The Taiwan Railways Administration (TRA) said it will start assisting the Forestry Bureau in the management and operation of the Alishan Forest Railway on Wednesday.
The two administrations signed a contract at the Chiayi Train Depot on Friday in which the TRA agreed to assist the bureau in managing and operating the World Heritage-designated railway from Wednesday to Dec. 31, 2015.
The agreement will also transfer the ownership of the railway from the bureau to the TRA in 2016.
Initially a logging railway that was built during the Japanese colonial era, the forest line’s management was outsourced to Hungtu Alishan International Development Co in a build-operate-transfer (BOT) contract in 2008.
The decision to allow the TRA to take over the historic line’s operation was made by the Executive Yuan in 2009, one year after the nation was devastated by Typhoon Marakot. Because Hungtu failed to repair the damage the typhoon caused the railway line, the Forestry Bureau terminated the BOT contract with the company in 2010. Since 2010, the bureau and TRA have engaged in several discussions about taking over the forest line.
The bureau said the Alishan Forest Railway has existed for more than 100 years and is known for its spiraling route, Z-shaped switchbacks and the wooden bridges and tunnels it passes through.
Su Chao-hsu (蘇昭旭), an assistant professor at National Kaohsiung University of Hospitality and Tourism, said that mountain railways designated World Heritage sites were mostly constructed using five main techniques for building on mountainous terrain: building a horseshoe curve, laying down a spiral route, a zig-zag, a cog rail and using special engines.
All of these techniques were employed to build the Alishan line, except for the cog rail, he said.
Currently, only part of the railway route is open. Repairs being carried out on the rest of the route would not be completed until next year, the bureau said.