The Alishan (阿里山) railway, closed a month ago after it was damaged by a landslide, will reopen to passenger services today, forestry officials said yesterday.
Officials at the Chiayi office of the Forestry Bureau said the repair work was completed 10 days ahead of schedule after extra manpower and excavators were brought in. The officials added that a test run would be conducted before the line was reopened to passengers.
They said second-stage repairs to rebuild the damaged No. 42 tunnel, located 59km from Chiayi Station, were scheduled for completion in eight months.
A 100m section of the railway line near the tunnel was damaged by a landslide on June 24.
An alert train driver with 27 years of experience prevented a major accident by stopping the train in the tunnel, only 1m short of a huge pile of rocks that blocked the railway.
The driver said he applied the brake after sensing something was wrong because the echo in the tunnel was extremely loud and there was no light at the end of tunnel.
He received a citation from the government in recognition of his vigilance, which saved more than 100 passengers from potential injury.
The Alishan railway is one of the world's three remaining alpine railways. The other two are located in the Himalayas in northern India and the Andes of South America.
Opened in 1912 while Taiwan was under Japanese rule, the narrow-gauge railway was built to haul timber down the mountain. Today, it is mainly used to transport the more than 200,000 tourists who visit Alishan annually to see the area's beauty at an altitude of more than 2,200m.
The scenic railway line winds its way up from the subtropical plains to mountainous pine forests in just 72km, crossing more than 80 bridges and passing through around 50 tunnels. Its route includes a series of switchbacks.
Although the train operates at an annual loss of about NT$110 million (US$3.35 million), the government has decided to preserve the line for its historic value and to boost local tourism.