance-based fares. Used tickets are collected and not returned to passengers unless cancelled by stamps (similar to postmarks). Those arriving without appropriate tickets (i.e. requiring "fare adjustments") are assessed 50% penalties, giving passengers incentives to find conductors on board to purchase step-up fares. Tickets are validated at origin, destination, and sometimes en-route; evasion thus would require elaborate two-ticket schemes or exiting from paid area without going through fare control. Fare evasion rates are thought to be low. Proof-of-payment methods are not used.
TRA's passenger fares are highly regulated and strictly distance/train-class based (short trips <6.3 miles require 34~73 cents minimum fare.) Express fares are 11.7 cents (per passenger-mile); locals are 5.5 cents. Within Taipei municipal zone, single trips are 58 cents regardless of distance/class. Unlike HSR, no time- or demand-based off-peak discounts are offered. Periodic (limited-ride) commutation tickets and multi-ride carnets are available. Fares are generally competitive with private commuter and intercity buses. Express trains operate with higher load factors and are more profitable.
Fare validation requires substantial infrastructure (paid/unpaid areas), labour-intensive manual ticket examinations, and consequent speed-accuracy trade-offs. During the 2000s, TRA incrementally replaced older thermal ticket printers with automated fare collection (AFC) devices using magnetic-backed stock. Busy stations have faregates to speed up validation. Tickets can be inserted in any orientation. Gates align, check, and mechanically punch tickets prior to opening. Validations are fast and can be "pipelined" or "stacked" (i.e. following passenger can insert ticket while previous passenger is proceeding through the gate). Passenger counting sensors quickly close gates when as many passengers entered as valid tickets processed. When exiting, faregates collect and cancel single trip tickets.
Many locations still use heat-sensitive tickets (and TRA's tourist branches still use Edmondsons), requiring one ticket examiner per fare control. Examiners punch and collect non-magnetic tickets, provide customer information and assistance, troubleshoot AFC malfunctions (e.g. mutilated tickets), and return cancelled (stamped) tickets to passengers requiring proof-of-travel for expense claims. TRA volunteers (with yellow vest) staff some gates. Volunteers, like America's auxiliary police and volunteer firefighters, include carefully selected and specifically trained members of the public, and retired industry personnel. They assist passengers, sometimes exercising Japanese or English language skills, and report turnstile jumpers and AFC malfunctions to employees. Station management has considerable latitude in determining work scope of volunteers.
Most TRA stations feature staffed ticket offices, supplemented by ticket vending machines (TVMs) at busy locations. Unreserved single or day-return tickets must be purchased on the day of travel (to prevent ticket reuse), leading to ticket queues at peak commuter periods. Passengers purchasing advance tickets can delay entire queues, causing imminent train departures to be missed. To maximize passenger throughput, separate ticket windows provide train information, today's tickets, and advance or commutation tickets. Some daily ticket windows only accept cash, further decreasing transaction times. Ticket windows at busy stations can be dynamically switched between different functions, minimizing daily ticket queues.
Early machines designed primarily for commuters are essentially receipt printers, accepting only coins (no bills) and prepaid magnetic TransitChek-like cards – not credit cards. Passengers must first insert coins (amount deposited is displayed), then press numerous lighted buttons sequentially to specify traveller count, train class, single/return/concessionary, and destination. Buttons light up only when adequate coins are inserted. TVMs sell only unreserved single/round-trips to local destinations (<50 miles) from the current station. Earlier button presses constrain subsequent choices: destinations for which insufficient fares were paid (in selected train class) do not activate and have no effect.
This machine's target audience is regular travellers who already know required fares. Passenger experiences for first-time customers can be confusing, but once customers learn this TVM, unreserved day ticket transactions are processed much faster than on typical full-feature machines. Machines need only electricity (not network connections) and staff to replace ticket stock, remove coins, and clear jams. Like soda machines, they are robust, self-contained, and have been deployed to remote locations.
Long distance TVMs selling advance-purchase, reserved-seating, and prepaid internet/phone tickets were developed later. These more complex machines, functionally similar to Amtrak's Quik-Trak, are available at principal West coast stations.
TRTC pioneered transitcards in 2000 via affiliate Taipei Smart Card Corporation, which performs backoffice functions for TRTC, Taipei's Taipei Joint Bus System (market-sharing conference) group of bus companies, and other EasyCard merchants. In 2008, TRTC assisted TRA in implementing entry-exit smartcard fare collection for local travel within Taipei's metropolitan zone (Keelung-Zhongli), offering 10% discounts from regular local train fares. Smartcard holders can travel on regular local and express trains, but not Tarokos, sightseeing specials, nor in business class. When travelling on expresses, smartcard seats are unreserved. As expresses are often sold out, EasyCard offers de facto standee discounts.
Origin/destination validation and existing fare control areas made smartcard implementation easier. Instead of punching tickets to enter and relinquishing tickets to exit, users tap-in and tap-out. Faregates are replaced with newer integrated designs as funding allows. In the interim, ticket collectors visually verify each transaction on low-cost stand-alone terminals, allowing rapid deployment.
Smartcard development in Taiwan is currently fluid. With 13 million cards issued, readers for Mifare Classic-based EasyCard are already installed at convenience stores like Family Mart. Legislation authorizing "Third Generation e-Purse" (stored value limit ~US$300) was passed in March 2010, allowing smartcard payments for low-value non-transportation items, like Hong Kong’s Octopus Card. Three major competitors hold regional subway/bus fare collection franchises (Taipei's "Youyoka" EasyCard, Mid-Island’s Taiwan Easy Go "TaiwanTong", and Kaohsiung's "I Pass"), and TRA has active pilots with both EasyCard and TaiwanTong. Taiwan's MOTC expects to eventually integrate all electronic farecard systems nationwide.
Besides single ticket, TRA has also been offering various types of rail pass, with which travelers can ride on trains without buying single tickets. Currently, TRA offers TR Pass to travelers such that they have unlimited ride on trains within the set period. The pass has two versions - the General Pass and the Student Pass. TRA first offered the Student Pass to foreign students in December 2006 in order to attract more foreign visitors. The offer was extended to local students in 2009. Finally, parallel to the Student Pass, a General Pass, which could be used by everyone, was issued in 2010, so as to replace the ineffective "Round-the Island Pass" (環島週遊票), which had been offered since 1998.
The Round-the Island Pass had several restrictions making it unpopular. First, holders of the pass must either travel in the clockwise or anti-clockwise direction without traveling backwards. Secondly, travelers could only pick seven stops to get off and visit. Once a traveler has got off in seven stations, the pass became invalid. These restrictions were deemed too restrictive and limited the use of the pass. After the issue of TR General Pass in 2010, this pass ceased to be issued.
TRA takes a holistic and comprehensive approach towards passenger information. Devices used (in both English and Chinese) range from schedule posters, fixed signage to departure monitors and next-train displays.
Solari-like "flippy-flippies" boards, monitors, or smaller LED displays are provided at major terminals and principal stations. One display per control area shows boarding times and track assignments. Delays as short as one minute are posted. Large acrylic signboards show departure times and fares at smaller stations. Ubiquitous clocks throughout stations and facilities make it difficult to find spots where fewer than two clocks are immediately visible.
Backlit acrylic signs (airport-style with iconic representations) identify platform and carriage numbers, and provide directions to facilities like restrooms and elevators. Boxes display schedules, tourist information, and service change notices. Large signs (legible from passing trains) indicate station names, and distances to previous/next stations, for use by passengers and crew. Platform LED displays provide next train identity, departure time, delay information, and context-sensitive messages, including public service announcements.
TRA's mixed fleet ranges from 1960s hauled stock to new Tarokos and commuter MUs. Newer trains feature automated display/announcement systems with high-density dot-matrix LEDs like Taipei's metro. On long-distance coaches with longer time between station stops, scrolling displays are used. Like in Continental Europe, automated onboard announcements are multilingual. Announcements are in four major languages (Mandarin, Taiwanese, Hakka, and English). In rural areas, announcements are also made in local aboriginal languages; Huatung Line has the Pangcah/Amis tribal dialect. In unusual situations, conductors can usually make announcements in at least two languages.
Trains lacking automatic train location features are not simple to retrofit. TRA devised low-cost multi-lingual "announcement boxes" connected to the public address system, manually triggered by conductors on approach to stations.
Identifying arriving trains quickly and accurately is equally important to employees and passengers. Classically, lighted acrylic destination signboards are manually changed at terminals. Recent modernization efforts provided exterior LED displays showing destination, route, train number, and class. Newest cars have bilingual flexible displays built-in. Train numbers are especially important on expresses, helping customers identify seat reservations.
Under the Railway Reconstruction Bureau, many projects have been undertaken to modernize the railway system and improve its efficiency.
Completed projects include the Taipei Railway Underground Project, a NT$17.792 billion project to move a 4.42 km (2.75 mi) section of railway between Huashan and Wanhua underground. Work began on the project in July 1983 and was completed by September 1989, eliminating 13 railroad crossings. An extension of the project was approved by the Executive Yuan on July 20, 1988. The 5.33 km (3.31 mi) project constructed a double-track tunnel (for both conventional rail and high-speed rail) extending east towards Songshan. The NT$27.48 billion project was completed in June 1994.
The "Wanhua-Banciao Project" was another underground railway project in Taipei aimed at the Wanhua and Banqiao areas. The 15.38 km (9.56 mi) project included the construction of new Banqiao and Wanhua stations. Construction began in September 1992, with underground railway operations beginning in July 1999 and tunnel construction for Taiwan High Speed Rail completed in April 2003. The whole project was completed in 2004. The project also included the construction of a coach yard at Shulin, covering 14.3 ha (143,000 m2) and servicing both diesel multiple units and electric multiple units.
Under the "East Railway Improvement Project", the route between Taipei and Hualien was electrified. The section between Badu (in Keelung) and Taitung was improved by changing to 50 kg rail, automating traffic signals, and including portions of double tracks. Work began in June 1998 and was completed in December 2004, costing NT$43.691 billion. As part of the project, the New Guanyin Tunnel (at 10,307 m (33,816 ft), the longest double track railway tunnel in Taiwan) and the New Yongchun Tunnel were constructed. The "Continued Improvement of Eastern Railways Project" was approved by the Executive Yuan on June 30, 2003, and involved a 5.7 km (3.5 mi) stretch between Dongshan and the Wulaokeng River. It included the construction of the elevated Dongshan Station as well as two branch lines. The project cost NT$2.779 billion, began on February 2004, and was completed by the end of 2008.
The "Shalun Project" was approved on November 5, 2004 and links the TRA and THSR lines around Tainan. The 6.5 km (4.0 mi)-long branch line involved the construction of two brand-new elevated stations: Shalun Station and Chang Jung Christian University Station as well as an elevated Zhongzhou Station. It opened on January 2, 2011.
The "Nangang Project", expected to be completed by August 2011, includes the construction of two 5.4 km (3.4 mi) tunnels between Keelung Road and the Dakeng River (for the TRA and THSR), reconstructing Songshan and Nangang stations as underground stations, construction of a 2 km (1.2 mi) mountain tunnel/ramp for the TRA, construction of a 5 km (3.1 mi) elevated railway, and the construction of the Cidu Marshalling Yard and Wudu Freight Yard. At an estimated cost of NT$83.069 billion, the project is expected to eliminate 15 level crossings and boost the development of the Nangang District. A project to expand the railway tracks between Nangang and Qidu from a double-track to triple-track system is expected to be completed by December 2012, decreasing the interval between trains during peak hours.
Similar to the Shalun Project, the Neiwan Branch Line was approved on September 27, 2004 to connect THSR Hsinchu Station with Hsinchu City. The project will eliminate eight railway crossings between Hsinchu and Zhuzhong. The line totals 11.1 km (6.9 mi) and was completed in 2011. The Liujia Line opened and the Neiwan Line reopened on November 11, 2011.
Since the opening of the new Xinzuoying Station in Zuoying, Kaohsiung, traffic problems have plagued the area. The "Zuoying Extension Plan of the Kaohsiung Railway Underground Project" aims to construct a 4.13 km (2.57 mi)-long single hold, double-tracked tunnel between Xinzuoying and TRA's Zuoying Station. Neiwei Station will also be redeveloped as part of this project.
The "Kaohsiung Project" aims to move railroad lines in Kaohsiung underground as well as the construction of six commuter rail stations. Estimated to cost NT$71.582 billion, the 9.75 km (6.06 mi) tunnel will eliminate six level crossings and fourteen grade separated crossings and remove the railway barrier along the current route. While planning for the project began in 1998, several pre-construction projects have been completed including the movement of the old Kaohsiung Station and the construction of the Jhongbo temporary elevated bridge. The project is expected to be completed by December 2017, and will also include the construction of a new Kaohsiung Station.
Railway lines in eastern Taiwan are undergoing electrification and double-tracking improvements to increase train speeds from 110 km/h (68 mph) to 130 km/h (81 mph). The first phase of the project is expected to be completed by the end of 2013 and will cut travel time between Taipei and Taitung down by about 1.5 hours. Completion of drilling for the Shanli Tunnel, the longest on the modified route, took place in March 2012.
The TRA operates three main rail lines forming a closed loop around the main island of Taiwan and several smaller branch lines.
Trains are divided into five classes, higher classes generally stop at fewer stations resulting in faster service. The classes are:
With the exception of the Ordinary trains, all trains are modern and air conditioned. Many of the Ordinary train cars, on the other hand, are almost 40 to 50 years old, and provide an interesting experience for the more historically minded.
In 1970, the Taiwan Railways Administration solicited equipment loans from the World Bank to increase transport capacity, the most important passenger vehicle is the 35SP32850 class, purchased from a consortium led by Japan's Hitachi, for a total of 27 vehicles.
On February 3, 1970, Chu-Kuang service was initiated with Trains #1011 through #1014 on the West Coast Mainline between Taipei and Taichung, hauled by EMD G22 class diesels (TRA classification R100 class). Fares were set at three times the per-mile cost of ordinary local service, as much as NT$117 for certain origin-destination pairs. On February 20 of the same year, the service was initiated between Taipei and Kaohsiung.
The first Chu-Kuang Expresses in the 1970s used a variety of different vehicles; although the models vary, but the body are universally white with blue line, with one door per side, and in the interior there are carpets and velvet sofa seats. After the completion of the West Coast Main Line Electrification project in 1978, all coach bodies were fully painted into orange livery, and service continued to grow.
1986 saw the introduction of rooftop air-conditioning type Chu-Kuang coaches (10200 series), like the previous launch of 35SPK2200 on the Fu-Hsing Express, the air conditioner is moved to the stainless steel lightweight roof, and each coach was outfitted with a single door per side (manually operated). In addition, these Chu-Kuang saw introduction of TRA's first disability-accessible coach, the FPK11300 type.
TRA uses a variety of railway vehicles to provide both freight and passenger service.
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