Taiwan's Alishan Forest Railway and the UK's Welshpool & Llanfair Light Railway signed a letter of intent (LOI) to become narrow-gauge sister railways on Sept. 27.
Lord Richard Faulkner of Worcester, Lord David Shutt of Greetland, Steve Clews, head of Welshpool & Llanfair, and other related personnel arrived in Taiwan to attend the signing ceremony held at Chiayi's Alishan Forest Railway Cultural Park. The distinguished guests will take the famous Alishan steam-powered train on Sept. 28 to embark on a cultural heritage tour of historical stations along the mountain railway and important forestry cultural heritage attractions.
The sister railways agreement was made possible with the gracious assistance of Michael Reilly, director of the British Office in Taipei between 2005 and 2009. On Reilly's Taiwan visit last November, he held meetings with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Forestry Bureau and other government agencies, which led to the Sept. 27 signing sisterhood pact by Steve Clews and Director-General Lin Hwa-ching of the Forestry Bureau.
Welshpool & Llanfair Light Railway became the seventh railway that signed a sisterhood pact with Alishan Forest Railway, following Japan's Oigawa Railway and Kurobe Gorge Railway, the Swiss Gornergrat Bahn Railway, and India's Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, Nilgiri Mountain Railway, and Kalka-Shimla Railway.
Alishan Forest Railway: An International Heritage Railway
The Alishan Forest Railway traverses through tropical, temperate, and deciduous forests with a route of 71.6 meters climbing from Chiayi, 30 meters above sea level, to the Alishan Station, which stands at a staggering altitude of 2,216 meters above sea level. Moreover, the railway reaches Chushan Station, the highest railway station in Taiwan at an elevation of 2,451 meters through its 6.1-kilometer Chushan Line.
Such feats of engineering ingenuity, coupled with the region's rich cultural heritage, have led Alishan Forest Railway to be dubbed the nation's premier railway treasure. It was also voted as one of Taiwan's potential world heritage sites of the first category in a survey conducted by the Council of Cultural Affairs, predecessor of the Ministry of Culture, in 2003.
Britain was Pioneer of Railway Development
At the Sept. 27 signing ceremony, the visiting guests specially noted that the key to their success is preserving traditional railway techniques and methods and combining local culture, history, humanities, environmental resources, and industries. As a sister railway, the Welshpool & Llanfair Light Railway will share its extensive experiences in heritage preservation with Alishan Forest Railway in the hope of fostering closer railway exchanges between Taiwan and Britain.
The Forestry Bureau expects the sisterhood pact to not only facilitate the exchange of railway techniques and heritage restoration knowledge between Taiwan and the UK, but also boost the international visibility of Alishan Forest Railway and attract more visitors from Europe, thereby enhancing the economic benefits of tourism and culture.
The Charming Welsh Heritage Railway
Just like Alishan Forest Railway, the Welshpool & Llanfair Light Railway runs on a 762-mm narrow gauge with smaller turning radius in response to the craggy terrain of central Wales. Unlike the timeless forest scenery of Alishan, however, the Welsh railway runs in undulating hills with verdant fields dotted with flocks of white sheep. Its time-tested steam locomotives remain popular with contemporary visitors.
The Welsh heritage railway had also been transformed from freight to passenger transport and suspended operation for some time because they could not compete with highways. However, railways fans and enthusiastic civic groups pooled together resources to help it resume operations in 1963. It still runs today, upheld by a group of passionate volunteers.
Alishan Forest Railway Has Bright Future
Alishan is one of Taiwan's greatest natural treasures, and its railway is an invaluable cradle of cultural heritage and woodland resources. The Forestry Bureau will continue to promote Alishan Forest Railway with eco-tourism and develop an ecological travel projects by connecting natural sites in the Chiayi area.
The Bureau will also pursue international partnerships with mountaineering railways across the world and study their restoration techniques and marketing strategies through bilateral exchanges. The objective is to perfect the preservation of Alishan Forest Railway and advocate for its inclusion on UNESCO's world heritage list.
Photos and footage of the Sept. 27 ceremony can be found at https://goo.gl/WTJzvj.
Alishan Forest Railway Garage Cultural Park = 阿里山森林鐵路嘉義車庫園區
Welshpool & Llanfair Light Railway = 威爾普蘭菲爾鐵路
Director-General Lin Hwa-ching = 林華慶局長