The government has proposed that the high-speed rail be extended from Kaohsiung to Pingtung County. A dispassionate discussion of the issue shows that extending the high-speed rail to the southernmost city is unlikely to help Pingtung residents going north.
A projection of the number of passengers taking the high-speed train from Pingtung after an extension would not be very high, as a train running through Pingtung would be categorized as an “all-stop” train that stops at every station; it would likely take more than three hours to travel from Pingtung to Taipei.
The Taiwan Railways Administration (TRA) provides train services between Kaohsiung’s Zuoying District (左營) and Pingtung, and the fastest trains only take about half an hour. The main problem is the lack of timetable coordination between the TRA and the Taiwan High Speed Rail Corp (THSRC), which means that the TRA train services fail to serve as a shuttle to and from the high-speed train.
An express high-speed train runs from Zuoying to Taipei five minutes before every hour. If a person took a TRA train at 9:10am in Pingtung and arrived in Zuoying at 9:40am, they would have sufficient time to transfer to the THSRC for the high-speed train departing for Taipei at 9:55am — as the TRA and the THSRC stations in Zuoying are housed together — and would arrive in Taipei at 11:30am.
The whole trip would only take about two hours, 20 minutes — about 40 minutes faster than the planned “all-stop” high-speed train from Pingtung to Taipei.
Why should the government go through a lot of trouble just to extend the high-speed rail to Pingtung?
If a person wanted to take a high-speed train that skips a few stations, they would only need to wait five more minutes to depart at 10am.
Also, a person traveling to Yunlin, Changhua or Miaoli would have to take an “all-stop” high-speed train. They would only need to wait less than half an hour and depart at 10:25am — and there are fewer passengers on these slow trains.
In other words, if the TRA provided hourly shuttle trains between Pingtung and Kaohsiung, it would in effect function as an extension of the high-speed rail.
The THSRC could also save Pingtung passengers the trouble of having to buy tickets again when transferring at the Zuoying Station by selling tickets between Taipei or any other city and Pingtung.
After transfer passengers exit from the THSRC’s Zuoying Station, they could enter the TRA’s Zuoying Station with the same THSRC ticket, and then exit from the TRA’s Pingtung Station, and vice versa. There would be no technical difficulties in achieving this.
As for the THSRC’s ticket revenue from the Kaohsiung-Pingtung section, it should share the profits with the TRA, which surely would be pleased to benefit from running the hourly shuttle trains.
No matter how you calculate it, even if the THSRC were to take responsibility for purchasing the shuttle trains for the TRA’s use and the ticket gate upgrades, as well as cleaning and maintaining the shuttle trains, there would be huge savings compared with building a high-speed rail extension from Kaohsiung to Pingtung.
If the THSRC is not pushed to carry out a money-loosing extension project, it will not be forced to raise ticket prices and operations will not be affected.
Pingtung residents could still enjoy the convenience of the high-speed train services by just walking a few steps to transfer and high-speed rail passengers would not have to pay considerably more. That way, everyone would win.
Ku Ling is a writer.
Translated by Eddy Chang
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