Alumni Peer Advisor Taiwan Taiwan Thomas Kuklinski

NUMTOT Escapism on the Danhai Light Rail

It’s been a hot minute since I’ve written a blog post. I know I don’t typically like to break the fourth wall on my blog, but I feel like our circumstances warrant it. With everything going on right now, I think we could all use a good dose of escapism. So, without further ado, here is a blog I planned to write when I was back in Taiwan, back in a simpler time when it was advisable to take public transit for fun.

I love public transit. Y’all know this already. So when I found out about Taipei’s newest Metro line (well, it was the newest metro line), I had to take it. It’s called Danhai Light Rail Transit (DLRT), and while I had no business in that area of the city, I wanted to ride a shiny new train, and man, was it worth it.

This train is significant for a couple reasons.

  • It’s one of the first stages of a major MRT expansion planned for Taipei. I’m always amazed to see governments prioritize transit. Despite some expected rush hour crowding, the Taipei MRT is pretty well sized for the city, but it is more focused on the city center. This expansion increases public transit accessibility for the outer districts, which is fascinating because increased public transit access not only promotes economic and social equality, but helps the environment, and shows how the government is able to cooperate on large public works projects.
  • This line goes to one of my favorite regions in Taipei: Danshui. I don’t need to say anymore.
  • It’s the first trolley/light rail line in Taipei, and given Taipei’s geography, it has some of the most interesting infrastructure in the network.
Transfer Signage at the 紅樹林 Station

You have to take the Red Line all the way to 紅樹林站, Hongshulin Station (R27) Here you can transfer to the DLRT. This station is really pretty. TIf you take the Red Line all the way to 紅樹林站, Hongshulin Station (R27), which is really pretty, you can transfer to the DLRT. The structure of the station is inspired by traditional Taiwanese architecture, and has a lovely view of… well… the 紅樹林 (Mangrove Forest). It is a gorgeous contrast of urban and natural – something I saw a lot of on this trip.

Each of the stations had little sculptures and murals like this

Starting at the first station, I noticed the DLRT’s adorable branding. Each station has some sculptures and custom benches that have a whimsical, fairytale creature feel. I think this line is meant to encourage tourism in Taipei’s already charming Danshui District. These decorations give the route a feeling of cohesion across the line and give each stop some flair.

I was the only person under 50 on the train, where are my Taiwan NUMTOTs at?

From here, the train proceeds for a good length elevated. This train has some of the biggest windows in public transit; rightfully so, there is so much to take in on this trip. The completed DLRT system is a loop constructed in two phases, the mountain line and the ocean line. This first section is the mountain line, which, naturally, runs through the mountains.

To my surprise, there were many established communities in this region predating this rail link. For most of this elevated section, there was a wall of high apartments abutting the rail line. The windows on the train were almost bigger than those in the apartments. It’s like my train car became someone’s neighbor for the briefest second. I got off at any stop that looked interesting (most of them) and was treated by any combination of old temples, mountainside gardens, modern high rises, and 80s apartment blocks.

Neighbors to the Light Rail

Towards the end of the line, the train sunk down to the ground while the city ascended around the tracks. I saw the infancy of a whole new city. Unlike the other stops, this town seemed to be purpose built for an influx of residents attracted by the new rail link. It was like nothing I had ever seen in the U.S. Developers were jumping right to high density housing. Huge multi-phase apartment blocks were standing next to open fields. Not recently leveled housing stock, but acres of undeveloped land. While most Taiwanese people would consider this district a suburb of Taipei, to my American eyes it was a city all onto itself. Heck, it’s more of a city than Phoenix.

Farmland becoming high rises

After getting off the train, I wandered around this premature city. The streets were empty. The windows were taped up. The streetlights still had plastic wrap on them. If you build it, they will come, but they hadn’t finished building it yet. Things still felt sterile. For some strange reason, I feel like I need to come back here later in life. It’s like I visited a newborn in the hospital—I know they’re going to grow up, but I have no idea how. I saw how development made its mark on life, and now I need to see how life makes its mark on development.

The Fisherman’s Wharf Station under construction on the Ocean Line

Plus, I need to see the opening of the Ocean line, too. I much prefer the ocean to the mountains anyway.

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