Trains For America

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The latest from Taiwan

Things are changing all over the world, just not here. This is a highlight from an extended article in the Taiwan Review. It is a “must read” for any rail advocate.

In fact the new rail link will have as profound an effect on the thinking of Taiwanese as the original western line. By reducing the travel time between its two termini to a mere 90 minutes, the high-speed railway is destined to suburbanize Taiwan’s entire west coast. It will be possible to live anywhere along the route and work anywhere else. Going from the capital to Kaohsiung for a business meeting will no longer involve a tiring journey and an overnight stay. Nor will traveling in the other direction to take part in Taipei’s diverse cultural life. The island has suddenly become a lot smaller.

The high-speed railway, super fast, ultra efficient, comfortable, is something of which Taiwan can be proud, and in which, in a very real way, it is a groundbreaker. Of course Taiwan is not the first place to have high-speed trains. But the problems involved in constructing such a system, much of it elevated, in Taiwan’s seismically active terrain have been considerable. There were also doubts as to whether the demand for such a service even existed. Passenger levels since the service’s opening have proved that “if you build it, they will come.”

It is in the nature of the relationship between the railway’s operator, Taiwan High Speed Rail Corp. (THSRC), and the government, however, that the railway is really groundbreaking. The railway is a build-operate-transfer project and, at US$15 billion, the world’s biggest to date. Criticisms have been leveled at both THSRC and the government’s transportation ministry for lacking a proper understanding of their roles. Yet the simple fact is that, no other country has a project so big and so complex, being run on such a basis. Taiwan cannot copy other countries’ best practice because there is almost nothing to copy. In this sense Taiwan is genuinely innovatory and the high-speed rail link will provide lessons on infrastructure finance and management of huge significance to any developed or developing country.

Filed under: International High Speed Rail

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