The Taiwan Railway Administration (TRA) and the Taiwan High Speed Rail Corp (THSRC) were inundated with booking requests after both started taking reservations for travel over the Lunar New Year period yesterday.
This year’s holidays begin on Jan 24, with many people not returning to work until Feb.1 or Feb. 2.
The TRA’s online and telephone booking systems opened at 6am. By 4pm, the TRA had sold 337,404 tickets with approximately 34,000 tickets sold within three minutes of sales commencing.
Yesterday, the TRA only allowed the public to book tickets for trains heading to the east coast. South bound tickets for the west coast will be available as of today.
By 4pm yesterday, eastbound tickets for express trains leaving after 11am on Jan. 23, as well as those leaving on Jan. 24 and Jan. 28, had all been sold. Tickets for northbound trains leaving between 11am and 4pm from Jan. 26 to Feb.1 were also sold out. Tickets for express trains between Kaohsiung and Pingtung were sold out from Jan. 23 to Jan. 29 as well as from Jan. 27 to Feb. 1.
Online purchases proved particularly popular as the administration was offering a 5 percent discount for online credit card payments.
A group of students from Hualien studying in Taipei woke in the small hours to try to book a train seat home, but only managed to secure three tickets between them.
Armed with a laptop and three cellphones, Tsai Chung-yueh (蔡中岳), a Hualien native who attends National Taipei University, led a group of his peers to Taipei Main Station at 6am to log onto the TRA online booking page for a ticket home for the Lunar New Year.
The students wanted to make a public display of how difficult it was to obtain tickets online.
While Tsai managed to buy a Taroko Express ticket for the evening of Jan. 23 at the first attempt, subsequent attempts were not as successful. After 30 minutes of rapid and continuous clicking, the students got through to the booking page just 10 times, with only three tries leading to ticket purchases. On the other occasions the trains they wanted were fully booked.
They were completely unable to get through to the booking system via their cellphones.
“Not everyone was as lucky as I was, I hope that in the future everyone will be able to buy a ticket home,” Tsai said.
People often have to stand on trains for four to five hours, “if they are lucky to even get on the train,” he said.
Those unable to buy tickets yesterday may still have a chance on Friday, the deadline for ticket collection for customers who made reservations yesterday. Uncollected tickets will be re-sold.
Many passengers trying to secure a high speed rail ticket online had trouble accessing both the online and telephone booking systems after they began processing requests at 12am yesterday.
The company said a rapid increase in ticket requests caused the system to slow down and was in the process of addressing the problem as of press time.