Mon, Feb 26, 2007 - Page 2 News List

Feature: Fight over Xinbeitou station not over

By Ko Shu-ling  /  STAFF REPORTER

The construction project to replace Taipei's Zhongshan Bridge has kept the long and contentious debate over the fate of the 77-year-old landmark fresh in the minds of the city's residents.

Ending more than a decade of controversy, former Taipei City Mayor Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) announced in 2002 that the bridge would be dismantled and moved to a different location.

Not all historic heritage controversies have attracted as much public attention.

For several years, Chen Lin-sung (陳林頌) and Chang Yu-wen (張聿文) have fought to have the Xinbeitou (新北投) train station returned to Taipei City's Beitou District (北投) after it was closed in 1988 and moved to the Taiwan Folk Village in Changhua County in 1992.

While the folk village claims full ownership of the building, which currently houses museum exhibits, cultural workers and local opposition leaders want to see the station returned to its original site.

They have even threatened legal action.

The museum management says that they do not understand why the city wanted the station now, when it did not want it years ago.

At the time, the Taiwan Railway Administration (TRA) had no interest in keeping the station. When the Taipei-Tamsui (淡水) line of the Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) system was being built, the TRA transferred ownership of the station and land to Taipei City.

The city's Mass Rapid Transit Corp has said it tried in vain to find a suitable place to relocate the station, and when the museum expressed interest in having it as a long-term display item, the company sold it to them for the price of NT$1.

The Xinbeitou station was erected by the Japanese in 1916 to anchor the sub-line connecting the Taipei and Tamsui railway systems, thus making transportation to the hot springs on the outskirts of Taipei more convenient. This led to the building of a public bath house, Beitou Park and the expansion of the Beitou resort area.

The fight over the restoration of the Xinbeitou train station started in 2004, when Chen and Chang launched their campaign.

Chang says his reasoning is simple -- it only makes sense for the Xinbeitou station to be located at Xinbeitou.

Chen, a graduate of National Taiwan University's urban planning, holds the same view.

"It was a big mistake to let go of such a historic landmark," he said.

But years of negotiations with the Taiwan Folk Village have born no fruit.

Chen said conserving historical sites was not very popular a decade ago. Residents felt a new, big station would be better than an old, dingy, small one.

On the other hand, environmental conservation was already a strong movement years ago, he said. Seven years ago, he fought to block a plan to build a cable car system to take tourists from Xinbeitou to Yangmingshan National Park.

Taipei City officials insisted that the line would ease traffic problems in Yangmingshan National Park and boost Beitou's waning economy, but Chen argued it would do the opposite.

Chen lost that battle, but today still feels the effort was worthwhile because he said it meant a lot for a community to work together for a common goal.

As the nation welcomes the new high-speed railway, the traditional railway is suffering, Chen said. He is worried more and more historic stations will be closed down or neglected.

The Xinbeitou station is not the only train station that has lost out to modern changes. The TRA just closed down the 110-year-old Chidu (七堵) station in Keelung. Officials plan to relocate the station and promote it as a tourist attraction. A modern concrete building will be built in its place.

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