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Long-serving trains to be retired after upgrades

TAIPEI -- Taiwan's most luxurious train decades ago, the Guanghua Express, will be retired from service after the electrification of the rail line between Hualien and Taitung is completed in June, according to the Taiwan Railways Administration (TRA).

Use of the aging diesel-powered trains will no longer be economically viable once the section is able to support trains running on electricity, said Yen Weng-chung, vice director of the TRA's Transportation Department earlier this week.

The railway company currently operates 14 Guanghua Express trips per day between the two cities, serving local commuters, train fans and foreign tourists.

“The nostalgic vibe of the old locomotives will be missed the most after they are taken out of service,” said Chang Shui-kuang, a Guanghua train conductor for the past 30 years.

Reaching out through train windows to get lunch boxes sold on station platforms, breathing in fresh air, and relying on electric fans to stay cool due to the lack of air conditioning in the carriages, are just a few of the train's endearing traits that will be remembered, Chang said.

Introduced from Japan in 1966, the Guanghua Express first roared along Taiwan's west coast at a maximum speed of 110 kilometers per hour, providing the fastest and most luxurious service at the time, Yen said.

It was not until 1980, when the Western Line was electrified, that the trains were relocated to serve passengers traveling along the island's east coast.

The retirement of the Guanghua Express trains will open a new page in Taiwan's railway history, as travel on modern trains running on electricity will reduce travel times on the 166.1-kilometer Hualien-Taitung railway section by 30 minutes.

At present, travelers taking the train down Taiwan's eastern coast to Taitung have to change to diesel-powered trains in Hualien before heading further south because the line has yet to be electrified.

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