My Frustration With the Taichung MRT

My Frustration With the Taichung MRT

 

I live next to a road called Wenxin Lu (said “When-Shin Loo”), in Taichung City, Taiwan, and I’d like to discuss my frustration with the Taichung MRT.  Wenxin Lu was a six-lane road with multiple intersections with each intersection having formerly included a turning lane.  Before we go any further, click here to get a sense of Taichung’s population density.

Wenxin Lu is the second-largest road in the city, best described as “The Outer Loop,” is one of the most important roads in Taichung City.  It allows a driver to circumvent driving through the NYC-comparable population density of “The Red Zone,” seen here:

 

document

wenxin

 

Wenxin Lu is a huge 8mi (13km) long half-circle and was renowned for being practical: it is within the city yet far out enough to not have to deal with all the harsh inner-city traffic within The Red Zone.  For many people, it was the most crucial road in the city, connecting the most up-and-coming districts in Taichung – Nantun, Xitun, and Beitun – right on the border of the already-chic Nan, Xi, and Bei districts.  Because of that, it makes the perfect place to install an elevated train line: the start of Taichung’s legitimate MRT system.

I say “legitimate” because Taichung has had commuter rails for quite some time and, really, that’s all this really is.  Taichung has expanded far enough out, as an urban area, that a conventional rail system just isn’t feasible to connect these districts.  The East/South sections of Taichung are a dead-zone, which makes it easier to run a conventional train through it.  The West/North, the only option is underground or elevated; Taichung chose to go up instead of under.

Like I said up top, I live right next to Wenxin Lu – my balcony is less than a football field away from construction on Wenxin Lu and, when the project finally finishes, I will be just a couple of blocks from a station.  Now might be the right time to mention that construction is “expected” (i.e. hoped) to finish in 2018.  That’s four years from now.  Oh, it’s also been being constructed since 2009 and was originally estimated to be completed in 2014 (aka “now”).  While the entire line will be 10mi (16km) long, 7mi (11km) of that will run straight down the middle of Wenxin Lu.




Obviously, living a block away from constant construction during daylight hours is frustrating, but we are builders and we must build, so I accept that reality.  Unfortunately, due to Taichung’s government being notoriously corrupt, lazy, and incompetent, Wenxin Lu is essentially unfit to be driven; you are better-off driving through The Red Zone.  A drive down Wenxin Lu that once took a half hour (yes, here in Taichung, seven miles in a half hour is making pretty decent time) can now easily take up to two hours.  And it’s only going to get worse; in the five years of construction, they haven’t even finished laying the ground-work, let alone install any track.  This is my way of saying, “There’s no possible way this will be finished in four years.”

Let’s take a look at the Grand Plan that is the Taichung MRT (ignore the Red Line; it’s nothing more than refurbishing conventional commuter train track that was already in place):

 

taichung_mrt

Click it and it’ll get nice and big.

 

Now…I’m not going to take a cheap-shot and mock the blatant capitalization and spelling errors on the official planning document for a US$1.8 billion (with a “B”) project.  OK, that’s not true.  Seriously: they can’t even spell colors correctly?!!  Damned-near two billion dollars getting dropped on this, and this crack team of geniuses can’t even spell-check words like “planning,” “transfer,” “golden,” and “purple,” not to mention getting the names of the stations right?  I don’t say this to make fun of their English skills; I say this because it’s indicative of how thrown-together this entire production appears to be.  Bear in-mind, this whole thing has been prepaid in full by our Glorious Benefactors at City Hall.  Those two billion dollars are gone and in the pocket of private construction companies that care so much about what they’re building they’ve doubled the deadline and can’t even be bothered to check the spelling of words.  Two.  Billion.  Dollars.  Remember what I said about the corruption and incompetence?  Welcome to Taichung.

Looking at that plan, you can see that Jimmy Chen (sorry, buddy: yours is the only name on the map) projected the completion of the Green Line last year as being 2017.  In the year that has passed, the projected completion is 2018 – after a year of work, they are another year behind schedule.  It’s as inefficient as it could possibly be without them actually destroying their own work so they have to do it all again.

Here’s a basic timeline for you to see how ridiculous it all is:

2004 – Governmental Permission Granted to Begin Building the Taichung MRT
2009 – Construction Begins on the Green Line – 10mi (16km)
2014 – Original Green Line Completion Date
2018 – Current Green Line Completion Date

So, the original Five Year Plan that was the Green Line has become a Nine Year Plan, but no one in their right mind believes that it will be done in this decade.  It’s taken five years and they have a minuscule number of pillars erected on Wenxin Lu (which is 70% of the line and the hardest-to-construct section).  Meanwhile, left turn lanes no longer exist and many left hand turns are now illegal.  What was once the pulsing Main Artery of Taichung is experiencing cardiac arrest.




Allow me to take you back, across the world and 150 years in the past, to Merry Ol’ England in the 1860s.  You might remember the Sweet Life in London in the 1860s from every Charles Dickens book you’ve ever read (or even just heard of).  It was a time before fancy-pants things like “internal combustion,” “electricity,” and “indoor plumbing.”  People didn’t even know what germs were.  Steam power had made the scene less than a century before and we were finally getting the hang of it; the first steam locomotive was built fifty years earlier, right there in England.  It was an exciting time to be alive, assuming all the disease, starvation, and pollution didn’t kill you.

It was in that era that the first underground railway was born.  Powered by steam engines and gas lanterns, it took three years to dig 4mi (6km) of tunnels, lay track, and start using it.  Three years.  Four miles.  No electricity.  They built a train that, on its first day, carried 38,000 people between Paddington and Farringdon.  It’s one of the greatest success stories of 19th century industry – one of the most impressive feats of engineering ever accomplished.  To this day, the London Underground is seen as a marvel of the modern world, all starting with the famous Circle Line (now better-known-as the “Inner Circle”):

 

london_underground_tube_Circle_line.svg

 

That “circle” you see there is a 16mi (25km) long testament to human will.  From the day it was approved to the day it was completed, thirty years had passed.  And, remember: no electricity – no power, at all, save for man, horse, and steam.  Since I gave you a timeline for Taichung, here’s a timeline for London’s Tube:

1854 – Governmental Permission Granted to Begin Building the London Underground
1860 – Construction Begins on the Circle Line – 16mi (25km)
1863 – Paddington to Farringdon – 4mi (6km)
1868 – South Kensington to Westminster – 3mi (5km)
1884 – Circle Line Completed

To save you from having to go back up and compare it to Taichung’s timeline, here’s Taichung’s timeline again:

2004 – Governmental Permission Granted to Begin Building the Taichung MRT
2009 – Construction Begins on the Green Line – 10mi (16km)
2014 – Original Green Line Completion Date
2018 – Current Green Line Completion Date

It took London, in the mid-1800s, six years between getting approved and starting work; it took Taichung, in the early 2000s, five years between getting approved and starting work.

It took London, in the mid-1800s, eight years between starting work and having a functioning 7mi (11km) of underground track; it has taken Taichung, in the early-2000s, five years of work to say that the earliest it can have their 10mi (16km) of functioning elevated rail is still at least four years away (a total of nine years, though many estimates believe it will be closer to 12 years).

So, my frustration with the Taichung MRT?  The first metro rail system built in London in the 1860s, built by pioneers who had nothing to compare it to – no one to advise them – no electricity – nothing but humans, horses, and steam – managed to tunnel and lay underground track faster than Taichung can lay elevated track today.  That’s embarrassing.  I have plenty of frustration with the Taichung MRT, but compared to my embarrassment over the Taichung MRT, it’s nothing.




33 thoughts on “My Frustration With the Taichung MRT

  1. Dude, you’re in Taiwan and you complain about their english spelling ?

    When they start labelling all plans in Chinese in your country, even broken chinese, they you can start bitching.

  2. Hey. Nice read. Funny how construction accidentally started right before local elections. That corrupt bastard Hu wouldn’t have won otherwise. Now elections are coming around again, and voila, it’s being built at relatively high speed. Wonder what’s gonna happen when the clown wins again…..

  3. Nice article. In general I agree with you. Though I think looking to Britain is a somewhat unfair comparison. I’m sure things like differing safety and labor standards and political climate affected how quickly Britain could build their subway. It something to at least consider when making your comparison.

    Your comment about the pillars is just not true. I drove by several of them on my way to school today and I’m aware of several more further up the road. (This is on the corner of Xitun if you are interested.) Also many of the stations on the BRT blue line are already constructed and in place, at least out toward DongHai University.

    Also in the 1850s and 60s both Snow and Pasteur had done experiments/enacted health programs that form the basis of what we now call germ theory, though at the time miasmas were still the dominant theory. Sure it wasn’t common knowledge, but people were working on it at that time.

    Anyways, lets hope Taichung gets back to normal sooner than later.

  4. Your first photo the bottom (yellow) line reads “533K people in 608mi2 (876 per mi2)” Sorry about the big 2 for square. The bottom (yellow) line should read “533K people in 608mi2 (.876 per mi2)” It is a big difference

  5. This is typical of Taiwan. Look at freeway 6 built at a cost of over 1billion US dollars and they never charged a toll fee for vehicles even with the new ETC. Look at the Wen Wan Resort at Sun Moon lake a BOT ( Build Operate Transfer) operation. The cheapest room is 900 US dollars. Can a normal local person afford to stay there? No way only the rich. So the common person lost the opportunity to sty at the location which at one time was reasonable priced.The government get a very small percent of the profit and the operator builder gets the rest, while the local people get shafted.

  6. I think even minuscule is under selling it. I’m not suggesting you drive the length of Wenxin Road and count all the pillars, but you shouldn’t assume the stretch you drive is representative, especially when there are pillars in place and future stations like the one at Daqinq already have pillars and platforms. You were mistaken once, you should at least take the time to not be mistaken again.

    If you are interested on hopping a scooter and doing the drive, I’d be happy to join you.

  7. Sorry for the rant . Comments are always welcome , I imagine any intelligent person who has lived here for some time would find some things that don’t quite make sense. What I don’t understand is the incessant, ignorant, and often times downright ethnocentric ways that foreigners will generalize and complain.

  8. @hsu wen shao
    I think that’s fair. Most foreigners in Taichung drive me nuts for similar reasons; I find most of them to be underachieving, simple-minded, often-heavy-drinking, unrealistic jackasses. I do think it’s interesting that you have issues with ethnocentrism, when your original comment was pretty anti-foreigner, but it’s all good.

    It’s always interesting to me how people will accept criticism from those they know but not from those they don’t; many people in Taichung would get as upset about someone from Taipei talking negatively about Taichung as they would someone from Japan or Germany. So it’s beyond ethnocentrism, I think…it really speaks to “You are not one of us, therefore your commentary on us is invalid.” Which is something I see from a lot of people on the planet, not simply one country or ethnicity.

  9. @hsu wen shao

    No need to bring into this discussion whether the person is foreign or local is there? It’s simply not important. It is irrelevant!

    This article was very well researched and prepared overall, it is more concise than most material you will find in newspapers, magazines or the governments own websites.

    What is your material contribution to the discussion?

    I’ve also lived in Taichung for quite a few years, it’s only in the last year that the project has obviously really kicked into gear and it does seem some progress is being made FINALLY a decade after the budget was approved.

    It is good to see progress now however delayed it has been to date.

    I also find Wenxin road traffic troublesome although I would say it is mainly due to the high volume of car users on the roads in Taichung more than anything.

    I live in Nantun and it is easier to get around on the 74 and outer roads.

    In general Taichung is ideally designed for car drivers, but building more and more roads just contributes to more environmental destruction and pollution and traffic jams at choke points.

    I wish people in Taichung would more be more responsible citizens and vote in a better city administration. You get who you vote for!

  10. My wife who is from Taiwan but another area also got this reaction from Taichung locals

    Wife- There’s not much diversity of restaurants..
    Local – We love hot pot..we have so many different hot pot restaurants

    Wife- Wish they had better public transport
    Local- We don’t need public transport, it’s easy to drive by car or scooter and buses are crap (so what do tourists/young people/old people/people who don’t want to drive do? Is it really that easy to drive everywhere…not on weekends it isn’t!)

    People here can be very defensive.

  11. @Eugene Hirte

    I don’t get that either, it’s obviously public money funding private operators.

    At least all buses and non-residents should be charged for using the 6. They should not be allowed to use the old route either to prevent them clogging up local residents streets.

    The real money over the last 10 years in Taiwan has all been in public-private construction projects…and a lot of it goes into connected peoples pockets.

  12. @Wade Kaardal

    The comparison was pretty fair. Modern subway construction is a much easier and simple affair using a lot of pre fabricated materials and even in Taiwan there are many experienced subway contractors.

    There’s no excuse for the huge delays.

  13. @taichunger
    I wouldn’t exactly call it well researched. As I said in my first comment, there are pillars and at first Joseph said there were none.

    I suppose if you ignore things like the Red line being elevated(new tracks, platforms, etc.) and opening this year, as well as the blue line being finished and opening this year, then yes comparing the one part of the Taichung MRT that is not going to open this year to the British metro system is a fair comparison…

  14. I see the flaw – the first 3 have a measurement of – K per Mi., the 4th does not have the K.
    Also the Taichung MRT (the first line) will not extend past the regular rail road tracks in the south. The line will turns to the West on Jianguo North Road to the High Speed Train Station.
    Some pillar have already been built. At the North end of the line it zigs and zags.
    Check the Taichung Metro “Plannig” Map.
    The best way to improve traffic flow is to have a computer operate all street lights in Taichung. With a sophisticated program you could in theory drive down Taiwan Blvd. (Taichung Gong Lu from near the train station to DongHai University without stopping. The next street taking priority is WenXin Road.
    Also take notice of the work on the regular train – elevated train tracks. If you look at the intersection of Wenxin Lu and Jianguo by Zhongshan Hospital, the viaduct will have to be removed before the elevated train tracks can be connect to both side with are elevated. This intersection in the furture will be ground level.

  15. How can the officers get commission from the contractors without complicating the entire construction plan? So these kinds of wrong route planning, overlong constructing schedule, and confusing explanations from government are quite understandable to some, or maybe i should say: most, Taiwanese. You don’t believe it? Ask the electorate who voted for KMT and its candidates.

    But, to look into the bright side, if you own any apartments or real estate nearby the MRT station, you can make huge earnings by selling them after or even before the completion of the construction. 20 years ago, Taipei suffered the same problems when Taipei Metro was under construction, but now, look at the price of real estate along the metro lines. You will understand why most of residents along the MRT lines can endure all the noises and pollution. Taichung is just doing it in the same way and I believe most of Taichung citizens agree with this future blueprint.

    Nevertheless, I am really impressed on your explicit points of view to the municipal affairs, particularly you are a foreigner. This is a great article!

  16. I think you wrote a good article – the criticism on here is pointless semantics in my view.

    I’ve been living here for six months on a work assignment (I don’t drink by the way).

    I’ve spent several years living in other countries so have a pretty broad experience. Overall I’ve visited over 30 countries.

    In my view Taiwan has many of the problems you have spoken about (and many others) partly due to the complete apathy of the people living here.

    To put it simply, most of them can’t be bothered. Many Taiwanese go through red lights (sometimes with multiple children on their scooters), don’t indicate, drive scooters unnecessarily on foot packs, drive when they can walk, drive when the place they are going to is less than 100 meters away etc etc.

    I’ve also noticed an appreciation for rote learning with creativity and critical thinning discouraged.

    Most of these issues and others I believe are a result of the people’s daily decisions living here.

    Stop with the excuses Taiwanese people – if you want your country to be a place that you and others can enjoy living in then YOU personally need to take some responsibility and make a change.

    • One thing that seems to be overlooked in this comment, among others, is that the locals have a different culture than any of us posters.
      “if you want your country to be a place that you and others can enjoy living in then YOU personally need to take some responsibility and make a change.”
      I don’t mean to offend, but that is quite an arrogant statement. It implies that your way of life is better than theirs. (It’s worth noting that Taipei has a different culture than Taichung in many ways). How many Taiwanese have expressed that they don’t enjoy living here? I fear for my life riding on the streets, but I enjoy living here quite well. Rote learning makes Asians more intelligent (very generally speaking), at the expense of creativity. I would much rather an American come up with an idea and a Taiwanese work out the details (again, in general).

      The apathy that you speak of also makes for a very inviting culture. In Taichung, foreigners are warmly welcomed by the average local, whereas in NY or any number of US cities, foreigners are ignored.

      All that to say if you go abroad, expect a different culture. Don’t expect the culture you left!

  17. @Wade Kaardal

    Your are right in that regard, Mr.Fritz doesn’t have a good handle on the current progress as it stands. They’ve moved relatively fast over the last year from what I can see, work is ongoing across long sections now and the BRT seems to be half way there (I often drive out to Xitun and along Wenxin Road and just passed the Red line part today which seems to be pretty much done also).

    But otherwise the background to the MRT and the explanation of timeline and routing was well researched and laid out.

  18. @Rodger Johnson

    They have voted for this administration 3 TIMES already. By this I mean the majority. Unfortunately local politics in Taiwan is corrupt and if you understand about Taichung and Changhua you will know who is involved. There are billions and billions of USD involved in public and private construction projects and property rezoning and the local governments get to choose which areas get compulsory purchased and who gets what where.

    It’s a crazy system, and it ultimately results from weak central governance. The administration in Taipei give the local governments a relatively free hand and in return they get voting block support from the local governments.

  19. @Loser from Taiwan

    Yes, the local population is now conditoned to expect corruption in every project (and it seems a reasonable assumption as almost every major public construction projects has had proven corrupt incidents and politicians or officials indicted over the last few years). For instance just even in Taipei the recent ‘Twin Towers’ project had to be shelved due to corruption and the Taipei MRT management company has also had officials linked to serious corruption.

    Then you’ve got Taoyuan aerotropolis and Miaoli Dahu incidents.

    The local population has pretty much given up on clean politics and don’t expect anything more, just to hopefully get some benefit for THEMSELVES.

  20. And now we see that the Taoyuan vice magistrate has also been indicted for corruption, right on schedule. Nothing changes.

  21. Thanks for sharing your great opinion. Actually, the Taichung Planning Metro Map is made by a citizen that the map is not a official document. The Map creator Jimmy Chen didn’t get any money form the government, but the document correctness is very important. No matter it’s made by whom. In order to provide better information for foreigners in Taichung. I already Facebook to the creator to tell him about the map’s spelling problem.

    Sincerely

    • James Chen…are you Jimmy Chen? Thank you very much for your classy response and, if you speak to Mr. Chen, please thank him for not taking any of what I said personally. If fact, if he’d ever like some help on projects, I would be happy to assist with English editing. On a side note, I am actually quite impressed with the MRT construction advancements on WenXin Lu, since I first published this blog six months ago (if only I could take some credit! haha). Again, thank you for your comments here.

  22. Haha, I’m Jimmy’s brother. Just kidding. I know our names look like brothers, but I don’t know him at all. “Chen” is a very big second name in Taiwan. I think I may have a lot of brothers and sisters, LOL.
    Anyway, I really appreciate that you want to assist with English editing. If I get any response from him, I will let you know.

    The MRT construction had a lot of works underground that was like pipe adjusting. Hence, we couldn’t see any improve before 2014.
    However, we can see a lot of viaducts are finished on WenXin Lu in this year. Hope the construction can be finished ASAP.
    Cannot wait!!

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  25. Looks like folks will have to wait a bit longer since they’ve been KILLING innocent people to shave a few bucks off here and there.

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