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Alishan Forest Railway makes return to full service after 15 years

07/06/2024 07:45 PM
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CNA photo July 3, 2024
CNA photo July 3, 2024

Taipei, July 6 (CNA) After 15 years of disruptions caused by two devastating typhoons, the Alishan Forest Railway resumed full operations on Saturday, with 85 passengers on board the first train from Chiayi to Alishan, a popular tourist attraction in southern Taiwan.

There will be four trains running daily on different sections of the 71.6-kilometer Alishan mainline, with the full-route fare from Chiayi to Alishan stations costing NT$600 (US$18), according to the Alishan Forest Railway and Cultural Heritage Office.

Restoration efforts

Parts of the railway have been closed since 2009 due to over 421 incidents of disaster caused by Typhoon Morakot along the route, according to the line's operator.

Travel between Chiayi and Fenqihu stations resumed in 2014, while the rest of the line, originally set to reopen shortly afterward, was delayed again when Typhoon Dujuan hit in 2015.

While small construction progress was made in the following years, the line, which traces its history back to 1912 under Japanese rule, remained operational only between Chiayi and Shizilu stations.

CNA photo July 3, 2024
CNA photo July 3, 2024

To restore connectivity, the office spent NT$420 million (US$12.95 million) in 2021 to build a 1,106-meter-long tunnel in the typhoon-struck area between Shizilu and Zhaoping stations.

The three-year project was full of challenges, recalled construction site director Lee Chi-kuan (李致寬).

In addition to constant water surges and rockfalls, he said, the workers sustained extreme mental strain because the round-the-clock tunnel excavation work required them to operate in complete darkness.

Other incidents such as the COVID-19 outbreak and the Russian-Ukraine war -- which led to shortages of workers and explosives, respectively -- also affected the construction schedule, according to Lee.

Renovations and safety enhancements

During the overhaul of the railway, several stations underwent renovations as well, including Zhuqi, the final stop on the railway's flat stretch.

Now, painted in Tiffany Blue, the station, which is designated a county historical site, uses Alishan cypresses for the wooden frame, while the walls showcase the distinctive "wattle and daub," a traditional construction method in Taiwan.

CNA photo July 3, 2024
CNA photo July 3, 2024

New safety measures are being implemented on the line as well, including installations of systems to detect track intrusions and unstable slopes, according to the office.

For instance, Lien Hsiang-yi (連祥益) from the office's Railway Service Division told CNA that an automatic incident detection system was installed between tunnels No. 29 and No. 30 because the short distance between them provides drivers with relatively insufficient time to react in the event of an accident.

Should rocks or trees obstruct the tracks, Lien said, the system will flash warnings before the train enters the affected section and send messages to train station staff members so they can notify the drivers, too.

Tourism campaigns

To attract visitors back, the office has introduced two new tourist charter trains, the "Vivid Express" and "Formosensis," featuring luxurious interior designs and large windows for a refreshing travel experience.

CNA photo July 3, 2024
CNA photo July 3, 2024

The former, which was launched on May 24, features private box cars and seats that can rotate 360 degrees, according to the office.

Meanwhile, Formosensis will start operation on July 28, boasting cypress carriages, metal window frames and arched ceilings, it said.

Despite the evolving missions over time -- from transporting timber a century ago to boosting tourism today -- the railway has continuously shaped the lifestyle of Chiayi residents.

It is hoped that the full railway service and various tour packages will not only create a rich travel experience but also showcase the abundant produce along the route, said office director Huang Miao-hsiu (黃妙修).

"We hope the railway could introduce the beauty of Alishan to the world," she has said.

(By Huang Kuo-fang, Tsai Chi-ming and Lee Hsin-Yin)

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CNA photo July 3, 2024
CNA photo July 3, 2024
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