Taiwan moves into bullet train era

(CNN) — Taiwan’s $15 billion dream of a high speed rail line has moved a step closer to reality with the arrival of its first “bullet train” from Japan.


By October next year, bullet trains are scheduled to be carrying passengers at speeds of up to 350 kilometers per hour (210 mph) on the 345-kilometer (207-mile) journey from the capital Taipei to the southern port city of Kaohsiung.

Taiwan is the first — and so far the only — customer for Japan’s famed Shinkansen high speed trains, which first entered service between Tokyo and Osaka 40 years ago.

The Japanese trains set the technical benchmark for European competitors, such as France’s TGV, Germany’s ICE and Spain’s AVE, which came years later.

In Asia, South Korea’s KTX service, which began operating commercially in April, uses French TGV technology.

Taiwan will receive another 29 trains from Japan this year in what is the first export success for the 700T Shinkansen model made by a Mitsui-led consortium.

The Taipei-Kaohsiung journey, including intermediate stops, is expected to take about 90 minutes — about three times faster than the current service.

That will make the rail line a competitor to airlines and moves Taiwan closer to the concept of what Premier Yu Shyi-kun calls the “one-day community”.

Yu, speaking after the unloading at Kaohsiung harbor of the first train Tuesday, said the introduction of the high speed service will allow many more people to commute between the two major cities.

The system is designed to carry up to 300,000 passengers daily. The 700T train set has two engines at both ends and 10 coaches, with seating for almost 1000 people. Test runs will start on part of the line in September this year.

“After facing many challenges and tests over the past five years, we’re nearing the moment when the project is nearly 100 percent finished,” Nita Ing, chairwoman of the Taiwan High Speed Rail Corp., said.

The line is Taiwan’s first infrastructure project built under a build-operate-transfer (BOT) formula.