The Railway Reconstruction Bureau yesterday said it had submitted two proposed routes for a direct railway between Taipei and Yilan for final approval by the Executive Yuan.
Currently, the railway route between Taipei and Yilan runs along the northeastern coast, which passes through stations in New Taipei City (新北市), Rueifang (瑞芳) and Toucheng Township (頭城), Yilan County, among others.
The direct railway project would shorten the journey by establishing an express service between Nangang District (南港) in Taipei and Toucheng. It was proposed to ease traffic on Freeway No. 5 and designed to meet high demand for railway tickets to the east coast during holidays.
Railway Reconstruction Bureau Deputy Director-General Chou Yung-huei (周永暉) said in a presentation that the first proposal links Nangang directly to Toucheng, shortening the route from 72km to 39km.
Chou said the estimated travel time would be reduced from 59 minutes to 33 minutes on the Taroko Express and from 68 minutes to 34 minutes on the Tzu-chiang Express.
The total cost would exceed NT$50.6 billion (US$1.74 billion), he said.
The second proposal would reduce travel distance from 72km to 49km by going on a detour through Dasi (大溪), Yilan County.
The estimated travel time would be cut to 39 minutes on the Taroko Express and to 42 minutes on the Tzu-chiang Express.
The total cost for this option would be NT$39.6 billion.
While the first proposal appeared to be a more effective option for reducing travel time and diverting traffic from Freeway No. 5, Chou said the route would pass through several water veins and geologically fractured zones, adding that the plan could be a tough sell to the Environmental Impact Assessment committee.
“The second proposal bypasses the Sindian River (新店溪) basin and would have a relatively smaller impact on the environment,” Chou said. “The project also costs NT$10 billion less than the first proposal, but the route in the second proposal is not as good as the first one.”
Chou was reluctant to say which option the Executive Yuan would choose.
Meanwhile, the bureau has prepared a plan to improve the existing railway line along the northeast coast as an alternative in case the two proposals do not work out. While construction costs would drop to NT$34 billion, the improvement would only reduce the distance of the existing railway route by 12km and travel time by 12 to 16 minutes.
Chou said it could take at least 15 months before the finalized construction plan can be submitted for an environmental impact assessment.
When considering the time that will be spent on the assessment, route design, land expropriation and the actual construction of the railway route, either project could take 11 years to complete, Chou said.
Chou said the direct railway project would divert up to 21 percent of traffic from Freeway No. 5, adding that this could rise to 42 percent if the Ministry of Transportation and Communications lowered railway ticket prices or provided other incentives.