Saturday, May 31, 2014

New Details on the Direct Taipei-Yilan Rail Line

From the MOTC's Railway Reconstruction Bureau
The Ministry of Transportation's Railway Reconstruction Bureau recently held a public meeting about possible routes for a more direct railway line between Taipei and Yilan.  There are two proposals: a shorter route that would roughly parallel National Highway 5, and a longer one that would cross under Pingxi and meet the current Yilan Line at Shuangxi, before turning south and merging with the Yilan Line just north of Daxi.  This route would include a station at Shuangxi to allow transfers to the Yilan Line.  Because the Taipei City government is opposed to the first option because it would cross through the Feicui Reservoir watershed, the second, longer route is more likely to be chosen.  This route would cost NT$49.1 billion (US$1.6 billion) to construct, an average of US$30.2 million a kilometer.  Taroko or Puyuma express trains would be 18 minutes faster, taking as little as 45 minutes to get from Taipei to Jiaoxi, while conventional Tse-Chiang trains could save 38 minutes, shortening trips to as little as 50 minutes.  Once the new line is complete the old line would remain in service.  The earliest possible date for completion is 2031, and construction is expected to take 9 years.
Support for the line is far from unanimous.  It would still cross through reservoir catchment areas, and near many old mine shafts.  Environmentalists worry that it will damage relatively untouched ecosystems.  At least one legislator thinks 18 minutes isn't worth nearly NT$50 billion, and that money would be better spent upgrading the TRA.
Some of these fears are certainly overblown- presumably this wouldn't be the world's first rail line built around old mine shafts.  The key questions should be will the environmental benefit of fewer people driving be worth the damage caused by its construction, and will the line earn enough money to justify its cost.  Though this line might save "only" 18 minutes, that should be enough to draw many people out of cars and planes and onto trains, boosting the TRA's revenue and cutting down carbon dioxide emissions.  It could also obviate the need for future road and highway expansion.  There's no way of knowing unless the government does a more complete study.

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