Reforming infrastructure in Hualien and Taitung crucial to Taiwan's future

Now is the time to consider a high-speed rail along Taiwan’s east coast, argues Wu Chin-sheng

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TRA train on Taitung line.

TRA train on Taitung line. (By Wikimedia Commons)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) – Modern-day Hualien, previously known as Huilan (洄瀾), could become another important business hub following on from the past centers of Fucheng Port in Tainan, Lugang Port in Changhua, and Manka Port in Taipei City.

For a long time, the people of Hualien and Taitung apprehensively felt they are second-class citizens, and they are eager for highways similar to those in the west of Taiwan. People in favor of environmental protection however, also have a long-held view that this area, with its pristine land, should be protected. Meanwhile, academics doubt the “power effect” of improving transport infrastructure in the region. Are these different views thinking about the optimization of Taiwan?

Hualien-Taitung railway to join international upgrades

Faced with low population density on the east coast and a rapidly changing natural environment, we must consider new solutions that have rarely been thought of in the past. One such idea is a European-style high-speed railway to build on the nation’s highway policy.

High-speed rail occupies about one third of the land used by a four-lane highway, and the efficacy of a railway should be considered.

First of all, the Taitung railway line which connects Hualien and Taitung could be united with a straight rail line from Nangang, Taipei City to Toucheng, Yilan County. Straight-line railroads will minimize environmental damage, and they are technologically within reach.

Hualien and Taitung’s future is Taiwan’s future

The concept of a high-speed rail in the region requires creative thinking to break through the current situation. Examples of small railway cars, as seen in Finland, and alpine train routes, like those in Switzerland and the alps, demonstrate the potential of straight-line railway lines. The Hualien-Taitung area is an exceptionally scenic region, and changes to personal transport will affect national transport patterns.

On the one hand, this new railway will respect the wishes of environmental advocates and on the other hand, address the pressing concerns of the people in the region. The railway will also support balanced development across the line and nearby, and allow the region’s tourism to light up, and be the starting point for Taiwan’s reform.

The eastern part of Taiwan wants development, and we cannot repeat the chaos and disorder in the north and west. Development and environmental considerations can go hand in hand, and shape the future model of Taiwan.

During the past 500 years, Taiwan’s development followed from south to north due to the topographical limits of the island. The future situation naturally goes from west to east.

““For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”” (Jeremiah 29:11). I hope a small step of Taiwan in Hualien and Taitung, leads to a giant stride for the world. Everything comes from the practical understanding that Hualien and Taitung’s future is Taiwan’s future.

Wu Chin-sheng is head of international division and council member of Taiwan Society North (台灣北社), and publisher of Brain magazine (動腦).