In July of this year, after marking the 106th anniversary of the opening of the Alishan Forest Railway, the Forestry Bureau officially established the "Alishan Forest Railway and Cultural Heritage Office" with an aim to closely integrate forestry heritage and railway culture. This August, the Bureau will begin offering a series of "cruise style train" journeys incorporating local customs and seasonal attractions. In addition to featuring an increased number of scheduled trains, integration of local cultural heritage, forestry cultural heritage, and nature conservation concepts, and the development of related cultural and creative products, the Bureau will also provide privately-chartered train services to corporate and school groups including custom travel itineraries and "run a locomotive for a day" activities that give participants the chance to experience what it's like to work as a train driver and conductor. Drawing inspiration from the management practices of Alishan Forest Railway's sister railways, the Bureau has also taken steps to introduce a membership program and volunteer-based operating model, adopt a more diversified management strategy and more flexible hiring system, and incorporate a performance-based model. It is hoped that these new measures will allow the Alishan Forest Railway to break even financially within five years, enabling this century-old national treasure to achieve a splendid transformation and gain a new lease on life.
Promoting 'Cruise Style' Train Journeys to Boost Eco and Forestry Culture Tourism
The Alishan Forest Railway began operation more than a century ago and once played an integral role in the livelihoods of forestry-related industries. Since then, the railway has become a driving force for tourism development in Chiayi and its surrounding areas and has given birth to Taiwan's unique forest railway culture. The Alishan Forest Railway's unique qualities and ecological diversity are widely acclaimed by railway heritage experts worldwide, putting it on a par with some of the most well-known scenic railroads on the planet. The establishment of the Alishan Forest Railway and Cultural Heritage Office (referred to hereafter as the "Forest Railway and Cultural Office") highlights the government's commitment to promoting the preservation of forestry cultural heritage and willingness to embrace new ways of thinking with respect to eco and cultural tourism. In the future, stations along the railway line will serve as focal points of the cruise style train journeys to further promote railway ecotourism, and enhanced guided tours will be offered to passengers. The tours will emphasize local ecology, forestry, and aboriginal culture in a way that helps revitalize local economies of mountain villages which dot the railway line while tying in Alishan's new image and nostalgic style to create sustainable economic development in the Chiayi region.
Connecting Local Communities to Promote the Beauty of the Alishan Forest Railway
According to Forestry Bureau Director-General Lin Hwa-Ching, there are abundant forest ecosystems and rich local cultural heritage sites along the Alishan Forest Railway which were previously inaccessible to most travelers. In the future, the Forest Railway and Cultural Office will coordinate with local communities to understand their needs, help plan eco tour itineraries, formulate relevant supporting measures to strengthen community participation, and help mountain villages retain local talent. In addition, the Forest Railway and Cultural Office is working together with communities to make improvements to the spaces around train stations, cultivating a more appealing atmosphere which encourages tourists to visit local villages. As visitors gain a deeper understanding of the culture of the Tsou aboriginal tribe, see what makes their settlements unique, and enjoy a more meaningful trip, this service model will also help spur development of more diverse cottage industries, empowering local communities with greater autonomy and access to economic benefits.
For example, the integration of the forest railway with the Shizilu community encourages local agricultural products to be produced and consumed locally. Visitors can enjoy a pot of locally-harvested high mountain tea, DIY aiyu jelly snacks and mochi, take leisurely strolls along paths near small stations, and participate in fun activities related to the local ecology. The forest railway not only connects local communities with nearby recreational facilities, but also helps expand ecotourism. Partnerships are gradually being formed between the railway and neighboring communities in a manner that will help protect the environment, maintain biodiversity, and promote cultural diversity, allowing the Alishan Forest Railway to bring greater value to the community. Visitors can even get hands-on experience installing new railroad ties, allowing them to appreciate the hard work and dedication of the forest railway's maintenance workers who are responsible for maintaining a railway with over a century of cultural heritage.
A New Management Approach: Diversified Business Model and Advertising Slower Paced, In-Depth Travel
According to the Forestry Bureau, in contrast to the modern and highly developed round-island rail network of the Taiwan Railways Administration and the fast and convenient nature of the high speed rail (HSR) line, the Alishan Forest Railway serves as both a mode of transportation and as a recreational attraction with local flair, and its railway stations boast a rich culture, diverse assortment of locomotives in service, deep historical connotations, and charming scenery and sightseeing opportunities. This makes the Alishan Forest Railway perfect for visitors who desire a slower pace of travel and opportunities for cultural enrichment.
In the future, in addition to continuing to improve safety management and operating performance, the Forest Railway and Cultural Office will push for new innovations including enhanced marketing campaigns and new creative concepts focused on in-depth cultural tourism and environmental conservation. Forging closer ties between Alishan and Chiayi City will create an interconnected hub for ecotourism in the greater Chiayi area, creating a synergy effect with wide-ranging benefits for all stakeholders. The forest railway is not just a way to get around; it is a key pillar for helping to expand the in-depth cultural tourism industry and generate greater international exposure for tourism in Taiwan, attracting more visitors from around the world to visit Taiwan while spurring development of the domestic tourism industry.
The Shuishan Line: A Hidden Gem of the Alishan Forest Railway
The Shuishan Line used to be the first segment of the Dongpu Line, and the track bed along this section of the old line, which begins at Zhaoping and runs about 1.6 kilometers, is still in excellent shape. The other remaining section of the line, however, has been repurposed into the roadbed of the New Central Cross-Island Highway. Now that the old rail line has almost completely vanished, it makes the preserved section of the Shuishan Line — now the last remnant of the Dongpu Line — all the more precious. The Forestry Bureau decided to restore this section of the line by turning it into a new tourism branch line which will be connected to the Shenmu Line, Zhaoping Line, and Zhushan Line.
After work on the Shuishan Line is completed, the line will operate at an elevation of more than 2,300 meters above sea level and allow visitors to access magnificent forest scenery with ancient trees stretching high into the sky, giving visitors a chance to relax and immerse themselves in natural beauty. At present, the Forestry Bureau has constructed a simple platform at the end of the railway line which allows visitors to get on and off the train. From the end of the Shuishan Line, visitors can walk along a path to see the Shuishan Giant Tree, which at approximately 2,700 years old is one of the oldest residents of the Alishan National Scenic Area, and it is expected to become one of the biggest attractions of the Alishan Forest Railway.
Innovative Management Team Delivers More Outstanding Service
The Alishan Forest Railway is one of the most important drivers of local development, and the Forestry Bureau has established a dedicated management organization tasked with transforming the Alishan Forest Railway into more than just a "mode of transportation" by identifying and developing important untapped value. Using an innovative new management approach which combines ecology, history, culture, and public and private sector resources, the management organization is promoting more comprehensive spatial planning and integrating resources in a way that elevates the well-being of local communities and preserves important cultural heritage. Going forward, the Forest Railway and Cultural Office Management team will strive to improve operating safety and service quality in order to continue delivering the finest ecotourism and rail travel experiences to domestic and international visitors, making the Alishan Forest Railway become synonymous with the "Beauty of Taiwan".