Wed, May 25, 2005 - Page 13 News List

Trains cater to tourists

Traveling around Taiwan by train takes in the country's scenic attractions and avoids the traffic. photos courtesy of Taiwan Railway Administration

STAFF REPORTER

Some of the most picturesque of the remaining Japanese colonial-style stations include Shengshing (勝興), Taian (泰安), Hsinpu (新埔), Jueifen (追分) and Renan (日南).

Before setting out to explore Taiwan by rail, passengers should first consider the speed and comfort with which they intend to travel. The TRA operates three classes of long-distance rail service and one type of electric commuter train.

The fastest and most comfortable of the long-distance classes is the ziqiang (自強號), or express train. The ziqiang can reach a top speed of 120kph, but the average speed is around 94kph. All the carriages are air-conditioned and the large windows allow passengers to enjoy some splendid scenery as the train hurtles past. The ziqiang trains only stop at a handful of stations on both the west and east coast- routes.

A slower and slightly less comfortable choice of train is the juguang class (莒光號). While the top speed of the locomotives that pull juguang class carriages is 100kph, the trains rarely reach this speed and amble along at a pleasant 70kph. Stops are more frequent than on the ziqiang class, but for those looking to explore some of Taiwan's lesser-known and out-of-the-way locales, this is probably the best way to do it.

The slowest and least comfortable of Taiwan's trains is the fuxing (復興號) class. Tickets are cheaper, but if you plan to circumnavigate the island on the fuxing, you'll need a hefty tome, a strong back and a lot of patience, since the trains stop at all the stations on all of the routes and have rather unsanitary toilet facilities.

TRA operations run 24 hours day, but there are no sleeping compartments on any of the trains. Not all trains cater to passengers with disabilities, and for those who rely wheelchairs, it is best to check TRA's schedule for information regarding wheelchair accessibility before purchasing a ticket.

A pleasant alternative to station hopping on regular trains is to purchase a ticket on one of the nation's special Tourist Trains (觀光列車). Operated jointly by TRA and EZ Travel, the carriages of some of these trains are easily recognizable. Painted blue and covered in Aboriginal artwork, these trains first took to the tracks in 2000 with the Hualien Tourist Train (花蓮觀光列車).

The special carriages, with their oversized airplane-business-class-like seating, large windows and dining cars where everything from coffee to regionalized lunchboxes can be purchased, proved such a hit with local tourists that TRA and EZ Travel added more routes; there are now five Tourist Trains operating daily.

The Hotspring Princess (溫泉公主號) travels from Taipei to the hotsprings township of Chiben. The Kenting Star (墾丁之星) carries passengers to Taiwan's favorite seaside resort town. The Southern Link Star (南迴之星) plies the island's southern rail route from Taitung to Kaohsiung, and the Treasure Island Star (寶島之星) traverses the entire island.

Along with offering travelers the chance to relax in over-sized seating comfort, the windows on these trains are twice as large as those of regular carriages. And in contrast to the rather dowdy uniforms worn by regular TRA staffers, Tourist Train staff wear traditional Aboriginal costumes or colorful sarongs, depending on the route.

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