Taiwan should build train museum: expert

The China Post news staff

President Ma Ying-jeou said Taiwan’s railroad networks could help promote the country’s international relations, while a local railway transport expert said the island badly needs a train museum. Ma made the remarks during a chat with train expert Su Chao-yu. Their conversation was streamed on the Office of President’s website to mark the last chapter of Ma’s weekly online journal. Su said Taiwan has a rich railway culture to which many foreign train lovers are attracted. The expert said Taiwan should step up promoting its train culture internationally. Su, who has written 30 railway-related books, said Taiwan needs a national train museum to preserve the culture and memories related to the local railway. He said many countries have national train museums. In Taiwan the five major railway networks, including the high-speed train system, have their own museums, but a new body must be set up to coordinate these resources, he said. Su, an assistant professor of transportation from a southern university, noted that the Alishan train running on the 2,451-meter high mountain is a unique heritage of Taiwan’s railway culture. The Alishan train has great potential to “shine” internationally, he said. He also noted that many Japanese visitors love traveling around Taiwan by train. Some of their favorites are old trains in the mountains. A sister tie has already been established between Taiwan’s CK124 steam locomotives and Japan’s C11171 in Hokkaido, Su said. He added that Taiwan can invite more Japanese visitors to come travel around the island by train, which he described as a form of railway diplomacy. The president agreed that the railway culture could help Taiwan find an “outlet” in terms of international relations.

Ma noted that there have been many studies on Taiwan’s railway history, and some previously suspended railway lines with old locomotives have resumed services. He did not commit to having his administration build a train museum, but said collaboration between the government and private sectors can help preserve Taiwan’s railway culture in the future. Taiwan built its first railway in 1887 when Liu Ming-chuan was governor of the island, which was then still under the rule of the imperial Ching Dynasty. Ma noted the first railway was constructed with private funding from British and German businessmen.

He said it was the prototype of Taiwan’s BOT (build-operate-transfer) practice where private businesses are put in charge of constructing and operating a nation’s infrastructures for a certain period before handing them back to the state. The president described himself as a “fan” of Liu’s, and expressed a strong interest in creating a cultural business out of the railway. He said train tickets for trips between two townships, Yungbao and Ankeng, for example, have already become much sought after souvenirs.

The combination of the four Chinese characters of the two townships’ names on the ticket means “forever safe and healthy.”