Taiwan’s high-speed railway (THSR) first opened for commercial service in 2007. The country’s rapid economic growth during the latter half of the twentieth century meant that a high-speed rail passage was needed to cope with a growing urban population – without it, economists predicted that future growth could have been impeded. A decade on and the 349.5km rail line along the West Coast of Taiwan has announced its highest ever ridership recorded in just one day, amounting to 252,250 passengers. In fact, last month's total ridership was 1.27 million passengers, now making it the most used mode of transport along the western corridor. The number broke the record of 250,423 passengers set in June last year which was the last day of the four-day Dragon Boat Festival holiday period, according to the Taiwan High-Speed Rail Corporation (THSRC) who operate the line. This news has been greatly received by the rail company who suffered slow demand during the start of their operation.
This high-speed train is the first high-speed route in the country which serves the capital Taipei down to the Southern city Kaohsiung calling at twelve stations. Running at a speed of 300 km/h (186mph) it reaches almost 90 per cent of Taiwan’s population in just over an hour and a half with 954 trains provided every week. The total cost of the project was US $18 billion, making it one of the world’s largest privately funded rail construction projects. Construction demanded more than 2,000 professional engineers from 20 countries combined with over 20,000 foreign and domestic workers which took over six years to complete. The system is based on Japanese Skinkansen technology renowned for its reputation for attracting high-speed rail ridership.
At the beginning years of its commercial service, THSRC accumulated high debts from the huge operation costs combined with a shortfall in demand. Therefore in 2009, the rail company realised that the company needed to change tact and encourage more people to use their service. THSRC negotiated with the government to provide concessions for their ridership. Additionally, further government investment helped refinance the outstanding loans that the corporation still had to pay so it could remain operational and profitable. Whilst ridership fell in the first few months of service, it grew to 400,000 passengers per day to 129,000 in June 2013. Seat occupancy was recorded to be at 45 per cent in the first three years and then reached 53.9 per cent in 2012. Now senior citizens, disabled people and children are entitled to half price tickets.
Also making the news last month was the new arrival of free wi-fi which will be fitted on-board all carriages by August this year. This announcement has come a year ahead of schedule in an attempt to satisfy passenger demands. Additionally, THSRC has been made aware of the huge potential that the 2017 university games - a major international sports event held in Taipei, will bring to their traffic. Whilst passengers are able to use their own 4G, wi-fi connectivity on board the train is very poor from the amount of tunnels along the route. As THRCP begin making these changes to passenger experience, it can only be expected that the demand for its rail services will continue to rise.
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