Taiwan High Speed Rail: From a difficult beginning to indispensible



Today sees a critical report from the Audit Select Committee on plans for the High Speed rail link to Manchester.  As a strong support of HS2, I want to make the case for HS2 on economic growth and jobs grounds for Manchester. I also want to argue for HS2 on rail capacity grounds (easy given some of the over-crowding on our local network) and on the grounds that HS2 will weaken the demand for UK internal flights.

Taiwan's High Speed Rail link is a good example of a High Speed Rail link that delivers on all these grounds..

Taiwan's High Speed Rail links the two most populous Taiwanese cities, with further stops between the 2 cities. At the southern end high speed rail is linked via light rail to the airport (connections are made without leaving the high speed rail terminus).

High Speed rail was not universally supported during the planning and construction phase (sounds familier?).  In fact during the first few years ridership was not high enough for the line to make an operating profit. Yet, just five years later Taiwan’s High Speed Rail link is profitable, popular, building extra stations and evaluating options for expansion.

When you ask about this turnaround, the same answer comes back, convenience. The journey that takes several hours by car can be completed in around 1.5 hours by train, and there are convenient connections to locations across both cities by light rail when you arrive. You can even check luggage in for the airport at the High Speed Rail station!

This journey is similar to the situation of high speed rail between Manchester and London. The journey by car takes between 4 and 5 hours (when avoiding the rush hour), but high speed rail will deliver you there in just 68 minutes, and both ends of the line will have excellent light rail or underground connections to the rest of their respective cities.

President Ma referred to the line as ‘bringing Taiwan together’. Taiwan managed to build this impressive high speed line with 100% private money, backed up by Government cheap borrowing.

This popularity has led to a dramatic reduction in internal flights – with all the obvious environmental benefits this brings, such as a huge reduction in CO2 emissions.

The advocates of HS2  need to be making the case for HS2 as strongly as those opposed to it are. At the moment, that is not happening.



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