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How to use the Taiwan High Speed Rail

Cute Taiwan High Speed Rail train

The Taiwan High Speed Rail (THSR) is a high-speed railway on the western side of Taiwan that starts at Taipei in the north-west and ends up near Kaohsiung in the south-west. Along the way it connects the capital with most of the major cities on the west coast, the most populous area of the island.

Taiwan’s high-speed trains are based on Japanese Shinkansen technology, and are therefore known for their high level of comfort, great safety record and almost perfect punctuality. Tickets are much cheaper than in Japan though, especially when using discount single tickets or the THSR Pass.

Taiwan High Speed Rail stations

The THSR trains are based on modern Japanese Shinkansen technology

There is currently only one line on the Taiwan High Speed Rail, which heads down the west coast. There are a few types of trains, from ones that only stop at a few major stations to ones that stop at all the stations along the way.

The fact there is only one line makes it pretty easy to navigate, but passengers should just be aware that some of the stations are not actually in the city centers. A free shuttle bus is usually provided, but you’ll need to take this into account if timing is an issue. The following require the use of a shuttle train or bus to get to city centers or the airport:

  • Taoyuan – metro train to Taoyuan airport (20 minutes, NT$20)
  • Hsinchu – shuttle train (19 minutes, NT$16) or shuttle bus (6 minutes, free)
  • Miaoli – shuttle train (3 minutes, NT$15)
  • Taichung – shuttle train (12 minutes, NT$15) or shuttle bus (20 minutes, free)
  • Changhua – various buses available
  • Chiayi – shuttle bus (20 minutes, free)
  • Tainan – shuttle train (23 minutes, NT$25)
  • The THSR train for Kaohsiung actually stops at a station called Zuoying, from where you can take the metro into the city (13 minutes, NT$25).

Seats and classes

There are two classes of seats on THSR trains, Standard Seats and Business Seats. Standard class seats are set in rows of 3+2, but are still quite comfortable compared to standard Taiwanese trains and much more spacious than airline seats. Business class seats are larger and more comfortable, in a similar fashion to an airline business class, and in a 2+2 seat configuration. They tend to be about twice the price of standard seats.

Reserved and non-reserved cars

All THSR trains offer both reserved and non-reserved cars. It’s generally recommended to reserve seats at busy times such as weekends and national holidays, as trains can get completely booked up. Bilingual signs near train doors and on platforms indicate whether a car is for reserved or non-reserved seats.

Advanced reservations are required to use a seat in a reserved car. All Business Seats are reserved. Reserved Standard Seats are a little more expensive than non-reserved when buying normal tickets from a ticket office or machine. Holders of the THSR Pass and the discounted one-way ticket can make reservations for free.

Seat reservations can be made at ticket offices, or if you are buying normal tickets you can use the official smartphone app or ticket machines.

Buying tickets

Those on tourist visas are recommended to buy the THSR Pass or the Discounted Ticket (One-Way), as you’ll probably save quite a bit. Otherwise you can purchase tickets at THSR ticket offices, convenience stores, ticket machines or with the official smartphone app. If you’re not on a tourist visa, it may be possible to get early bird discounts or multi-ride ticket discounts on some routes.

Staff usually speak English well enough to buy tickets from and make seat reservations. Additionally, the ticket machines at the stations and the official app have English modes. All local and most foreign credit cards should be accepted whichever method you use to buy tickets.

Amenities and services

Seats can be reclined, have little tables ahead of them and can also be turned 180 degrees so that a row of seats is facing another. It’s considered fine to eat or drink on the trains as long as the smell is not strong. If you need to buy snacks or drinks on the trains, you can get them from the food carts that occasionally pass along the aisle.

Free wifi is available at all stations, and on most trains, but electrical outlets are usually only provided to Business Seats. There are overhead shelves as well as space at the end of the cars to store larger items of luggage.

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