Environmental and other civic groups yesterday said that the government should implement measures to control the flow of visitors to the Alishan National Scenic Area in the interests of safety and environmental sustainability.
The suggestion came amid growing debate over the operations of the Alishan Forest Railway in the wake of a crash on the line that killed five Chinese tourists and injured about another 100 last month.
Railway Cultural Society vice president Ku Ting-wei --(古庭維) said the government should cap the number of tourists allowed access to the area at any one time to ensure the railway functions safely.
The introduction of such controls would also help achieve a balance between the development of tourism and environmental protection, he said.
This is something that railway enthusiasts and environmentalists would like to see happen, Ku said.
“The real problem is there are too many tourists,” he said.
Tourism Bureau statistics show that more than 710,000 tourists -visited Alishan last year.
Ku said the situation is out of control and warned that if the authorities fail to implement better tourism management in the area, it would only get worse when Taiwan lifts restrictions on individual Chinese tourists.
Currently, Chinese tourists are only permitted to visit Taiwan as part of a group sponsored by a Taiwanese tour agency.
Ku’s views were supported by Citizens of the Earth, Taiwan chairman Lee Ken-cheng (李根政).
It is extremely important to conduct an overall study on the environmental impact of the -Alishan Railway for the government to determine how best to maintain the popular tourism site, Lee said.
“Alishan has not been able to sustain high-volume tourism since the 921 earthquake and Typhoon Morakot,” he said, referring to two deadly natural disasters that occurred in 1999 and 2009 respectively, causing -widespread devastation in central Taiwan and destabilizing some areas geologically.
“Since the Alishan Line is part of Taiwan’s cultural and natural heritage, the government should include not only engineers, but also ecologists and geologists as it seeks to develop proper tourism controls once the railway resumes operations,” he said.