Fri, Nov 30, 2018 - Page 13 News List

Highways and Byways: A road built for trainspotting

Taking Pingtung County Road 147-1 by bicycle

By Steven Crook  /  Contributing reporter


However, I wasn’t cycling up 147-1 to look at watermelon plantations. I wanted to get photos of trains chugging along the South Link. The first place I stopped for this was precisely 10km from the Provincial Highway 1 turnoff.

For several years, Fangye Signal Station (枋野號誌站) was a conventional station where some Kaohsiung–Taitung services stopped for passengers to board and disembark. But so few passengers used it that Taiwan Railways Administration (TRA) eventually downgraded it to a signal station.

Within 10 minutes of arriving at the station, an express train approached from the west, then disappeared into one of the South Link’s 36 tunnels. I freewheeled back to 147-1, and right away was stopped at a Forestry Bureau checkpoint. The sentry told me I didn’t have to sign in or show any ID. I guess I didn’t look like a tree rustler.

A few minutes later, a concrete bridge took me across a tributary of Fangshan Creek. Before following 147-1 farther inland, I headed up a steep side road in the hope of sighting more trains.

That was where I found a perfect spot to take photos. I’d see any train as soon as it emerged from the tunnel on the other side, and have several seconds to snap away as it crossed the valley. But 20 minutes and zero trains later, I gave up waiting.

Three kilometers on — 13.9km from the Highway 1 turnoff, according to my fitness tracking app — I ran out of road to travel. Even though Google Maps shows 147-1 continuing a little beyond the Central Signal Station (中央號誌站), in reality it goes no farther than the western mouth of the longest tunnel on the South Link.

I chatted to a couple of TRA employees, took pictures of a westbound express train as it emerged from the 8.07km-long Central Tunnel (中央隧道) and gazed at the ford that seemed to be the only onward option.

According to the site supervisor, the rough track on the other side of the river goes “very far” into the mountains. So I’ve been thinking: When can I come back equipped for an overnight stay?

Steven Crook has been writing about travel, culture and business in Taiwan since 1996. Having recently co-authored A Culinary History of Taipei: Beyond Pork and Ponlai, he is now updating Taiwan: The Bradt Travel Guide.

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