Mon, Jan 01, 2007 - Page 2 News List

TRA to compete by offering new trains

COMPETITION Taiwan's railway administration is trying to innovate in an effort to stave off losses to the High Speed Rail by adding a new line of tilting rail cars

By Shelley Shan  /  STAFF REPORTER

The competition between the nation's two railway systems has intensified as the two attempt to woo customers through ticket discounts, new trains and faster service.

The Taiwan High Speed Rail Corp (THSRC) announced last week that the trial operations of the high speed rail would begin on Friday.

During the trial operations, passengers will receive a 50 percent discount on tickets. The company will start taking orders for tickets tomorrow.

The Taiwan Railway Administration (TRA), on the other hand, began test runs yesterday of its first batch of "tilting trains," which it purchased from Japan's Marubeni Corp.

Tilting trains are designed to counteract centrifugal force when they pass through curves at high speeds.

The TRA has purchased 48 tilting cars from Marubeni -- an investment that cost the debt-laden state-run corporation NT$2.8 billion (US$87.5 million).

Twenty-four of the cars arrived last month. Each tilting train will consist of eight cars.

The administration has decided to name the service "Taroko" after the national park in eastern Taiwan, as initially the trains will mostly operate between Taipei and Hualien.

The operating speed of the trains can reach 130kph.

"According to the contract, the trains are supposed be tested for at least 60 days before official operations could begin," said Chang Ying-huei (張應輝), TRA secretary-general.

"But if things go smoothly, we might start allowing passengers to take the trains during test runs, including those that will be carried out during the Lunar New Year," Chang said.

To satisfy the curiosity of many, the administration had one of the new trains stop for about 20 minutes at Taipei Railway Station yesterday, allowing the press to take a brief tour of its interior before it continued test runs for the rest of the day.

Each train is equipped with leather seats. For each seat, a small, foldable dining table can be taken up from an armrest. Passengers can also hang their coats on hooks next to the window.

The distance between the rows of seats is sufficient for passengers to comfortably stretch their legs while seated.

They can also switch on lights above the seats to read during the journey.

"Outwardly, the train looks no different from the Taiwan High Speed Rail," said one passenger who was about to board another train at the same platform yesterday morning.

Chang said tickets for the trains would cost the same as those for Tzuchiang Express (自強號) trains.

A one-way ticket from Taipei to Hualien will cost NT$445 and the travel time will be reduced from three hours to less than two hours.

The administration said that when it receives its second batch of tilting trains in October, it will consider operating some of them along the west coast.

The Tzuchiang Express is the highest train class now offered by the TRA.

Last week, Vice Minister of Transportation and Communications Ho Nuan-hsuen (何煖軒), a former acting director-general of the TRA, said he suggested that the administration give customers a 30 percent discount for taking trains during off-peak hours in order to retain a competitive edge.

Chang said, however, that the administration would only consider Ho's suggestion after it is able to compare the performance of the high-speed rail with the TRA.

"We are still competitive, particularly in terms of transporting passengers from Changhua to Taipei and on to Hualien," Chang said.

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