When Briton Phil Wood heard that he was needed to go to Taiwan and help test EMU100-model trains in 1979, he gladly accepted the assignment, even though he had just bought a house two months before.
“I was thrilled by it. I loved it.” Wood said. “I had been on holiday in August. I came back to the office Tuesday morning, and the chief engineer called me into his office and said he needed a commissioning engineer on these trains in Taiwan. I was single and did not have any problems … He wanted me to be on the plane Thursday and I had only two days to get ready. I had to literally drop everything.”
While Wood thought he would be staying for two months, he ended up staying six.
“I really enjoyed it,” Wood said. “The countries in Europe have some differences, but those differences became subtle when you come here. You can’t imagine how dramatically different everything was. I found it interesting and exciting to come here to see a different style of life.”
Now 57, Wood returned to Taiwan with his wife this month to visit their son, who is an English teacher here. Aside from revisiting Taroko Gorge and Sun Moon Lake, one of the highlights of the trip was to see the EMU100 trains he had worked on as a General Electric Co (GE) engineer again.
“It [the EMU100] was just the same as I remembered it: Cream and brown colors along the side [of the coaches], the TRA [Taiwan Railway Administration] logo and the comfortable seats,” he said. “When I actually did see it today, touching it, going to the cab and trying the seat, it brought back a lot of happy memories of a time when I was young, adventurous and exploring Taiwan for the first time.”
The only difference between the trains then and now were the orange stripes painted on the front of the cars for safety purposes and the voyage data recorder (VDR) electronic panel in the driver’s cabin, he said.
Recalling the experiences of working with TRA staff, Wood said that the real challenge was for the TRA employees to learn how to use the electronic control system for what he called the “luxury trains.”
“Those days, they [the TRA] still had a lot of steam engines and diesel-powered trains that were quite basic in terms of mechanics,” he said. “The [EMU100] suspension system had airbags, which were like rubber balloons bouncing up and down, and each coach sat on four of these rubber balloons, which were new to them [TRA staff]. People had a lot of challenges in learning how to deal with them.”
He said that the EMU100 trains ran on both the coast line and the mountain line, and his job was to make sure that the trains’ electronic systems worked properly to prevent the wheels from spinning while traveling along the mountain line.
The airbags did not work the same in Taiwan as in the UK because of differences in the two nations’ track systems. The UK uses a standard track with a gauge of 1.435m, while the Taiwanese system uses a narrower gauge of 1.067m, Wood said.
Wood said he worked six days a week and would leave from Taipei Railway Station to go to the Nangang Depot. He said that he enjoyed traveling on the railway and being responsible for the train. He also said he had memories of the “TRA ladies” in blue uniforms serving tea and boxed lunches on board.
Eating a TRA lunch box again for the first time in decades, he said — in Mandarin — that it still tasted delicious.