Taiwan High Speed Rail – First Ride!

Hui- chen and I took the THSR down to Kaohsiung to visit her family during the holiday. As usual, we shot hundreds of photos and lots of video too. Any first THSR experience just has to be blogged on.

Before I begin the article, I want to say that I am extremely impressed with the entire system. It is very well designed and manufactured (from a technical point of view) and we experienced nothing but perfect service, despite the experience of others. After a single round trip on the THSR, I am completely sold on it.

How about we begin with a few cool shots of the thing? Many people haven’t even seen what it looks like yet.

I’d better save a few shots for the article though!

We began our trip at Hsinchu Station.

Unlike the Taiwan Railway Administration system, when you say “Hsinchu Station” you don’t necessarily mean a station that is actually located in Hsinchu city. For an explanation of the station placement strategy please see Understanding the High Speed Rail Stations written by Michael Turton. This particular station is in Jhubei, and actually very convenient when compared to some of the other stations, such as Tainan (which is closer to Kaohsiung than one would expect). Here are some shots of the station:

Outside, we see downtown Jhubei nearby.

Its a beautiful station, and inside is no different. I’ll talk about a few things before I show you the upper levels of the station.

Mosburger has stores in Hsinchu and also Kaohsiung. Hsinchu also has 7-11 and Starbucks.

The parking lot features automatic pay stations. They did some things right when designing the stations.

But they also did a few things wrong too. Here you see Hui-chen sitting on folding chairs on the first floor. There is a beautiful lounge on the second floor, but you aren’t allowed to go up there unless you are waiting for the next train. We had a rather long wait and had to sit on the first floor until our train was the next one to arrive at the station. All seats are reserved, so I don’t know what the big deal is, but like many things in Taiwan, the THSR has certain “rules” that don’t necessarily benefit the people who use the system.

This is a ticket. It shows all the relevant detail in both Chinese and English. The tickets are paper and you may keep them after your travel. They are like the Taipei MRT system (pass through) and the commuter tickets on the TRA. The “problem” is, the system is designed to read the ticket bottom up (where the mag strip is) with the strip to the right.

As a result, there are white-jackets assistants everywhere, and they can be quite irritating! I did not get a shot of it, but the ticket input slot has a graphic that clearly shows the ticket going into the slot, strip up and to the right. Since many people apparently don’t pay attention to such details, you now have a secondary problem of assistants trying to grab your ticket from your hand and putting it into the slot for you; no doubt the result of early groups of passengers having difficultly with the tickets. I found the assistants annoying and hindrance rather than a help. There are so many of these assistants around that they look for other things to do besides grabbing your ticket from your hand at the gates. In Kaohsiung I saw some young assistants helping elderly people ride the escalators up to the main level (good). Later, one of those assistants actually walked me over to the entrance of an escalator and beckoned me onto it, with one of those bows and the outstretched hand (stupid). As if I didn’t understand what the escalator is? Just beware that there are lots people who look like nursing students that will assume you are perfectly stupid and will try to help you do things that your mother taught you. When you add the stereotypes that exist in Taiwan, its a recipe for trouble (you must be going to Taipei, right? You’re a foreigner). OK, flame off!

Because of our luggage, we rode the elevator to the second floor – the waiting lounge. We had an hour to kill and we wanted to shoot some photos for the blog! The glass elevator is nice!

This shot shows an overview of the waiting lounge. One steps off the elevator to the left and either goes to towards the seating area in the background, or up the escalator to the track level (foreground, right).

This shot was taken to show the opposite view as the shot above.

The view directly from out of the elevator. The escalators run continuously and I was surprised that they are not passenger activated.

Looking up at the track level. The station is open and very bright.

This walkway leads to the opposite side of the station to the opposing track. This station is a mirror image and is virtually identical in appearance. Be sure to check the signs to make sure you are where you should be. When we came back to this station, Hui-chen and I had to look at the downstairs shops to tell which side was which so we could exit on the correct side!

After shooting lots of photos of the station, we took the elevator up to the track level. The elevator entrance is wide and spacious.

The first thing that I noticed on the track level is the cool signs.

The entire area behind the station is being developed.

At track level, there are emergency exits.

One of the cute adverts for the HRS.

As dusk approached, the lights came on. The station looks really cool at night.

Notice the lights in this shot.

Now, notice the lights in this shot, taken a few minutes later. The lights don’t suddenly come on all at once, but are staggered.

Before I get to the train itself, I want to mention a few things about the stations. Rather, about the placement of them. While we were waiting for our train, I used my GPS to mark the station as a waypoint. I found that the HSR stations were already available on the basemap, but I hadn’t realized that before. Even more interesting is the fact that the HSR is listed under air transportation, and not ground transportation. I believe that this is because the HSR is nearly as fast as air transportation.

As we were traveling along, I was checking the GPS for our track and speed along the route both to and from Kaohsiung. I found several HSR stations that were listed in the GPS but were never actually completed. For example, there is a Miaoli HRS station, and another one at Yuanlin (hope I spelled that correctly).

Sorry that I didn’t get my Nikon out in time to shoot more shots, but this is the “station” at Yuanlin. There is a paved parking lot and access roads, but no station. This shot shows the area just north of the parking lot. After thinking about it further, I suppose that there is no reason why additional stations couldn’t be added to the existing lines, if there was a need. Maybe someday there will be Miaoli and Yuanlin stations, but who knows? I do know that the distance between Kaohsiung and Tainan is so short that the train didn’t get above 160KPH. Once north of Tainan however, she really opened up.

Now, let’s take a look at what its like to ride the train!

Here it comes!

Inside, it looks more like an aircraft than a train. There are reclining seats and overhead racks for bags. The trains have luggage space, toilets and vending machines.

Since there are no overhead handholds, each seat has a handy grip. The seats rotate 180 degrees.

The seatback tables add to the aircraft feel.

When folded up, each seatback table has a useful graphic, showing were everything is located. The center car on each train is Business Class.

There is a scrolling information sign that gives weather reports for the service areas, and also the train’s current speed.

On the way home, I clocked the train at 272 KPH. According to the GPS, our elevation above ground was 20 meters. At that height and speed, it often felt as if we were in an aircraft.

Economy class is laid out 3 x 2. The 3 seats are A (window), B and C. The remaining 2 seats are D and E (window). Business class is all 2 x 2 with wider seats, music system and electrical outlets.

Here is the view from the train at speed:

Leaving Kaohsiung (Zuoying) area, heading north to Tainan. Notice how far above the traffic we are.

In some places you are literally in the middle of nowhere!

Finally, we arrive at Kaohsiung Station (Zuoying). It is absolutely gorgeous!

We hope you enjoyed riding the new THSR with us! All I could say over and over was “its never going to be the same.” The future of Taiwan will be shaped by the influence of this new high speed rail system.

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  1. MJ
    I took the bullet train the other day too, loved it. Fantastic experience from A to Z. But one thing, your foto of the ticket said that the ticket has all the relevant info on it, but NO, it does NOT have all the relevant info, that being that of the ticket issuer, ie, the Taiwan High Speed Rail. Not once in front or on the back does it say in printed letters or characters that this ticket you have in your hand, and possibly for yur collectors scrapbook or memory book of your trip to taiwan, if you are an overseas visitor or even a local person, not once does it say the name of the HSR on it. Big gaffe, and i have already notified the PR office in Taiepi to please rectify the situation as soon as possible.

    ALSO, you might not have noticed, since you did not get out at either the Chiayi station or the Tainan station, but both these stations look exactly the same inside and outside, they were designed by the same architect, a Taiwanese i believe, and he or she used the same blueprint and building materials for both buildings, which if you go inside them, you will think you were just in the other city, like I did the other day, as I took the route up and down the island.

    But other than that, yes, the bullet train is a fab experiencee, safe, clean, comfy and wonderful. This will put Taoiwan on a new footing and boost the self esteem and inner confidence of the people here. Bravo to all who worked on it.

  2. Dan i like how you put it when you said that the HRS will “put Taiwan on a new footing.” it sure will!

    regarding the ticket information, i did not even notice that the ticket doesn’t say what its for! i’m sure however that the ticket price and transit times will indicate that its the HSR. my original comment “It shows all the relevant detail in both Chinese and English.” meant that everything one needs to know in order to get on the train and ride it, is both in English and Chinese. there are many stories of foreigners taking the TRA trains and not being in the right seat or even the right car because those tickets do not say “seat” and “car” in English – only Chinese. The HSR tickets are dual language.

    that doesn’t explain why the tickets dosn’t say HSR on them though, and Hui-chen got a good laugh when i pointed that out to her. good catch, Dan!

  3. I sent this letter to a newspaper today. the HSR bigwigs listened and decided to take action and put a logo on the tickets. RE:

    Branding products is, as all corporate public relations officials and
    marketing departments know, an important part of communicating with
    the public. On a recent trip on the Taiwan High Speed Rail’s new
    bullet train, however, I noticed that the current orange passenger tickets
    that the HSR issues to customers do not state anywhere, front or back,
    that the ticket was issued by the TWHSRC. In fact, although the ticket
    has all the information needed to board and disembark from the bullet
    trains, it lacks any kind of HSR logo or name identification with the
    HSR or even Taiwan.

    When I recently asked the Customer Service Center at Taiwan High Speed Rail
    Corporation by email if it might be possible in the future to “brand”
    the bullet train tickets, for
    local collectors and foreign visitors alike, I was told:
    “The design and layout of current THSR tickets materialized after
    extensive internal discussion and debate. On the tickets, one is able
    to find sufficient train information for riding the train. However,
    your suggestion is highly appreciated,
    and we have instructed our marketing department to take immediate
    action and place a logo on the tickets.
    Thank you for your concern.”

    Thank you, THSRC, for listening.

  4. Its July now and the THSRC logo is still not on the ticket. How do I know? I rode it last week haha…

    I don’t know if you’d noticed yet but I noticed there is a hidden THSRC logo (the wavy design) on the ticket, a reflective logo, seen only under dim light conditions and shining a light on the ticket.

  5. Mel, no i did not notice that stealth logo on my last ticket. since we save them for tax purposes i’m going to go back and see if i can spot the logo on any of our tickets. good catch! thanks for the info.

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