The last “blue” commuter train (藍皮普快車) brings passengers to the mountains and oceans, and vice-versa, in southern Taiwan.
The journey takes them on a trip down memory lane too — antique seats, retro interior design, unique blue color coaches — that attracts thousands of local and international rail lovers each year.
Most people don’t know but this is the oldest type of train operating on the Taiwan railroads. The coaches date back from the Japanese colonial era (1895-1945).
The slow train stops at every station, and there is little wonder that the blue commuter train and its noisy diesel engine have become synonymous with the lives of Taiwan people in the 20th century.
The blue commuter train only runs on the South-Link Line (南迴線) connecting Fangliao, Pingtung (屏東枋寮) and Taitung City (台東), one round-trip every day.
The decades-old coaches, towed by a diesel engine which was imported in 1970, has no air-conditioner, meaning it is the only train in Taiwan in which you can open the windows.
If you board at Fangliao station, the train takes you across a borderless plain first, a series of tunnels, and finally, across the Central Mountain Range.
The Pacific Ocean will then appear right in front of your eyes as the train continues to head to Taitung along the coastal line.
With windows open, you can directly experience the winds blowing and fresh colors of nature, that’s why a Taiwan writer once said that the blue commuter train can “dissipate the gloom.”
Taking a blue-painted ordinary train is also the best way to experience the local-called “down mountain wind” (落山風).
The wind is the northeast monsoon which passes through the south part of the Central Mountain Range, dashing down the west side of the mountain and creating a strong downslope wind in Pingtung.
Every winter, when the down mountain wind starts, the blue commuter train becomes shaky; since the windows are open, the rumble of the train forces you to talk to each other loudly.
As the slowest train in Taiwan, the blue-painted ordinary train stops at every station. Therefore, some secret places on the South-Link Line can be reached only by the ordinary train, such as Fangye (枋野) and Longxi (瀧溪).
The train conductor will remind passengers to wave and say hello to the station staff when passing through the stations. “There are only one station master and one staff there the entire day. They will be happy to see you guys waving at them.”
If you want to take a ride on the train which carries many people’s childhood memory, go to the Fangliao station in the morning. The Ordinary Tain 3671 departs from Fangliao at 10:40 every morning, and the return trip Ordinary Train 3672 leaves Taitung at 4:10 pm.
By Carol Kan