Thu, Jul 04, 2019 - Page 8 News List

The Liberty Times Editorial: Railways a link to past and present

Trains, railway stations and railroads — these have been a core part of the collective memory of Taiwanese for more than 100 years. Trains have enabled people to travel faster and facilitated exchanges between the north and the south, gradually giving shape to a collective concept of life in Taiwan. They were integral to the nation’s modernization in the 20th century.

Given this importance, the Taiwan Railways Administration (TRA) and civic groups have organized the “Back to 1919: Taiwan Railways and Architectural Heritage Exhibition” to mark the 132nd anniversary of Taiwanese railways. The exhibition, showcasing 50 paintings by 29 artists depicting historical sites, is on display until July 31 at Taipei Railway Station.

The exhibition will then go on tour to three other major railway stations around the nation — Taichung Railway Station, Kaohsiung Station and Hualien Station. It is the perfect opportunity for the public to reminisce about Taiwanese culture and explore its diversity.

The railway is a major form of transportation for many, either for commuting or long-distance travel. Aside from regular intercity links, there were also sugarcane trains or half-gauge trains, operated by Taiwan Sugar Corp during the 1950s to 1960s, when the sugar refinery industry was at its height, connecting cities and townships. These smaller trains formed commuting networks in central and southern Taiwan, and facilitated the transit of people between townships.

Trains might differ in form and appearance, but they have become a central part of people’s lives. Railway stations hold a special emotional significance in the collective memory of Taiwanese. Stations and platforms are evocative of feelings, such as the joy of a reunion or the sorrow at bidding farewell to a loved one.

Singer Chang Hsiu-ching’s (張秀卿) Train Station (車站), a Hoklo (commonly known as Taiwanese) song about a poignant parting, made her a household name in the nation: The protagonist’s heart feels heavy as the train that is to carry away her beloved approaches the station, and the feeling gets heavier as she sees other people on the platform happily welcome their family members back home. The lyrics vividly describe the wide range of emotions that people feel at railway stations.

For many, the station is the doorway to their hometown — where the feeling of homesickness intensifies or finds release — as well as the local landmark. It is a hospitable and familiar place. Even now, railway lunchboxes evoke such warm feelings among Taiwanese.

Aside from appealing to the emotions, train stations hold cultural and artistic significance. Railway construction was initiated during the Qing Dynasty by then-Taiwan governor Liu Ming-chuan (劉銘傳), but work was halted after his retirement.

Construction of the larger part of the railway was not finished until the early 20th century, under Japanese colonial rule: the Taiwan Trunk Line (縱貫線) railroad was completed in 1908 with an opening ceremony held in Taichung Park. The former Taichung Railway Station bears witness to the line’s completion, and the Pavilion at Taichung Park Lake was also built for commemorative purposes.

From this point on, train stations — big or small — became architectural showcases, with the so-called “Seven Classic Railway Stations” — Keelung, Taipei, Hsinchu, Taichung, Chiayi, Tainan and Kaohsiung — being the most eye-catching of all. Tainan Station even boasts a railway hotel and restaurant.

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