A group of railway fans from Australia, Japan and the UK said prior to their departure yesterday that train travel around Taiwan has allowed them to find different reasons to fall in love with the country.
The 14-day trip is the first time that Taiwan worked with foreign travel agencies to present a train extravaganza to a multinational travel group, the Tourism Bureau said.
On Sept. 5, the 51 railway enthusiasts — 12 British, 36 Australian and three Japanese — met in Taipei to experience a line-up of different trains in the country.
After taking rides on the Taipei Mass Rapid Transit, the Taiwan Railway Administration and the Taiwan High Speed Rail, the participants said they were amazed by Taiwan’s railway system.
“We have been really impressed with the quality of the railways, not only the efficiency, punctuality, but also how clean they are,” said Stephen Martin, organizer of the British tour group.
“They are much cleaner than in the UK,” Martin added.
What added to the travel fun, Australian group leader Owen Johnstone-Donnett said, was the friendliness of local people.
During a ride on the Jiji Line, one of the country’s historic branch railways, the group found themselves closely watched after by local people, who asked them constantly if they needed food, drinks or language services.
“It reminded me of the early days of train travel in Australia,” he said. “It created a nostalgic and romantic experience that people go to the countryside and all of the local people are waving at you.”
For rail fan Alison Shillington, there was a pleasant surprise along the journey that has bonded her to Taiwan.
When the group traveled to the Prisoner of War Memorial Wall in New Taipei City (新北市) last week, the 75-year-old Australian unexpectedly found her father’s name on it.
Captured by Japanese troops in Singapore during World War II, Shillington’s father was interned in Taiwan between 1942 and 1944.
The deeply moving experience gave Shillington a chance to understand her father. She said he seldom spoke about his time as a prisoner, but said on many occasions that Taiwan was a beautiful country.
“It was an emotional moment for me,” she said. “I was glad to learn that even at one of the hardest times in his life, my father managed to see the beauty of Taiwan.”