Yes, this has just got to be one of Taipei’s biggest and best-kept secrets so far. ‘Biggest’ because it’s massive – nearly 17 hectares, and set right in the middle of prime real estate in the downtown Xinyi District of Taipei City, right there within sight of Taipei 101 and the financial capital of Taiwan. Wow!
And ‘best-kept’ because it’s really amazing. Nothing much has changed over the years, it’s still a real place. Do not be put off by the title of ‘workshop’, which may be heaven to an engineer, but to the rest of us, it sounds grim ~ though it’s true, it was a working workshop until 7 years ago when it closed down, and work was transferred to Taoyuan. And it’s not yet far enough along to be given the title of ‘museum’, so that’s something of a relief too (think tons of tourists, souvenir shops, entrance fees and everything preserved behind glass). Instead think of trains and railways, think travel, think steam engines, think places to go, places to visit, holidays, adventures and excitement. After all, isn’t that what railways are (or surely should be!) all about?
For that is the wonder of the Taipei Railway Workshop. It’s a rare piece of industrial heritage that was so recently used that it still smells like it’s in use today. This is where it all happened. This is the place where trains were built and furnished, repaired and stored, and sent out around Taiwan. This is the place from where Taiwan emerged into the modern world. A world where people and goods could travel easily from one place to another, in hours rather than days, and all in relative comfort.
You can imagine almost 2,000 men working there, many for the whole of their working lives. In more recent times, women joined the workforce, mostly in administration, but it was primarily a man’s world. The times of checking in and out for work and breaks are still there for all to see. Machines and tools are still in place. Some work has started on restoration and renovation, but there’s so much still to do, and that’s the fun thing. It’s still raw, still fresh, still oozing with history and atmosphere from a bygone age.
It was the Japanese Colonial Administration in Taiwan (1895-1945) who built most of the railways, and as everyone will tell you, even today, while Taiwan cars drive on the right side of the road, the trains follow Japanese convention and run on the left. Some of the Japanese gave their whole working lives too, to building the Taiwan railways. The Taipei Railway Workshop was one of 3 built in Taiwan; this one is by far the biggest, the present buildings date from the early 1930’s. That’s some history!
Until recently I had never heard of this place. The first I heard of it was this post here, by Josh Ellis on his photography blog: https://www.goteamjosh.com/blog/tprail Do check it out for all the information, plus the details for how to book on a tour.
Currently the workshop is open on Wednesdays and Saturdays, and only for guided tours (so far all in Chinese) that must be pre-booked online (also all in Chinese). I went on Saturday morning, with a weather forecast of heavy rain, but fortunately none came; just as well as it’s mostly outside and the tour was over 2 hours. There were lots of children and their parents, and I have to say they were totally absorbed for the whole morning. So was I!
We went everywhere and saw everything. There’s workshops and trains and engines and machinery and even the old bath-house where the workers would wash after their day at work…
There’s a team of people working there to get it all restored and renovated, which is great, but it’s good to go and see it now before it gets too renovated, restored and museum-ized.
NOW IS THE TIME!
One of our much-loved retired clergy in the Taiwan Episcopal Church is Rev. Peter D. P. Chen (陳德沛). He and his wife, Rev. Elizabeth F. J. Wei were ordained together as deacons at Pentecost 1993, and then as priests in September 1997. Peter spent his whole career working for the Taiwan Railways Administration and for the past 5 years before retirement, from 1995-2000, he served as Managing Director of the Taiwan Railways. If you Google his Chinese name you’ll see him on You Tube! I was delighted to tell him I’d been to visit the Taipei Railway Workshop, which he was once in charge of and helped to get preserved as part of Taiwan’s heritage. This is the 3 of us, these guys are just so lovely!
Ah yes, Taipei Railway Workshop ~ it’s a great place. Do go and check it out!