Wed, Jul 27, 2016 - Page 14 News List

A very brief history of Taiwan’s railways

The Railway Authority Building of the Office of the Governor-General of Taiwan is pictured on Sunday last week in Taipei.

Photo: Ethan Zhan, Taipei Times

As the sun is going down, as the workers are heading for home, a northbound train is racing by the Keelung river on the MRT’s Tamsui Line.

There was a man sitting in the window seat right next to me. He looked utterly distraught. Tears were running down his face and falling to the floor. I asked him: “Got fired?”

The man said nothing, but the tears kept coming.


With that, the man started bawling. The whole car was full of people, who, seeing him in such a state, could not help feeling sorry for him. While some hoped I would leave the poor guy alone, others thought I should help him let it all out.

“Are they really worth it?” I asked. Then, “where are you heading, anyway?”

With tears streaming down his face, the man said, “I have no idea whether it’s worth it. I’m not even sure I know where this relationship is heading. Have you heard the song, ‘Up and Down Zhongxiao East, Nine Times’? It’s one of my favorite songs. But my heart’s not in it now. I don’t feel like walking. And so I’m riding the Tamshui line instead, nine times there and back.”

I saw this as a chance to change the subject. “Speaking of the Tamshui Line,” I said, “did you know this line used to be a regional branch line of the Taiwan Railways Administration, not an MRT line?” I asked.

“I didn’t know that. I don’t know anything!”

“There’s no need for that,” I said. “So you don’t know about the history of the Tamshui Line, but you surely know that both China and Japan ruled Taiwan at different times, don’t you?”

“Yes, I know that part,” he said, then went back to wailing.

“The Qing did build some railroads in Taiwan, but only between Taipei and Hsinchu, and they were not very well constructed. The trains would often just stop working and people had to get out and push.”


1) Have you ever lost someone or something you loved? Was it easy for you to let go? How long did it take for the pain of loss to go away?

1) 你是否曾經失去你所摯愛的人事物?放下對你來說容不容易?你花多久的時間才從痛楚中走出來?

2) When was the West Truck Line completed?

2) 縱貫線是何時完工的?

3) In addition to the Danshui Line, are there other branch lines in Taiwan? Can you name three of them? What were their functions when they were built?

3) 淡水線之外,台灣還有哪些鐵路支線?你能否列出其中三條?當初興建時,它們的功能是什麼?

“That sucks.”

“So when the Japanese came, the first thing they did was build railroads. With railroads, they could transport both people and goods inland.”

“That makes sense.”

“However, roads in Taiwan were very hard-going at that time. Goods transported to Tamsui Harbor were not easily transported into Taipei by road, and so they built the Tamshui Line. It was inaugurated on Aug. 25, 1901. Seven years later, the West Truck Line that ran from Keelung in the north to Kaohsiung in the south was completed. It not only facilitated transport between the south and the north, but also made it possible to easily deliver products from various parts of Taiwan, such as sugar, coal and rice, elsewhere. Also, before the West Truck Line began operation, people living in Taipei probably had little idea of what was going on in other parts of the island. The same can be said about Taichung and Kaohsiung. Nobody thought of Taiwan as one entity. But after the trains started running, a sense of unity developed. Different parts of Taiwan became places people could actually visit, not places they had not even heard of.”

“The railway sounds impressive.”

“It was. Precisely because the railway was important, not long after the West Truck Line was completed, the Office of the Governor-General of Taiwan began constructing the Taitung Line.”

“So, what happened to the Tamsui Line?”

“As convenient as the Tamsui Line was, it was a single-track railway. In order to make way for an electrified double-track railway, the last train to depart for Tamsui bid farewell on July 15, 1988, and an MRT line was built to take its place.”

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