The standard trains in Taiwan are run by the Taiwan Railway Administration (TRA). The TRA has a network that circles around the whole island, as well as a few branch lines that lead into the mountains. Trains are a convenient way to get around for travelers in Taiwan, with most major cities having a centrally located station or two.
The following is a guide on how to use the TRA trains in Taiwan. Elsewhere on the site are more specific pages on the Taiwan High Speed Train, as well as guides for the Taipei Metro and Kaohsiung Metro.
1) Train categories
Trains in Taiwan are divided into the following categories:
These stop at every station. No reserved seating, but the cheapest prices.
Express trains (Chu-kuang and Fu-hsing)
Express trains skip some stations. Tickets are about 20% to 30% cheaper than for the Limited Express trains.
Limited Express trains (Tze-chiang)
Limited Express trains stop at only a very small number of stops. The prices are cheaper than similar routes on the Taiwan High Speed Rail.
There are two special Limited Express train services. The Taroko Express (太魯閣列車) is a modern tilting train that that heads down the east coast from Taipei to Hualian in under two hours. The Puyuma Express (普悠瑪列車) is the fastest on the TRA network at about 150km/h. Both are considerably more comfortable than other TRA trains, but do not have standing tickets.
2) Seat categories
While local trains only offer non-reserved seating in cars, TRA also offers reserved seating for Express and Limited Express services. IC cards cannot currently be used to reserve seats, so if someone gets on the train with a reservation for the seat you are in, you will need to move. A plus of using IC cards though is that they can be used to get on Express services even when they are sold out, and with a standing discount.
3) Buying a ticket
Most people use IC cards for short journeys, as they are the simplest way to get around and are accepted at all stations on the TRA network. Note though that IC cards are not accepted on Puyuma Express and Taroko Express services, but can be used on other Limited Express trains (Tze-chiang). There are occasional exceptions, so always ask a station staff member if you are unsure.
For long journeys, here are other ways to buy tickets:
The TRA app is the easiest way to buy tickets and check train times when on the go. Most foreign and local credit cards are accepted, plus there’s a convenient function that allows you to hold a ticket, with the option to pay within two days to secure the seat. The app is available both on iPhones and Android devices.
Tickets can also be bought online on the official TRA website. In addition to paying with a credit card, you can also pay at convenience stores and at TRA stations.
The traditional ticket machines require customers to look at a route map containing stations and prices, then purchase a ticket for the corresponding price. Thankfully though, major stations have ticket machines featuring touch panels that have multilingual support, so use these if available. Otherwise, it’s recommended to use the app or just purchase from a ticket office (bring your passport when buying the tickets).
4) Entering the paid fare zone
At the automatic gates, simply scan your card or ticket and walk through. If you are connecting to the Taiwan High Speed Rail, you will need to exit and enter separate ticket gates for that service.
5) Station platforms
You can find your train using the large television displays at ticket gates and on platforms, or electronic signs at older stations. The final destination will be shown, and in some cases the stations that the train will stop off at. Information is provided in English and Chinese, as well as Japanese and Korean at major stations and on tourist lines.
On some platforms, markers on the floor are used to indicate where you need to wait to get on your ticketed train car. Those with non-reserved seats, or using IC cards, can just line up at a convenient spot.
6) Riding the train
Almost all trains have overhead hangers, so you can put your backpacks or other bags up there. Suitcases can be brought on, but you may have to put these on the floor next to your feet if the train is crowded.
Talking or using mobile phones is generally accepted in Taiwan. Eating and drinking on most services is allowed, but not as normal as in some other countries. On the other hand, on Express and Limited Express services many people enjoy a traditional Taiwanese bento box bought at the station.
Upcoming stations are announced in Mandarin, as well as English and other local languages for many services. Use Google Maps to know where you are if announcements are not made in your language. Many trains also have electronic signs in each car that display upcoming stations and other essential information.
When you get to your final destination, just leave the paid fare zone through the ticket gates. At some older stations, you’ll need to show your ticket to a conductor.