Traveling in Taiwan: Trains

Last Updated: 201601

One of the most classic way to travel a country is to hop on a train and experience the scenery along the way. To move between Taiwan’s cities, your best bet is to take the trains if driving in narrow and chaotic roads doesn’t sound your travel style. It’s a cheap and convenient method to move between non-major cities without getting traumatized by the traffic. This article is focused on getting you familiar with Taiwan Railway’s routes, prices, how to ride it, and some special things to keep an eye out for.

暖暖車站TRA Puyuma Trains(TEMU2000 。Photo by billy1125, CC: BY

Routes

The building structure of Taiwan’s railway started in 1887, but it’s not until 1991 that the TRA (Taiwan Railway Administration) connects individual segments into a connected route encircling the island. The current length of this entire route is 1085.3 Km(672.4 miles), divided into thirteen different sections, 226 train stations, located throughout each town’s central area.

臺灣鐵路管理局營運路線圖(2014年5月以來)
TRA Operation Route Map(From 2014/05),Image by Zywang114072, CC: BY-SA

Types of Trains and Their Prices

Unlike Japan’s JR that has exclusive nicknames dedicated to different routes and trains, Taiwanese railways are not categorized by routes, but instead categorized by the type of train when selling tickets:

 

  • Limited Express: “Tze-Chiang” (Applies to Puyuma and Taroko.)
    • Charges: NT$2.27 per Km traveled
  • Express: “Chu Kuang”
    • Charges: NT$1.75 per Km traveled
  • Semi Express: “Fu-Hsing” (Applies to shuttle trains)
    • Charges: NT$1.06 per Km traveled

The ticket price will have a base price of 10 Km, then increase according to your specific destination. Pricing will be rounded to whole dollar amount. Here’s a website to check pricing for your desired train travel:

http://www.railway.gov.tw/tw/ticketprice_excel.aspx

Types of Tickets

Aside from the usual one-way ticket, Taiwan Railways also has some alternative tickets and ways to pay. Here are some other methods you can book a ticket with less dollars:

Round Trip: As long as you’re returning to the same station through the same route, paying in the same method; you’re entitled to a 10% discount. If you don’t have a return date yet, don’t worry about it! You can pay for it first, then arrange your seat after you’ve decided on the date.
(round-trip discount is canceled since Jan 26 2016, all round-trip tickets booked since then are considered as two single journey tickets)

Using A Transportation Card (Easycard, Onepass): Traveling in Taiwan, you’ll be very glad that you have a transportation card. This card saves you time, currency coin issues, and offers exclusive discounts including trains. Here’s how to use it: Your ticket price will be based on shuttle train price(the cheapest) plus an extra 10% off that price if you’re riding any express and semi express trains; also works if you’re riding a limited express and the journey is within 70 Kms(43.5 miles). If you decide to ride a limited express train and it’s more than 70Km, you’d still get the discount for that first 70Km, just not the rest of the trip.

TR-PASS: This pass is separated into Student Version (5/7/10 Days) and Normal Version (3/5 Days). The student version can ride the express trains unlimited for the duration of the ticket; the normal version adds on the train options such as Limited Express, Taroko, and Puyuma.

For a complete list of ticket types and fine prints on using them please click here.

How Do I Ride the Train?

Here’s a 9 Step How To Ride:

  1. Decide your origin and destination. (Google Maps can help on this.)
  2. Find the appropriate schedule, and hunt down the train you want.
  3. Visit the online booking system, or visit any convenience store kiosk, or head directly to a train station for their automated machine or windows to buy the ticket.
  4. If you decide to book online, write down the ticket code after booking, then pay online with a card within the specific time frame, or visit a train station window (cards ok), convenience store (Cash only plus transaction fee) to pay and pick up your tickets.
  5. With all the hard work and research you’ve done beforehand, arrive about 30 minutes early for first-timers. Check the platform your train will be arriving on, escalators and stairs may be needed.
  6. Go through the ticket punching gate, find your platform and car and wait there.
  7. The conductor will visually check the boarding process, so don’t worry the train won’t leave you if you’re being polite at the end of the line. After you board and found your seat, if someone’s sitting on it don’t sweat just politely ask them to move or simple show them your ticket.
  8. If you’re riding the limited express or express trains, service personnel will come by during meal time to sell bento(lunch box), it’s definitely something to try!
  9. There will be several announcements before the train arrives at the station, so don’t panic and rush to the door when you hear the announcement. Calmly pack your stuff and move once the train is completely stopped.

Other Questions?

  • Q: I’m a foreign tourist, is there anyone to help me out with the tickets?
  • Generally speaking, the person at the window can communicate though simple English or body language. If you’re a neat person and doesn’t like the uncertainty then you can write down the booking details such as date, time, train no., origin, and destination then hand it over to the booking person.
  • If you’re really scared to face people booking the tickets, consider online booking or operate the convenience store kiosks as the alternative to not face real humans.
  • Q: What If I Need to Change My Ticket?
  • A: If you’re not changing the locations just the time, the train station staff can change the ticket once for free. After that it will be have to be refunded then purchase again, but a service fee will be collected for refunding the ticket.
  • Q: Can I Exit Early?
  • A: If you bought the non-reserved seat ticket, it’s okay to exit then re-enter once, simply tell the ticket puncher you’re keeping the ticket. However, if you bought a reserved seat on the train, your seat is forfeited once you leave the train, and there’s no refund on that.
  • And if you need to extend your ride or a fare adjustment, you can find the conductor for this. If you wait until the conductor comes around for ticket recount, then you might have to pay an extra 50% penalty on top of the extra fare gap you are missing.
  • Q: What If I Miss My Stop?
  • A: As a foreign traveler, we’ve all had the nerve-racking experience of missed or almost missing a stop due to language difficulties. Don’t panic and find the conductor of your train. Let him/her know what happened and he/she can mark your ticket, exit on the next stop then take the opposite direction train back, no extra fare needed.

Interesting Things to Watch For

  • Train Bento (Lunch Boxes)

Train bentos is a special segment of SouthEast Asia (Taiwan and Japan especially) train culture. Except selective tourist dedicated trains, most trains no longer have a car separately designed as a restaurant. Instead now service personnel will come around with a trolley during meal time and sell bentos and other snacks/drinks. The bentos are also being sold at select train station. Each bento is unique to the season and the location it was made, priced at NT. 60, 80, and 100 dollars; other special edition ones include Hokkaido bentos that can be spotted if it’s your lucky day.

  • Recommended: The Last Ordinary Express

After WWII, the blue trains without air-conditioning has become one of the most significant memories for those who grew up with a train in their childhood. Similar to the Green Train in China, these trains have no air-conditioning and can become unbearable during the summer. But these cars have windows designed to be opened at an angle while the train is running to have fresh air in each car.

There’s been less and less of these trains running the tracks as TRA updates their inventory. Right now there’s only south-link route that still has these trains running between Taitung and Fangliao. It’s also because that Ordinary Express runs as the lowest class in the rankings, 12 stops one way can take over 2 hours to finish. Otherwise, this route takes in some of the most beautiful views a train can give you.

 If you have any questions, Please comment below as we will organize the questions to answer in one new post!

 
Translated by Nasha

Peter Chen

Cofounder at Outland Inc
A railfan, aviation fan, backpacker, member of MozTW.
Learnt coding at preschool, and have had a great interest in IT technologies since then.

鐵道迷、航空宅、背包客、MozTW 社群成員。
從幼稚園中班開始踏入電腦與網路世界,自此對各種資訊科技有著極大興趣。

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    • Thank you so much Peter! A lot of useful info here. Am heading to Taiwan and if my friends change their minds about going (as well as my mum), I am prepared to travel SOLO! 🙂

      Btw, can easycard be used for high speed trains or only for TRA?

      Also, when Taiwanese refer to MRT trains, are they referring to the TRA or they are both different? Thanks in advance for replying! 🙂 I know HSR are fastest and a time-saver for me since I have a lot of places I wanna visit! 🙂

    • Thank you so much Peter! A lot of useful info here. Am heading to Taiwan and if my friends change their minds about going (as well as my mum), I am prepared to travel SOLO! 🙂

      Btw, can easycard be used for high speed trains or only for TRA?

      Also, when Taiwanese refer to MRT trains, are they referring to the TRA or they are both different? Thanks in advance for replying! 🙂 I know HSR are fastest and a time-saver for me since I have a lot of places I wanna visit! 🙂

      • Peter Chen

        Hello Kelly, Nice to hear you're visiting Taiwan!

        The "plain" version of EasyCards cannot be used at HSR unless it's bundled inside a locally-issued credit card with autoloading enabled, but for TRA it's no problem. Since March 2016, it works in all TRA lines and stations except Hualien-Fangliao (花蓮-枋寮), and Alishan Forest Railway.

        When we are talking about MRT we're referring Metro Taipei or KRTC in Kaohsiung. They are separated from each other, and other railway systems - hope that's not too complicated for you 😉

        • Thank you Peter! It gives me a so much more clearer pic of the trains in Taiwan. So, the easy cards can not be used for reserved seats too?

          • Correct, but it's tricky here. Unlike HSR, there's no non-reserved cars in higher-class(Tze-Chiang, Chu-Kuang, Fu-Shing) trains in TRA, so if you are using easycard you can take any seat.

            However, it's possible that the passenger who has the ticket with your seat reserved get on the train in the next station, and ask you to change seat. This can be a bad experience sometimes. I would suggest you purchase a reserved ticket unless you have a short journey, or you are taking a lower-class(Local, Ordinary) train.

            • After months of reading on Taipei and Taichung (and talking with ppl who's been to some places), I already get the feel of the transport system. Your article was the most comprehensive there is too!

              May be good if you have one article for travelling between Xinshe to Chung Tai Chan monastery (that's what I am doing) - a little pricey but better than making a huge u-turn to Taichung before going to Puli and then Nantou central!

              We take public transport when it's more than a kilometres cos we don't have a lot of time to see a lot of places.

            • Yeah, I would say for this route having a chartered taxi arranged might be better for you.

              For the big U-turn - the distance is longer but I guess it won't take too much more time, as the U-turn goes with Freeway 6 from Taichung to Puli. The long bridge over river valley won "the most beautiful scenery of Taiwanese roads" award in 2012.

              Another thing just came to my mind is Taiwan Trip (台灣好行, http://en.taiwantrip.com.tw/). They are actually public buses but more focused on serving the needs for tourists like backpackers. Suggested itineraries are published over the website and there are 1 or 2 day pass for many routes, or even packaged local tours which might be suitable for you.

            • Thank you Peter! ^__^

    • Regina Ng

      Hi, I am a student in Singapore who is going to travel around taiwan in Feb 2017. Should I get the TR-Pass Student or EasyCard? Which is cheaper and better?

      Thank you

      • Hi Regina, it depends on how many days and how many TRA trains you are taking:

        - Generally you should grab an EasyCard for the flexibility of wide acceptance (not only TRA but Metro and buses).

        - For TR-Pass Student it's only useful when you are taking more trains in the 5/7/10-day valid period, you can simply sum up the total fare for all trains you are taking, and check if it's worth to use.

        - Note that taking tickets issued with TR-Pass Student is non seat reserved, and it's not possible to take high-level trains including Tzu-Chiang, Taroko, and Puyuma.
        Using EasyCard cannot reserve seats too, but it's good for taking Tzu-Chiang and other trains, but not Taroko or Puyuma.