If you recall from my earlier post, the old ordinary train was the real reason that brought me to discover Fangliao, a relatively unknown rural place to foreigners. There are only 2 such train services available on the traditional ordinary train now, which plies the mountainous route linking southern Taiwan to Taitung in the east. It is a local train stopping at almost all 14 stations along this line that meanders through 38 tunnels in the sparsely populated mountainous regions.
Although I don’t consider myself a railway fan, but after accidentally finding out about this historical train online, I was very keen to ride on it. It is expected to cease operation completely in the next few years as the entire line is scheduled to run on electric power by March 2022. Furthermore, the train goes through scenic mountains with some parts along the majestic eastern coastline. Just the thought of that made it a must-do for my trip. Perhaps the only downside of the train is that it is non air-conditioned, with only old ceiling fans to cool you down. Indeed, I was a little concerned about this, since I’d be riding the train in scorching summer! But I decided to go ahead because the experience seems too interesting to be missed!
The train departs from Fangliao Station at 11 am daily, & we were told that tickets could be purchased on the day itself from the station as it’s not in high demand these days given the lack of air-con & slower travelling speed. Each ticket costs 104 TWD (~S$4.85) for the approximately 2.5-hour journey. After purchasing the tickets, grabbing some takeaway lunch from a nearby eatery, we made our way to platform 2. Do note there is no elevator/ escalator connecting you to the platform from the station main hall. You would have to go down a short flight of stairs, walk along the path & then climb up a (long) flight of stairs to get there. So if you are thinking of adding this into your next Taiwan trip, you’ve been warned. Travel light or be prepared for some serious muscle training! I thought my whole shirt was soaked after I finally made it into the train haha.
It was a little pity I forgot to tour the entire train or chose the most “auspicious” seat (for best scenery of course) once I got on the train as I was too tired from lugging my luggage up & down in hot weather. The air in the train felt quite still as all windows & fans were shut when we entered. But what I saw in front of me (as per photo above) as we stepped in felt like we had travelled back in time. As expected, there were not many passengers & each carriage probably had 1 or 2 pax in it. We had the whole carriage to ourselves! The old train captain who helped me carry my luggage up the train said we could sit anywhere, switch on the fans or open the windows as we wish. But we had such a hard time trying to pull up even 1 window pane. Guess the windows weren’t lubricated enough due to old age. In the end, we always had to combine forces before we could succeed. 😛
Along the 98.2 km journey from Fangliao to Taitung, there were hardly any cables spotted, except from Zhiben to Taitung where electric trains are available. The first 6 stations are located in Pingtung County, namely Fangliao, Jialu, Neishi, Fangshan, Fangye and the Central Signal Station, going through 12 mountain tunnels. The next 8 stations are in Taitung County’s Dawu Township, Taimali Township & Taitung City – Guzhuang, Dawu, Longxi, Jinlun, Taimali, Zhiben, Kangle & Taitung. Without further ado, here are photos taken throughout the slow but happy train ride to Taitung. 🙂
从枋寮到台东全程98.2公里的路程，都看不到电缆悬挂，直到知本车站才看得到，因为从知本开始铁道才电气化。这样也不错，视线不会被电缆阻扰。14个车站里，首6个位于屏东县，即：枋寮，加祿，內獅，枋山，枋野及中央號誌站，途经12座隧道。下来的8个车站坐落在台东县的大武乡，太麻里乡和台东市 – 古莊，大武，瀧溪，金崙，太麻里，知本，康樂和臺東站。以下是这趟缓慢但愉快车程拍下的照片。:)
As we reached Fangshan Station, a group of students (probably elementary school) boarded the train with 2 teachers & broke the peace & quiet in our carriage. They looked like they were on an excursion to check out 1 of the last remaining traditional trains of Taiwan. While they certainly added some noise, but seeing them had fun helped inject more excitement into our journey as they would exclaim upon sighting beautiful scenery or when we got into the dark & noisy tunnels 😉
抵达台湾最南端的车站 – 枋山站，有一群看似小学生及老师的团体上来我们的车厢，打破原本的平静。虽然偶尔有点吵闹，因为他们看到美景或是列车进入隆隆作响的隧道时，情绪都会很亢奋。但看到他们玩得尽兴，好像也为我们的旅程注入一点精彩。
Between the Central Signal Station & Guzhuang Station is a series of many tunnels through the Central mountains, of which the main Central Tunnel was once the longest tunnel of the Taiwan railway system at 8.07 km. The 10.307 km New Guanyin Tunnel of the north line took over the coveted title since it was completed in 2003. So it was a 10-15 min period of repeated darkness & deafening noise for us without much scenery.
In between Longxi & the next Jinlun Station, look out for the now-defunct Duoliang Station. Touted as Taiwan’s most beautiful railway station, the bright red barrier gates create such a nice visual effect against the pristine blue ocean waters that are so close to the station. The train may be slow compared to newer electric trains, but at this point in time, I just wish time could freeze for a while so that I could take more shots of the picturesque landscape! Consolation: It started drizzling on & off after we saw the tri-coloured ocean before Fangshan Station, so the colours of the ocean & sky at Duoliang Station weren’t the best for photo-taking.
This is another station where we could leave the train for a breather. Probably because this station is located nearby Jinlun Hot Springs so we could see some passenger movement.
Taimali Station shot to fame after a millennium event held here to welcome the 1st sunrise in Taiwan. It is said to be the 1st spot to witness sunrise in the country. Compared to earlier stations, the area around Taimali Station seems to be more populated as we spotted more houses. We seemed to be heading towards inland as the sight of the ocean got smaller too.
As 1 of the 3 largest stations along the south line, Zhiben Station is located in Taitung City. Best known for Zhiben hot springs, we we were allowed to get on the platform as the train would stop here for 10 min. Even the train captain also gave us a friendly reminder to go down for a breather haha. This is also the ending point for Taiwan’s eastern electric railway line, so you may have noticed the presence of electric cables in the photo above. It is also the 2nd last stop before we would reach Taitung Station.
And after all these lovely sights, we arrived at Taitung Station, a modern station with escalators, elevators & passenger service centre. The old ordinary train appeared somewhat out of place alongside modern electric trains & facilities. I should have taken a photo of this interesting contrast to post here! 😛
While the weather might have been a little misty for clear fantastic views of the landscape, in a way, I was glad it was not too hot due to the drizzle. In fact, it was quite cooling in the train after I settled down from my luggage-lugging episode, with fans and windows open. I really enjoyed the ride, & 2.5 hours certainly didn’t feel long. But I regret not walking through all the carriages to check out different views & take more photos. Fortunately I still remembered to rotate my seat from left to right & vice versa for the best scenery haha. (Most of the time, sitting on the right side would get you better scenery though.) Hope there will be another chance for me to ride on the ordinary train before it ceases operations in the future!