Taipei Main Station gets facelift on 125th birthday

The Taipei Main Station celebrated its 125th anniversary by unveiling a new facade, including a new roof and lighting system. The station, the main transport hub in the heart of the Taiwanese capital, is served by high-speed rail, metro and regular t
The Taipei Main Station celebrated its 125th anniversary by unveiling a new facade, including a new roof and lighting system. The station, the main transport hub in the heart of the Taiwanese capital, is served by high-speed rail, metro and regular train services.PHOTO: WEI HSINYEN

Bright lights the icing on the cake for train station, which is a destination in itself

The days of mopping up the wet lobby floor in Taipei Main Station are over, after it got a makeover as one of its 125th birthday presents.

In addition to a new leak-proof terracotta roof, the iconic building in the heart of Taipei boasts a new lighting system that casts the building in different colours every day and on special occasions.

The facelift is part of moves by the rail authorities to turn the station into a lifestyle and commercial hub and add more zing to the Zhongzheng district, after an ambitious plan to build a pair of skyscrapers in the area stalled.

The station, which is now served by high-speed rail, metro and regular train services, handles about 600,000 commuters and visitors each day, meaning it is still the transport hub for Taiwanese and tourists who travel within and out of the capital.

The Taiwan Railways Administration (TRA) estimates that footfall will hit 700,000 when the MRT linking Taoyuan Airport and Taipei city opens at the end of this year.

"Taipei Main Station will then become the first touch-point for many tourists who take the airport MRT... so we want to give them a good impression," said Taiwan Railways Administration's deputy director-general Chung Ching-da at a ceremony yesterday to mark the station's 125th anniversary.

Work to spruce up the station started in 2013. Its roof was retiled and its drainage pipes were replaced to stop water leaks in the lobby, which is about six storeys tall.

The station, which was first built in 1891 under the Qing rule, has come a long way. Besides being an important transport node, it has also become a popular hangout area for young Taiwanese and foreign workers. On weekends, many of them sit on the lobby floor and turn the area into a picnic ground.

Breeze, one of Taiwan's biggest department stores, added more buzz to the station when it opened restaurants and stores on the first two floors in 2007.

Mr Chung said the TRA will free up more commercial space when its offices move out of the station by 2021.

"We want to turn the station into another distinctive landmark, like the Taipei 101, that Taiwan people can be proud of," said Mr Chung, referring to the landmark skyscraper which, at 509.2m, is the world's eighth-tallest building.

In 2004, then President Ma Ying- jeou initiated a project to build two skyscrapers, dubbed Taipei Twin Towers, next to the Taipei Main Station to revitalise the area. The towers were to house hotels, retail outlets and offices.

But the showcase project hit a snag when a Malaysia-led consortium slated to build the development was disqualified after it failed to pay the municipal government a performance bond. The Taipei city government has not been able to get the project off the ground.

Still, commuters say they like the station's new vibes. "It's a lot brighter, modern and a comfortable place for us to meet up and chat," said undergraduate Eric Lee, 19, who is at the station every other day to meet friends or take the Taipei Metro.

Hong Konger Howard Cheung, who is on a week-long holiday in Taiwan, said: "I like that the station has a bit of the old and new architecture... it looks quite majestic, like the Grand Central Station in New York."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 29, 2016, with the headline 'Taipei Main Station gets facelift at 125'. Print Edition | Subscribe