Fri, Nov 22, 2019 - Page 13 News List

Highways and Byways: Railway culture at Taian

Taian Lovers Tree, a small bald cypress forest and views of Huoyan Mountain are some of the attractions that greet visitors at two retired train stations in Taichung’s Houli District

By Steven Crook  /  Contributing reporter

Colorful conifers inside the Secret World of Taian’s Bald Cypresses in Taichung’s Houli District.

Photo: Steven Crook

I’d cycled down from the mid-elevation mountains that separate Nantou County from Taichung City, then found yet more hills lay between me and the train station where I planned to leave my bike. By the time I reached Taian (泰安), it had been dark for more than an hour. Sightseeing would have to wait until I returned.

Taian TRA Station isn’t in Miaoli County’s Taian Township (泰安鄉), but rather in Houli District (后里區) in Taichung City. It’s less than 500m from the southbank of the Daan River (大安溪), the other side of which belongs to Miaoli County’s Sanyi Township (三義鄉).

When I returned by local train a few days later, the weather was perfect. From the station’s platform, which is elevated well above the plain, I enjoyed excellent views over the surrounding countryside. Looking upriver, I could see the Daan River Iron Bridge (大安溪鐵橋), part of what’s known as the Old Mountain Line (舊山線).

Between 1908 and 1998, this bridge carried passenger and freight trains across the Daan River. When the authorities inaugurated a straighter alternative rail route between Houli TRA Station and Sanyi TRA Station, a 15.9-km-long stretch of tracks was retired, as were eight tunnels, three bridges, and two station buildings.

The more famous of the two old stops is Shengsing Station (勝興火車站). At an altitude of 402 meters above sea level, it used to be the highest point on Taiwan’s conventional railway network. Every weekend, Shengsing Station draws crowds of tourists.

Far fewer people go to Taian Railway Cultural Park (泰安鐵道文化園區), which preserves the old Taian station. I broke the short ride between the new and old stations by stopping at a couple of local attractions just off Anmei Road (安眉路).

IF YOU GO

Getting there and around

The distance from Taian’s current station to the former station via the Bald Cypress plantation is a bit over 1.6km one way, so you might want to rent a YouBike. To do so, turn right as you exit the current railway station. You can check the availability of bikes by visiting i.youbike.com.tw/station/map. If you prefer traveling by bus, the #211 and #214 services connect Taian with Fengyuan (豐原) and Dajia (大甲) in Taichung. Both stop very close to the former station, where there’s another YouBike rental point.


The first was Taian Lovers Tree (泰安情人樹), on the grounds of Taian Elementary School (泰安國民小學). It’s actually a pair of banyan trees. In combination, they create an impressive patch of shade — but I think another tree nearby is more photogenic.

Beside the unnumbered lane that leads to Taian’s much-Instagrammed plantation of bald cypresses, a big tree stands behind a shrine to the local land god. At the time of my visit, it was leafless and perhaps lifeless, yet still wrapped with a red ribbon to symbolize its holy status. The lack of obvious health caused me to wonder: In local popular religion, what happens when a sacred tree dies?

The Secret World of Taian’s Bald Cypresses (泰安落羽松祕境) is smaller than a soccer pitch, and it isn’t the only place in Taiwan where you can see Taxodium distichum, a deciduous conifer species that’s native to the southeastern parts of the US. But on the day I visited, the orange, red and yellow leaves, together with the blue autumn sky, made for a lovely sight.

The main station building at Taian Railway Cultural Park is concrete, and while it lacks the allure of the picturesque Japanese colonial-era wooden structure at Shengsing, it has a certain appeal. The entrance is above street level but lower than the actual tracks. These remain in place, and it’s possible to walk northeast along them for about 700m to Daan River Iron Bridge. The old platform looks like an ideal spot for a picnic.

Between the tracks and the hillside, shaped like an artillery shell pointing at the sky, the Earthquake Rehabilitation Monument (震災復興紀念碑) commemorates both the April 21, 1935 tremor (the deadliest earthquake in Taiwan’s recent history, killing 3,422 people) and the reconstruction efforts which followed it. The quake wrecked Longteng Broken Bridge (龍騰斷橋, also known as Yutengping Broken Bridge, 魚藤坪斷橋), which is 4.8km north as the crow flies and now a tourist attraction almost as popular as Shengsing Station.

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