Taiwan Cruise-Style Trains
'Cruise' Around the Island by Train
Source：Shih-Chun Ma, TRA
“The best way to explore Taiwan is by taking a train trip!” With new itineraries of round-island tours coming up for each season, Taiwan’s Cruise-Style Trains are offering seamless package trips that include transportation, accommodation, and food, especially the train-exclusive ‘bentos’ (便當, lunch boxes). No forced-shopping stops, no pre-planning required, all you have to do is to sit back, relax, and let the train take you on an in-depth island-tour.
'Cruise' Around the Island by TrainBy Ching-Fen Ho
A 74 year-old CT273 steam locomotive let out a high-pitched toot at Yuli, Hualian Station (花蓮玉里). With a puff of smoke and a roaring start of the engine, the six-car express was poised and ready to go!
Once the King of Speed in the Japanese colonial era, CT273 carried a weight of history. Built in Japan in 1943, the train was assigned to serve the western rail line in Taiwan. It was the last steam locomotive to retire after The Electrification of Taiwan Railway in 1979. Now, its returning to the tracks of the Yuli-Taitung route was not only exciting for its passengers, but also for troops of railfans that have long stationed along the route just to capture a glimpse of this old hero.
The most sought-after trips for the Cruise-Style Trains are the Summer Formosa Steam Locomotive Trips, organized by Taiwan Railways Administrations (TRA) and ezTravel. Only setting off for 3 short-rides a year, the coal-fired Steam Locomotive is operated by a team of 6 conductors, who were trained by retired professionals re-recruit by the TRA to pass down their expertise, from coal-digging to furnace-controlling, just to give passengers a chance to relive the days of the choo choo trains.
The once-in-a-lifetime experience of the Summer Formosa Steam Locomotive Trip has not only drawn troops of railfans to pay tribute, but also seven pairs of senior couples to have a 50 year reunion. Take a train ride, share some snacks, and chat along the scenic drive, like an old-fashioned field trip date.
When the High-Speed Rail was launched in 2007, it connected the cities in the West into a single-day life circle with a speed of 300 km/hr (186.5 mph). Yet for the Eastern coastal line, the railway remains to be the most convenient means of public transport. Starting from 2010, TRA promoted ‘slow travel’ by launching the Cruise-Style Trains that feature Eastern coastal line trips.
Source: Shih-Chun Ma, TRA
The Best Way to Explore Taiwan
“I have been arranging train trips all over the world. I know that high-standard couchette trains will not be suitable for Taiwan, with its narrow-gauge tracks that wouldn’t be good for an overnight ride. But at the same time, I know there is no other place like Taiwan that can be this richly diversified, with a change of landscape from the mountains and seas to the cities that can be experienced within a short period of time, and with each and every city having their own exciting features to explore. The best way to enjoy these, is by taking at train trip,” observed You Jin-jhang (游金章), President of ezTravel.
In a time when the market for overseas travel has expanded to an extent that threatens tourism in Taiwan, ezTravel still continues to promote Taiwan railway tours, from package trips for TRA’s Cruise-Style Trains, to customized trips on ‘Island Stars,’ round-island tour trains that run 365 days a year.
With Cruise-Style Trains that run the speed of a Tzu-Chiang Limited Express (自強號, the fastest) but at the price of a Chu-Kuang Express (莒光號, the second fast), TRA continues to win customers' heart with its budget-friendly services. TRA further commissioned the experienced expert of railway traveling, ezTravel, to design all itineraries, saving travelers from the hassles of preparation. Now, an in-depth tour around the island can be as easy as pack up, hop on, and off you go.
Taimali, Taitung (Source: CW)
6:30 in the morning, Chu-Kuang Express 5832 was already standing by at Taipei Main Station. “What brought you here?” Ling-Mei Chen was surprised to find her neighbor sharing the same train with her, and even the same tour group heading for Chishang, Taitung (台東池上). Starting off from Shulin (樹林), the Cruise-Style Train stopped from station to station, picking up passengers from Banqiao (板橋), Taipei, and Songshan (松山). “This is a Cruise-Passenger-Only,” shouted green-vested tour guides from ezTravel. At last, when the train rolled out of Qidu Station (七堵) and all the listed 278 passengers were on board, the 'cruising' began.
Nicknamed as ‘mosquito,’ Chiahui Hsu, a tourist leader with a four year experience, was chatting with nearly half a car of familiar faces. For each car, a professional tourist leader would be giving enlightening information and telling local stories along the way. Seamless packaged itineraries that connect tourist spots and starred hotels allows tourists to enjoy a hassle-free journey. “Now that I don’t have to drive, all I have to do is to sit back and relax,” said Chun-Hsiang Lin, who had already taken a number of ‘cruising’ trips. With a recording V8 in his hand, he wanted to share this valuable experience with his friends through the lens of his camera.
Unlike railway companies in other countries that only run a few classic routes, ezTravel designs themed trips that match up with the seasons and local festivals, from bamboo rafting in Dapo Pond, Chishang (池上大波池) for an early autumn visit, to music festivals with Wubai (伍佰) for a harvest season celebration, or roselle picking at Taimali (太麻里), navel oranges at Chenggong (成功), and sea-fruit fishing at coastal villages for a late autumn exploration, all of which are trips designed in harmony with the land and the season, various itineraries to choose from that will satisfy, but not surfeit.
Bamboo rafting in Chishang, Taitung. (Source: Ching-Fen Ho)
Yet, there is even more to offer. TRA designed a few exclusive off-map stops, dubbed as the ‘The Platform 9¾’ for Cruise-Style Trains, such as the ‘Sunny Station’ at TRA Chaozhou Base (潮州), the weather observation station at Fangye (枋野) – a platform-less stop where passengers would need a ladder to land on, and the century-old station between Yuli and Taitung – Tungli (東里), where a panoramic view of the Yushan Mountains (玉山) and Xiuguluan River (秀姑巒溪) can be seen. “The number of passengers you bring here today, is more than the total number of visitors we have for a year!” chuckled the station master of Yongle, Yilan (宜蘭永樂). As for Doliang Station (多良), the train would glide through the roofless station at the seaside at a speed around 20 km/hr, allowing the passengers to be soothed along the Pacific coast.
“If we are one minute ahead or behind, it would cause a butterfly effect on the schedule of the regular trains. Luckily, all station masters were willing to help us with the time control,” said the Inspector of the Travel Service Department of TRA. “It’s the details that win us a 35% coming-back rate. With a seven year experience, we have learned to be more attentive to every detail.”
“The essence of traveling is an insight into the culture, not the five-star hotels. The real colors of Taiwan can only be perceived through a trip by train,” said the President of ezTravel, who believes that Taiwan railway has its own irreplaceable charm. From secret places to visit in each town or village, local snacks to try in streets and alleys, and intriguing stories to savor in and off the train, ezTravel gathers the colors of Taiwan into an palette that is accessible to visitors around the world. “Tourism is of great social importance. Taiwan needs quality travel.”
Now, with Cruise-Style Trains, those who are looking for experimental family trips, cultural exploration, or old-fashioned dates, have another reason now to start their next round-island journey in Taiwan.
So hop on a two-day fantastic journey, and find yourself saying “Never knew how beautiful Taiwan was!”
Translated by Sharon Tseng.