TAIPEI (Taiwan News) – The Alishan Forest Railway could face closure due to heavy financial losses after more than a century in operation, reports said Tuesday, though Premier Lin Chuan reacted by describing the line as a national treasure which needed sustainable management.
The 71-kilometer line linking Chiayi City with the scenic Alishan area was originally built by the Japanese colonial authorities and opened for passenger traffic in 1912.
While more than 1 million tourists travel at least part of the way on the train each year, the project has been losing money at a rate of NT$300 million (US$9.3 million) a year recently, reports said.
The death of five tourists in April 2010 in a derailment caused by a falling tree dealt the popularity of the rail line a serious blow, with typhoons and other weather conditions causing further problems.
Fears that the Forest Railway Operations Fund is running out of money by the end of this year could mean the end for the service is close, reports said. However, unconfirmed statements by staff claimed that there was still NT$600 million (US$18.6 million) in the fund, enough to help the railway survive barring any major catastrophes. The statements also said that government efforts to have the railway declared “World Heritage” meant that the end was not in sight.
In a reaction to the reports, Premier Lin reportedly described the railway as a “national treasure” and ordered the Ministry of Transportation and the Council of Agriculture to find a way of solving its problems through “sustainable management,” a Cabinet spokesman said. No timetable for the drawing up of a solution was mentioned, reports said.