Railway agency mulls moving offices

VITAL ASSETS::The TRA could turn the space at the Taipei Railway Station into a shopping center, boost its revenue and give commuters a break, pundits said

By Tseng Hung-ju and Jake Chung  /  Staff reporter, with Staff writer

Tue, Dec 04, 2012 - Page 5

The Taiwan Railways Administration (TRA) is assessing the viability of making the Taipei Railway Station “taller,” moving its main office to another location and turning the space into a shopping center, TRA Director-General Frank Fan (范植谷) said recently.

Fan said central bank Governor Perng Fai-nan (彭淮南) suggested more than a month ago to Premier Sean Chen (陳冲) that the Taipei Railway Station could “be a little taller.”

Peng’s idea has garnered wide support, Fan said, adding that the TRA would outsource the task of evaluating its viability.

A full reconstruction of the Taipei Railway Station would affect too large an area, but adding a few floors would be easier and ensure structural safety, he said.

“The TRA has made a rough estimate of the viability of adding floors to the station. If we use light steel materials for the additional floors, they wouldn’t place too much of a strain on structural safety,” Fan said, adding that there is a limit to how many floors can be added.

Currently, the TRA leases the second floor, part of the ground floor and the first basement floor to Breeze Square. Despite the limited space, the revenue generated by the shops on those floors has exceeded expectations.

TRA’s contract with Breeze Square stipulates a minimum revenue of NT$60 million (US$2.06 million), but estimates show that sales this year could easily surpass NT$100 million, Fan said.

Some TRA officials have suggested moving the railway agency’s offices to the nearby Taipei Twin Towers project, and turning the vacated offices — currently taking up the third to sixth floors of the station — into a commercial center, Fan said.

After the Taipei Twin Towers are completed, the TRA would regain use of 60,000 ping (198,300m2) of land, he added.

The idea and the TRA’s approach have met with approval from members of the public and railway experts.

A commuter surnamed Yang (楊) said he often used the time waiting for the train to buy some sweets on the first floor or go to the second floor for a meal.

Having a shopping center will be an even better way for commuters to while their time away as they wait for trains, he added.

Another commuter, surnamed Lin (林), said it was hard to imagine how the TRA — which has been running a deficit for years — could sit on such a vital asset for so long.

If the TRA were to move its offices to the suburbs and change the station into a mall, it would revitalize its finances and help it develop a closer connection to the public, Lin said.

“It’s about time that the TRA came to its senses,” railway expert Hung Chih-wen (洪致文) said, adding that the TRA using the station — situated in the heart of downtown — as an office building was a waste.

Foreign railway companies usually move their headquarters to the suburbs, while reserving the station itself for commercial use, Hung said.

Since railway staff do not have to pay to take the train, the TRA should not just move its headquarters to the Twin Towers, but should instead move to the suburbs, Hung said.

However, there were also dissenting voices within the TRA who said the station’s main purpose is transportation and there are already too many people coming and going from the station.

Should the station become a commercial center, the sheer amount of pedestrian traffic would create an even bigger problem, they said, adding that the TRA’s dispatch center is also housed in the station and it would be difficult to move it elsewhere.