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Taiwan High Speed Rail- A different trip report

Taiwan High Speed Rail- A different trip report

Old Feb 8, 08, 6:42 am
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Taiwan High Speed Rail- A different trip report

So I thought I'd give a review of the High Speed Rail (HSR) in Taiwan. I hadn't seen many reviews about it, and thought people might like to know. I frequent the Japan-Taiwan part of the world often for my consulting work. Previously I had already been on the Shingansen in Japan and had found the bullet train there fascinating. I would find my chance this time around, during the Lunar New Year Holiday.

A client of mine put me up at HotelOne. I asked Concierge about how I could get a ticket to Taipei and she said that they could help me in getting a trip and that I would pay them, instead of blowing taxi money to and from the station. Rewind to Wednesday when I checked out and would recieve my ticket. The Concierge could not provide me with a ticket but provided me with a reservation number and said that there were some short steps to take at the self-check station there.

I thought Fine, what's the worst that could happen. The hotel had comped my ride to the HSR station, which I guess is a perk that I get for logging ~35 hotel stays in the past year. The driver apologizes ahead of time for driving a Volvo S80 instead of a Mercedes S320, not a big deal.

So the ride was about 25 minutes into Taichung County, where the station is located. I would've paid easily about ~$300 New Taiwan Dollars (NT, ~$10 US), so I am glad that they arranged for the ticket on my behalf.

Upon arriving at the station, at the off-load point (entrance to station), traffic had backed up onto the ramp area. This place was packed to the brim. This was a slightly bad impression, even not being on the HSR. No police directing traffic. Taxis appearing to pick up passengers after dropping them. My ride had to triple park (idle, what have you) while he quickly helped me with my bag, said thank you and got back in his ride in under 5 seconds. This part, compared with other high speed rail systems in this area (I am talking about Shingansen and Hong Kong Aiport Express), is incredibly unsatsifactory, with Hong Kong's Airport Express an excellent model of how they separate taxis and buses.

I entered the station. Very impressive. Very modern. I proceeded to the self-check station. There were about 7 of them around me, so no need to wait for some person who might have difficulties or might not use a computer as much as I do. So I enter my reservation number and after a quick prompt I push "yes" and my ticket is printed. WOW. Less than 2 minutes I have my ticket in hand and am ready for my first time on the HSR. For the route, Taichung-Taipei is $700 NT (~$22 US). Compare that distance wise with the Shingansen, Tokyo-Shizuoka on that line is about $6,180 yen ($~57 US), almost twice the cost.

I proceeded to the top of the station, to see if I could see any mountains or anything appealing for a quick snapshot. Not really. So I decided I could use some air and did not go back down for a coffee. I noticed the safety personnel actively patrolling and blowing their whistle if small kids were caught near the yellow line unattended. Very well done. At about 2 minutes to 2:00 pm, my train arrived.

The cabin was very well lit and comfortable. It had 3-2 seating, so no cramped feeling and plenty of space while seated. sitting down, the seat was almost past upright, something which I felt might be incredibly uncomfortable had I fallen asleep without reclining. At 2:00 pm sharp, we were off. It was an incredibly gloomy day, as it had been raining and quite miserably cold the few days prior so I could not take many photos. I decided to get out the ipod and watch some Poker After Dark.

Now one thing I noticed that struck me as odd was that as I put my upright stand holding my ipod on the tray table, everytime we went into a tunnel, the vibrations increased and the my ipod started wondering around on the table. Annoying, wonder if this kind of thing happens on the ICE or the other high speeds around Asia.

I had planned to take a few pictures entering Taipei County after the stop at Taoyuan HSR station. No dice. The HSR started going underground and would for the duration of the trip into Taipei Main Station. Oh well.

The train arrived at 3 PM, exactly one hour after I had boarded. Very punctual and on-time. I was impressed and would look forward to my return trip, next part coming shortly.

Train 415 Taichung-Taipei.
Top Speed: 258 kilometers per hour (~160 mph)
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Old Feb 10, 08, 8:17 am
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Interesting report! I'll plug my own THSR report from last year here, with a few pictures as well:

Tall Taiwan Tales: Fast Trains, Ugly Towns and Turkey Rice

Overall, I'd say THSR is the nicest of the high-speed rail systems I've taken so far, although I gather some of the newest Shinkansen in Japan give it a pretty good run for the money. Re: the taxi/bus parking problem you mentioned, I suspect this is limited to Taichung -- the stations at Taoyuan, Chiayi and Taipei seem to have this worked out just fine. Aren't they building/planning an MRT line from the station to Taichung?
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Old Feb 11, 08, 10:24 pm
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Thanks for the report! I'm headed to Taiwan in April and will probably take the HSR. Perhaps a bit childish, but I've always been a fan of trains, so I'm actually looking forward to it!
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Old Feb 11, 08, 11:14 pm
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Great report! I took the THSR in December and January to Tainan and Hsinchu, and I found the train to be very nice.

I didn't like how some train stations were located in the middle of nowhere.
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Old Dec 27, 08, 10:12 am
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Thanks for the report.

I have ridden the Shingansen a few years back and this year the high speed trin in Korea. Looks like I will get to ride this one in January.
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Old Dec 28, 08, 3:37 am
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I use the HSR a lot and frankly its become a joke. First of all the stations, they are miles away from where they say they are. I wonder if someone from Ryanair was involved in this. For example the station for the airport says Taoyuan. In fact it is nowhere near the aiport or Taoyuan. Taichung is miles out of the city and is in fact halfway between Taichung and Changhua. The only station where it is actually where the name says it is, is in Taipei.

Take the aiport station. If you go from Taichung to the aiport by car or bus it normally takes 1hr 45 min /2hr. So from any downtown hotel to the HSR station in Taichung lets say 20-30 min depending on traffic. Dont even consider using the free shuttle unless you have a lot of time on your hands. You then go and buy a ticket. First of all you need a week off work to study all the different fares that seem to change as fast as the wind direction. Dont try booking on line as the booking system is a joke, they actually ride on the back of the EVA Air website which is totally uncustomer friendly.

So from leaving your hotel and getting to the platform it is now about 45 minutes.

You then get on the train and if you are in business class then you have a fighting chance to get to the aiport in less than 45 minutes from when you get off at Taoyuan. ( More later on this )

If Busines class is full or even half full, dont expect much service as they simply cant handle giving out a free drink and a bag of nuts.

You arrive 45 minutes later into Taoyuan station and this is where the fun begins.

From here to the airport you have to use a Ubus shuttle. Sounds easy hey ?? dream on !!!!

I mentioned that Business class has its benefits, well this is where you find out what they are.

The shuttle bus to the aiport is useless. First of all it can only take about 25 passengers fully loaded. God help you if you are travelling with anything bigger than a small suitcase as they forget to put trolleys in the HSR stations.

If you are in Business class, the carriage stops right next to the escalator, get your best Nike shoes on and go for it as once they have the bus full, which they also charge you for, you will have to wait for another one to come along or pay about 500 NT$ to use a taxi. The Ubus shuttle service does not follow a timetable or have anyway to handle more than a bus load of passengers at a time. I have know people wait up to an hour to get on a shuttle. ( yes I know the timetable is outside but come on this is Taiwan, Timetables are for reference not following )

So from leaving your nice hotel in Taichung, you spent 45 minutes getting to the platform, 45 minutes to get to Taoyuan station, then it takes from 30 to 60 minutes to get into the aiport, just pray there is no traffic jams when you get on the freeway from the station as this section in the mornig and evening rush hours is a car park.

The time saving you make by using the train goes right out of the window with all the messing about getting to and from the stations. It is in true Taiwan style they built the stations miles from anywhere and it is a known fact a lot of governemt people involved with the project did well selling land they bought not too soon before the project went ahead and the stations somehow got located at these god forsaken places. How they did not build it into the aiport or even have a rail link is beyond me.

Also on another note pay attention. Taiwanese like to save a dollar or two when they can. On a weekend they have a special price for trains after 9pm out of Taipei. So from early evening until 9pm the trains run empty, guess what, try getting a train after 9pm, its standing room only becasue the tickets are about 30 NT$ cheaper. You will see many people at Taipei station hanging around for hours to take the later train to save a small amount of money.

The cost of using the train to a dedicated bus service is way more expensive, for 250 NT$ you go from downtown Taichung to the aiport in say 1 hr 45 min. For three or four times the price you can use the train - go figure.

Finally the whole system of buying a ticket is a joke. It is cheaper to turn up and extract from the ticket desk what will be the cheapest ticket for your travel. Dont expect them to tell you the right answers unless you ask the right questions and it often pays to ask the same question twice. They charge you more for booking on line than turning up at the station and its no wonder the trains either run almost empty or packed as they seem to think that having customer pre pay and book their travel is not as good as letting them pay when they turn up at the station. Seems cashflow is not important in this sector !!

Also in economy, they have carriages with seats that are resreved so you know where you are sitting or non resreved which is a total free for all. Guess what, reserved cariage is usually empty and non resreved sardine can style. Dont you think someone wopuld figure out it is far better for the business an passengers if they get people to book on line and pay in advance than offering tickets that are cheaper if you just turn and walk on.
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Old Dec 28, 08, 10:15 am
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I do not question any of your observations bizclassboy as I have found the HSR laden with problems, after my initial trip.

The HSR was private because they didn't want to cost the provincial government any money. Well look at the debt they are racking up now and I'll bet you anybody working there wishes they were subsidized by the government, who doesn't want anything to do with them.

Plus, being private meant that they could pull ridiculous land deals as you have mentioned and place their stations in the middle of bumfu** nowhere. That is not a myth. The biggest evidence of this is the Taichung station, as the track passes through metropolitan Taichung, only for the station to be in the middle of nowhere.

The shuttles to and from CKS airport are a joke and the audacity that they charge you for this is also pretty ludicrous.

The shuttles that THEY provide have frequency every 15 mins while a similar service in Hong Kong has their frequency for EVERY bus UNDER 10 mins.

The reservation systems for me particularly upon future usage was a complete insult. I may look Chinese/Taiwanese/whatever the hell ethnicity that has black hair and dark brown eyes but I am NOT neccsarily a Taiwanese citizen. So why can't they develop a system that doesn't force the person to enter their Taiwanese citizen's card number? And everytime I have to deal with an 800 person, surprise they don't understand alpha numerical characters (since they ask me to put in my US passport number: seriously this is NOT a safe option). I have to go to the station, possibly risk NOT being able to get a ticket? Seriously the biggest piece of half-assed planning ever. [/endrant]

It's kind of like, well Hong Kong has a GREAT mass transit system, let's mirror after their's. Only we'll do it OUR way, with OUR system, with cards that have to be put upside down to be scanned, oh we'll definitely match Hong Kong's Airport Express!

I had reported this previously as my inaugural trip on the HSR, since then I have made two more trips and quickly found it to lack any value whatsoever.
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Old Dec 28, 08, 4:09 pm
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well summed up
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Old Jan 1, 09, 2:30 pm
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Yep agree. Station location is a real issue. Some journeys are OK - eg an off peak Hsinchu to Banciao, but other station locations are terrible.

Queues can be terrible. Even opting for business class (to avoid the economy queue) doesn't necessarily get you out of queueing. Close to one national holiday I queued longer for a Taipei-Taichung ticket than the journey time. And worse than that, when I got the ticket I had to wait an hour for the next train with a seat.

The shuttle buses are a joke - you never know how long you are going to wait, or whether you are going to be dropped at the bottom of some steps. Again - the shuttle bus journey can take longer than your intended train journey.

Not stopping at the airport is the biggest crime. The line actually passes just a mile or so from the perimeter - Taoyuan station is neither in the town nor at the airport.

What a pity - a wasted opportunity.

The only positive experiences so far are:
1) bumping into Ma on the platform just before he became president and having a chat. Security was pretty relaxed and friendly and he seemed quite nice.

2) On board just after the ticket check, an American bloke and daughter took up seat behind me (in business class). Daughter was a pain, kicking the seat back etc. The hostess quickly appeared and removed them back to economy. Suppose he thought he would just get away with it. He muttered something about not knowing it was business class and it was a bit crowded back there. Yeah right. TW girl was having none of that!

The Japs do it better (albeit at a price).

Last edited by jimbo99; Jan 1, 09 at 2:37 pm
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Old Jan 4, 09, 1:01 am
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Japanese prices are almost the same actually
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Old Jan 4, 09, 1:13 am
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Originally Posted by bizclassboy View Post
Japanese prices are almost the same actually
Is that very expensive ride on the trains?
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Old Jan 5, 09, 12:06 am
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Originally Posted by jimbo99 View Post
Not stopping at the airport is the biggest crime. The line actually passes just a mile or so from the perimeter - Taoyuan station is neither in the town nor at the airport.
The good news is that they're already building a rail link that will connect TPE to both the city center and THSR Taoyuan station. The bad news is that it won't be ready until 2013 or so.
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Old Jan 5, 09, 10:19 pm
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Is that very expensive ride on the trains?
I took the HSR from Taipei to Zuoying (suburb north of Kaohsiung) on Jan 03 and it cost me $1490NTD = $63AUD/$45USD in reserved Economy based on today's rates. Business is $1950NTD = $83AUD/$59USD.

During off-peak, non-holiday season, selected reserved Economy seats are sold at 15-35% off the normal seat price, so you can get at the cheapest $965NTD = $40AUD/$29USD. Non-reserved Economy seats are sold at 7% off the normal reserved price but I think these are only available 30 mins before departure and again, these aren't available during holiday season.

The next fastest train alternative is Taiwan Railway's Tzu-Chiang Express (自強號) which will cost $845NTD = $36AUD/$26USD from Taipei to Kaohsiung. There is only Economy on these trains and these prices do not change with seasonal demand.

Although the Tzu-Chiang Express is sometimes nearly half the price of HSR, when it comes down to travel time, there is a significant difference. The fastest train on the HSR takes around 1.5 hours (stops only at Taichung and Zuoying) and these depart every 20-40 mins. Even if you're on a service which stops at all stations, your journey is only 2 hours long.

On the other hand, the fastest train on the Tzu-Chiang Express is 4 hours (stops only at Taichung, Changhua, Tainan and Kaohsiung), and there is only one such train on the current timetable and this leaves at 18:00. Most trains take close to 5 hours. The trains aren't as new and not as comfortable as the HSR.

FYI: The top speed on the HSR is 300km/h though this isn't often reached (I've seen 300 but the closest this trip was 291). The top speed on the Tzu-Chiang Express is 130km/h.

And why do people keep complaining about HSR-Taichung?? Ok, it's far by taxi and closer to Changhua than Taichung but why not catch a Taiwan Railway local service (區間車) from Taichung to New Wurih (新烏日) and change for the HSR? Services are frequent and it's only a 10 min ride.

Last edited by someone0000; Jan 5, 09 at 10:42 pm Reason: Update on prices
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Old Jan 14, 09, 11:55 pm
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Originally Posted by someone0000 View Post
I took the HSR from Taipei to Zuoying (suburb north of Kaohsiung) on Jan 03 and it cost me $1490NTD = $63AUD/$45USD in reserved Economy based on today's rates. Business is $1950NTD = $83AUD/$59USD.

During off-peak, non-holiday season, selected reserved Economy seats are sold at 15-35% off the normal seat price, so you can get at the cheapest $965NTD = $40AUD/$29USD. Non-reserved Economy seats are sold at 7% off the normal reserved price but I think these are only available 30 mins before departure and again, these aren't available during holiday season.

The next fastest train alternative is Taiwan Railway's Tzu-Chiang Express (自強號) which will cost $845NTD = $36AUD/$26USD from Taipei to Kaohsiung. There is only Economy on these trains and these prices do not change with seasonal demand.

Although the Tzu-Chiang Express is sometimes nearly half the price of HSR, when it comes down to travel time, there is a significant difference. The fastest train on the HSR takes around 1.5 hours (stops only at Taichung and Zuoying) and these depart every 20-40 mins. Even if you're on a service which stops at all stations, your journey is only 2 hours long.

On the other hand, the fastest train on the Tzu-Chiang Express is 4 hours (stops only at Taichung, Changhua, Tainan and Kaohsiung), and there is only one such train on the current timetable and this leaves at 18:00. Most trains take close to 5 hours. The trains aren't as new and not as comfortable as the HSR.

FYI: The top speed on the HSR is 300km/h though this isn't often reached (I've seen 300 but the closest this trip was 291). The top speed on the Tzu-Chiang Express is 130km/h.

And why do people keep complaining about HSR-Taichung?? Ok, it's far by taxi and closer to Changhua than Taichung but why not catch a Taiwan Railway local service (區間車) from Taichung to New Wurih (新烏日) and change for the HSR? Services are frequent and it's only a 10 min ride.
As an Japanese in Taiwan, I find the prices very cheap compared to same distance in Japan (50% less) with same train sets (same 700 series train set cars just painted different colors in Taiwan) running on Tokyo to O-Saka line. Some stations are out of the way, in Tainan and Jhayi are in emtpy area, but Taipei and Banchau are nice in Urban cental areas and Kaoshuing is nice for me, near new areas on north side of the city we I go(bad if you want to to Southside of Kao). Yes, not perfect but for me much better than the airplanes I used before to travel between north and Southern Taiwan. (and trains almost never had delays in the 50+ train rides I had, which is much much better than local trains)
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Old Jan 15, 09, 4:17 am
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I love the bullet trains in Japan. I spent nearly 3 weeks travelling around Japan a few years ago, covered about 2,000km on the bullets - all on time to the second.

It's one thing I would love to see here in the UK. However, in Japan it's not just the speed of the trains but also the frequency. There are bullet trains leaving every 4/5 minutes between the major cities.
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