Recently, there has been a heated discussion on the government’s vision of completing a ring of round-island rail systems. Among the different voices, some people go against the idea for several reasons: they worry that the construction of a round-island Taiwan high-speed rail (THSR) network will impact Taiwan Railways Administration (TRA)’s operations. Also, running THSR can be expensive, not to mention its environmental costs.
According to the railway passenger traffic trends, THSR registered a record low of 15.56 million passengers when it began operating in 2007. Its passenger traffic then rose steadily, surpassing 50 million in 2015 and peaking at 67.41 million in 2019. TRA observed a similar trend, whereby its passenger traffic climbed from 170 million in 2005 to 236 million in 2019. In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic had taken a heavy toll on railway passenger traffic as people’s willingness to travel had greatly reduced, resulting in a 15.1% (57.24 million passengers) and 13.8% (200 million passengers) decline in the passenger traffic of THSR and TRA, respectively.
By looking at the passenger traffic data in the chart above, it can be seen that THSR and TRA are not necessarily rivals. Between 2009 and 2012, the passenger traffic of TRA's Western Trunk Line indeed declined dramatically when THSR commenced operations, but TRA's total passenger traffic climbed at the same time, particularly on its Western Trunk Line in 2013. Subsequently, the passenger traffic of its Eastern Trunk Line increased as well. The increase could be due to longer vacations and the addition of overtime buses to meet the demands of passengers attending local seasonal activities, resulting in a significant increase in people’s willingness to travel or return to their hometowns. TRA’s passenger traffic then maintained a slight growth since 2014. This suggests that the key to boosting passenger traffic is to meet the increased travel demands of businesspeople and tourists as a result of economic growth. Operation-wise, in addition to launching incentive schemes that stimulate traffic growth, railway operators must also improve railway safety and service quality and tap into more diverse markets in order to achieve sustainable operation.