Riding Taiwan’s newest transport link: the TRA Kaohsiung City Network

NT$100 billion investment has seen 15km of city center railway lines tunneled underground

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David Spencer

David Spencer

Kaohsiung is fast becoming one of the best-connected cities in Taiwan. It’s two-line MRT network connects the city center with both Zuoying HSR station, Kaohsiung Airport, and the city’s busiest industrial areas. After a slow start, it has seen user numbers grow in recent years.

Meanwhile, the new Light Rail Network, which is only partially open, connects the MRT to the rapidly redeveloping harbor area of the city. It will eventually provide a circular link to many of the city’s most densely populated residential areas.

And on Sunday, the latest piece in the city’s transport puzzle was formally opened. The TRA Kaohsiung City Network, already more commonly known as the Kaohsiung Underground Railway, was formally opened.

Image Credit: David Spencer

This project has seen 15.37km of mainline railway tunneled underground. But crucially for Kaohsiung commuters, it has also seen the construction of seven new stations and the refurbishment of three more. The Kaohsiung Underground Railway is essentially now a fourth major public transportation line in the city with a fifth (the yellow line) also under consideration

Image Credit: KTRC

It has not come cheaply. Conservative estimates put the total cost of the project at a cool NT$100bn (US$3.2bn). It is a phenomenal sum of money, much of which has been borrowed by the Kaohsiung City Government leaving the city with a considerable public debt to deal with.

The opening ceremony on Sunday saw President Tsai-Ing-wen (蔡英文), former Kaohsiung Mayor and current Secretary-General to the President, Chen Chu (陳菊), and current acting Kaohsiung Mayor, Hsu Li-ming (許立明) all laud the efforts of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in getting the project finished, given the lack of financial support for Kaohsiung from the previous KMT administration.

There is little doubt that politicking under the KMT left the staunch DPP city of Kaohsiung with little option but to raise funds for redevelopment themselves. However, it is also fair to say that the question of whether this project delivers value-for-money for the city still divides opinion here.

What the Underground Railway does for Kaohsiung

There are a number of clear benefits for the city and its residents. The new underground line should encourage more people to commute on public transport and therefore might make a small inroad into the city’s chronic air pollution issues. It will also help tourists travel to popular tourists’ attractions including the Science and Technology Museum and the Museum of Fine Art.

With the railway lines now underground, many residents living nearby will no longer be affected by the noise and pollution created by Taiwan’s aged rolling stock. The land on which the lines used to run is to be turned into parkland and public space. This should also help to drive up property prices and the redevelopment of areas close to the lines.

Image Credit: Flickr user - Chi-Hung Lin

The project will also help with issues of traffic congestion in the city. The many frustrating level crossings that frequently delay journeys should now be a thing of the past. In addition, the removal of small and ugly flyovers on busy roads such as Dashun Road (大順路) and Bo-ai Road (博愛路) will help the flow of cars and scooters around the city.

Riding on the new underground network is, at the moment, a joy. The new stations are in pristine condition, although work continues at surface level on most of them. To encourage new users, TRA has also dropped the prices on all journeys between Fengshan and Xinzuoying to just NT$30 for adults and NT$15 for minors and concessions.

At the moment, you will see plenty of tourists, railway enthusiasts, and Instagrammers keen to get a picture of the new network. It is certainly a unique site when witnessing one of Taiwan’s antiquated trains creaking into a shiny new underground station.

Image Credit: David Spencer

Some people have questioned why the new network isn’t equipped with platform-edge doors. But this is almost certainly because the various different trains using the new underground line all have their doors positioned at different points.

Kaohsiung Main Station: an ongoing project

The centerpiece of the new Underground Railway is the new Kaohsiung Main Station. Anyone who has traveled via the old Kaohsiung Main Station will know how badly this station needed replacing. The old building necessitated a large bridge over the tracks, with grotty ticket offices located on either side. Meanwhile, the beautiful old Kaohsiung Station building, which dates from 1941, was separated from the station by the Bo-ai Road bridge, much neglected, and usually missed by tourists.

Image Credit: Wikimedia

This is all changing thanks to the spectacular new station which is currently under construction. It has been designed by Mecanoo, the Dutch architects behind the new National Kaohsiung Center for the Arts, Weiwuying, which also opened this weekend.

This new station is already partially open, and visitors can presently enjoy the spectacular new ticket hall, with its huge domed roof. There is however much more work to be done before it is finished, and while I was there, some visitors seemed disappointed that more of it was not yet open.

Image Credit: David Spencer

The new station is not expected to be fully completed until 2023, and this is understandable when you look at the massive and hugely impressive project being undertaken. When finished, the new station will boast a huge public green space across its entire roof and have a special focus on the 1941 station building, which will be moved back to its original position.

Image Credit: David Spencer

Image Credit: David Spencer

Even in its current state, the new station is already a significant improvement on what it has replaced. The people of Kaohsiung are now looking forward to the day when their new station is complete. They have a few more years to wait, but in the meantime, there is an impressive new underground railway to enjoy.

Regardless of your views on the cost and levels of public debt run up to fund it, the benefits to Kaohsiung of this new underground rail network and the stunning main station that will be its centerpiece are already clear for all to see.