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Public to get rare glimpse of railway 'imperial palaces'

2012/06/02 21:18:55

Taipei, June 2 (CNA) Two antique train carriages built exclusively for powerful leaders will go on display in northern Taiwan on June 7 to celebrate the Taiwan Railway Administration's 125th anniversary, officials said Saturday.

The carriages have gained fame among train aficionados because only heads of state or top officials had the privilege of riding in them, said administration official Lin Sheng-tung.

"In a sense, these trains were like imperial palaces on the move," Lin said, with the carriages serving only Japanese occupiers and a former president of the Republic of China (Taiwan).

The carriages, called "railway saloon cars" for their extremely flamboyant interiors, were designed to transport the rulers of the day around Taiwan on inspection tours, Lin explained.

The two carriages, built in 1904 and 1912, respectively, were solely made of wood and luxuriously appointed.

The 1912 car, which served Emperor Hirohito when he traveled to Taiwan in 1923 as a crown prince, was lacquered 10 times to cover the gaps between the teak and cypress panels that formed the carriage, Lin said.

Inside the car, drawings of chrysanthemums -- a symbol of Japan's imperial family -- were used generously to highlight the presence of royalty.

That carriage was later taken over by former President Chiang Kai-shek for his personal use in traveling up and down western Taiwan.

A third car, built in 1969 of steel and fitted with luxurious trappings, will also be on display. Former President Lee Teng-hui took a ride in it in 1991, Lin said.

Maintaining the older train carriages is no easy task because workers must closely monitor conditions in both the cars and the depot where they are stored.

"The depot must be kept at an absolute humidity of 55 percent at all times, to be precise," Lin said.

The three cars will be open to a maximum 140 visitors at Qidu Station in Keelung City for one day only. People interested in seeing them can register by dialing (02) 2456-8990.

(By Lee Hsin-Yin)