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Keelung light railway is a waste of funds, critics say

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Railway industry experts and Keelung residents criticized President Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) pledge to build a light railway between Taipei and Keelung by 2021, saying that the project is unnecessary and does not address residents’ real needs.

Tsai on Friday announced that the government has earmarked NT$8.1 billion (US$264.48 million) to build a tram-train connecting Keelung Port — which the government aims to turn into a home port for international cruise ships — to Taipei’s Nangang District (南港).

The project would be Taiwan’s first to use tram-trains, which would operate on roads and Taiwan Railways Administration (TRA) tracks, Tsai said

“Keelung residents have been expecting a mass rapid transit [MRT] system for decades and none of the previous administrations could provide it. I want to tell everyone in Keelung that we will definitely deliver it. The Democratic Progressive Party administration has the will and determination to ensure that Keelung gets an MRT,” Tsai said.

Europe’s tram-train systems are often built in remote areas that service a relatively small volume of passengers, Society of Railway and National Planning secretary-general Chen Yen-liang (陳彥良) said.

The TRA’s railway service between Keelung and Nangang is already under pressure because of the frequency of trains, and the project would entail its limited railway line capacity being shared with a light railway system, he said.

“The light railway would only take passengers to Taipei’s MRT Nangang Exhibition Center Station and people would have to change trains at Keelung’s Badu (八堵) train station if they want to go to Taipei Railway Station. It would not even be connected to the high-speed rail system,” Chen said, adding that the proposal is nothing more than a bid to fulfill a campaign promise.

“Rather than building a light railway whose trains run only slightly faster than TRA trains, the government should use the earmarked funds to buy new commuter trains,” he said.

A former Keelung resident surnamed Chang (張), who now lives in New Taipei City’s Sanchung District (三重) and commutes daily between her home and Keelung, said the proposed light railway is unnecessary.

“Keelung does not have a big department store, because people in Keelung go to Taipei to do their shopping,” she said. “Nearly all the buses to Taipei — to the city’s Xinyi District (信義), Chang Kung Memorial Hospital, Hsin Tian Temple, or National Taiwan University — depart from Keelung Railway Station. The buses leave about every 15 minutes during peak hours, making them even more convenient than the inner-city bus system sometimes,” she said.

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