07 July 2008

Travel: Taipei - High Speed Rail

The next day began with a ride on Taiwan’s High Speed Rail. The line runs from Taipei all the way down the island to Kaoshiung, the country’s second largest city, 330 kilometres away from Taipei. The entire trip takes a little more than two hours, with 6 stops between the two cities. I went about halfway, to the fourth stop, Taichung Station. The train covers the 155 kilometres in 90 minutes.

The train looks impressive. Its orange and white livery and sleek profile suggest speed, and that is what you get. I rode in standard class on the way out. Its 3-by-3 configuration is comfortable, although I imagine it can get a bit cramped when the car is full (I rode on a Sunday, so the train was only about half filled). A window seat offers a good vantage point for views of the surrounding landscape, once the train clears its second stop. To tell the truth, there isn’t much to see, other than small towns here and there and flat countryside.

But, what is striking is the speed. At one point, I looked up at the scrolling digital display to see “The current speed is 298 km/hr”. Wow! We were flying, but the ride was a smooth as any train I had ridden and certainly better than what seems to be increasingly bumpy air travel. The Taichung Station is a big, modern building, with ample waiting areas and food outlets, so the 30 minute wait for my return train was pleasant. And I sat in business class on the way back. This is much more comfortable – a darker, calming color scheme and quieter acoustics, with a two-by-two configuration and complimentary drinks and snacks. For a little extra fare, it was well worth it.

Riding the rails is my favorite way to travel. Trains usually arrive in the heart of the city, as opposed to airports located 30 to 60 kilometres away (I actually took HSR to the airport stop the next day – two stops from the main rail station and about 35 kilometres from downtown). You ride in comfort and avoid the hassles of airports and security lines and multi-hour pre-flight waits. I got to the train station at 8.45, and we were off at 9.00. Plus, it just seems so civilized.

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