Rail enthusiasts' Taiwan Tour by Rail

A group of railway enthusiasts from Australia, Japan, Germany, Spain and the U.K. will journey into yesteryear when they take a vintage steam locomotive on the historic Jiji Line Sept. 16 in central Taiwan.

The 51-strong contingent’s trip is part of a 14-day visit to Taiwan organized by Australia, U.K. and local Taiwan tour operators in conjunction with the Tourism Bureau and the Taipei Representative Office in the U.K.

Australian rep said his group is champing at the bit to ride the 29.7-kilometer line, one of Taiwan’s heritage railway routes, in a restored Taiwan Railways Administration CK124 steam train.

“There is no question that this is an exciting opportunity for international rail enthusiasts and will be the highlight of our trip,” he said. “Taiwan is a stunning country and rail travel is one of the best ways to experience the island’s abundance of charms.”

Built during the Japanese colonial era (1895-1945), the line was used for transporting materials needed to construct the power plant at Sun Moon Lake. Commencing at Ershuei Station in Changhua County, the line passes through seven tunnels before terminating at Checheng Station in Nantou County.

Suggested by Lord Faulkner, long-time Taiwan supporter and chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary British-Taiwanese Group, the trip is significant as it represents the first time organizations from Australia and the U.K. have teamed up to run a railway tour of Taiwan. It is also the first time that one group has travelled using services including the Taipei and Kaohsiung metro systems, various scenic TRA lines and the Taiwan High Speed Rail.

“This is an exciting development that holds enormous promise for developing Taiwan tourism and bolstering the country’s international standing,” a bureau spokesman said. “We look forward to hosting more groups down the track.”

UK tour leader, said he is impressed by the beauty of Taiwan and delighted with the efficiency and cleanliness of its rail system in comparison to the U.K.

“The punctuality and efficiency of Taiwan’s railways have been a real surprise,” he said. “Add the friendliness of the local people and their genuine willingness to help into the mix and you have a recipe for rail tourism success.”

Although he is eager to bring further rail enthusiasts' groups to Taiwan, he would first need to know that the 71.4-kilometer Alishan Forest Railway was fully operational.

“Alishan is one of the best narrow gauge railways in the world,” he said. “I believe train enthusiasts everywhere would flock to Taiwan if they knew this line was up and running in all its glory.”

Suspended following a derailment April. 27 in which five passengers were killed and 113 injured, the service is one of the most popular in Taiwan and renowned world over for its Z-shaped switchbacks through stunning mountain vistas.

Taiwan POW Camp -  Jinguashi

Railway 1
Alison Shillington is all smiles after experiencing the beauty of Taiwan and discovering her father's name on a prisoner-of-war memorial at Jinguashi in New Taipei City.

For Australian Alison Shillington, 75, missing out on riding the train at Alishan was not too much of a disappointment given the deeply emotional moment she experienced on Day Two of the trip.

While visiting Jinguashi in New Taipei City, Shillington discovered her father’s name on a memorial commemorating the 1,100 Allied servicemen interned at the Kinkaseki Japanese prisoner-of-war-camp during World War II.

Kinkaseki was notorious for its inhuman conditions under which POWs worked in near darkness at a nearby copper mine, enduring searing heat, humidity and backbreaking labor on par with the worst camps anywhere in Asia.

“My father, Maj. Walter R. Locke, was at Jinguashi from 1942 to 1945,” Shillington said. “Although he never spoke much about his times as a prisoner after returning home, he stated on many occasions that Formosa was a beautiful country.”

Shillington and her husband David, 85, said the deeply moving experience was made all the more special by the kindness of tour guide Chang Ming-shih, an ROC navy veteran, who led a traditional Chinese three-bow ceremony to honor the POWS on behalf of all visiting rail enthusiasts.

“Alison was very moved when she saw her father’s name on the honor board and beyond words,” Chang said. “It was my duty to lead the ceremony and the highlight of my trip.”

The Taiwan by Rail tour.


Taiwan tourism’s ticket to ride

In today’s increasingly competitive global tourism industry, the most successful participants are those using value-added products to target niche markets. For the ROC government, this means promoting the island’s array of distinctive cultural assets in such a way that Taiwan is seen as experience, not just a destination.

The wisdom of this strategy was confirmed with the successful conclusion of the Taiwan by Rail trip Sept. 17 in Taipei. Organized by the Tourism Bureau and Taipei Representative Office in the U.K., the 14-day tour saw 51 visitors from Australia, Germany, Japan, New Zealand, the Philippines, Spain and the U.K. undertake a round-island journey that will live on in their memories for many years to come.

Through visiting Alishan National Scenic Area, Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall, National Palace Museum, Formosan Aboriginal Culture Village, Taipei 101, Taroko National Park and Sun Moon Lake National Scenic Area, the tourists got up close and personal with some of Taiwan’s iconic attractions. They also experienced regional cultures and the world-renowned warmth and hospitality of Taiwan’s people.

As the largest group of rail enthusiasts to tour Taiwan, the bureau made sure the welcome mat was well and truly rolled out during their stay. These seasoned travelers—nearly all of whom have journeyed to the four corners of the globe—were given access to knowledgeable tour guides, top-notch accommodation, comfortable coaches and lashings of high quality local fare.

But more importantly, the group travelled the island’s extensive train network, including the Taipei and Kaohsiung metro systems, eastern and western scenic lines and the Taiwan High Speed Rail. The bureau also organized a Taiwan Railways Administration CK124 steam locomotive charter on the historic 29.7-kilometer Jiji Line in central Taiwan.

Built during the Japanese colonial era (1895-1945), the heritage railway route once transported materials needed to construct the power plant at Sun Moon Lake. Running between Changhua and Nantou counties, the line passes through seven historic tunnels and some of Taiwan’s most picturesque rural vistas.

This journey into yesteryear attracted islandwide media attention and, for most of the visitors, was the highlight of their trip. In laying on such a special charter, the bureau took one of Taiwan’s great rail journeys to the world, appealing to the hearts and minds of train lovers everywhere.

With the Taiwan by Rail trip an unbridled success, more overseas visitors are expected to flock to the island in search of similar experiences. The ROC government policy of growing Taiwan’s share of this lucrative niche market is helping the island stand head and shoulders above the competition. Now, more than ever, Taiwan tourism has a ticket to ride.

More information on Taiwan POW Camp, click here .


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