Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Speeding Ahead (Taiwan Review)

When services launched January 5, 2007, the high-speed rail revolutionized travel between the north and south of Taiwan. Running at up to 300 kph, the bullet trains shortened the journey time between Taipei and Kaohsiung cities from roughly five hours to less than two.

As it enters its second decade of operations, the 350-km line can claim a host of achievements. The system has been expanded since its launch, now servicing 12 stations in northern Taiwan and along the heavily populated west of the country. Ridership increased from 30.58 million in 2008 to more than 50 million in 2015 and again in 2016. In December last year, it carried its 400 millionth passenger.

The high-speed rail is also noted for its service quality and reliability. Over the past decade, the system has maintained punctuality records in excess of 99 percent, while operator Taiwan High Speed Rail Corp. (THSRC) said that annual passenger surveys indicate satisfaction rates for equipment, ticketing and station facilities of above 90 percent.

To celebrate its 10-year anniversary, the company in January launched the Taiwan High Speed Rail Museum in the northern city of Taoyuan. Featuring 19 themed exhibitions, a driver’s cab simulator and interactive displays, the museum draws the curtain back on the line’s design and construction as well as its contributions to the development of the nation’s economy, tourism industry and transportation network.

Premier Lin Chuan said at the museum’s opening ceremony that the system is an outstanding example of public-private sector collaboration. “The success of the high-speed rail underscores the flexibility and management expertise of Taiwan companies, as well as the government’s commitment to supporting projects bolstering the nation’s industrial prowess.”

According to THSRC, it is the only company without railway construction or operational experience to have built a high-speed rail line, completing the world’s largest build-operate-transfer (BOT) project in six years while effectively controlling costs. As the bullet trains are based on those used in Japan’s Shinkansen high-speed rail network, THSRC employed dozens of foreign technicians and drivers in its early days. The company said it is working toward autonomy and localization of materials in terms of operations and maintenance, explaining that its goal is to fully master the technology and help raise the level of Taiwan’s railway industry. When passenger services began in 2007, the company’s workforce was around 3,100. This figure has since grown to more than 4,300 due to factors such as increasing passenger volumes and the opening of additional stations.

Yeh Kuang-shih (葉匡時), a professor at the Graduate Institute of Technology, Innovation and Intellectual Property Management at National Chengchi University in Taipei who served as minister of transportation and communications from 2013 to 2015, said that the system has delivered significant benefits since its launch. In particular, he noted that it has helped promote economic and social decentralization, encouraging more people to move to the northern cities of Taoyuan and Hsinchu as well as central Taiwan’s Taichung City. “It has also reduced traffic congestion, and thus pollution, in the western corridor,” Yeh added.

According to data presented at the High-Speed Rail and Sustainability Symposium at the University of California, Berkeley, in November 2012, between the line’s launch and 2011, the percentage of intercity journeys along the western corridor conducted using private cars decreased from 78 percent to 70 percent. In the same period, air travel fell from 3 percent of all journeys to a negligible amount. With regard to energy consumption per passenger-kilometer, the system uses a fraction less than the conventional trains operated by the Taiwan Railways Administration, barely one-third of that of buses, less than a quarter of that of cars, and an eighth of that of airplanes.

Initially spanning eight stations, the system has added four additional stops in the last two years. New stations opened in Miaoli, Changhua and Yunlin counties at the end of 2015...

The entire article can be read online, here. Both photos here were taken at Hsinchu HSR Station, and are courtesy of Taiwan High Speed Rail Corp.

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