The History of Kaohsiung Port Station

Author/ Ming-hsun Hsie

The Land-sea Transportation Network of Kaohsiung Port

Takao Port, in its earliest days, was merely a lagoon surrounded by fishing villages and salt fields. Foreign countries were not around until the Treaty of Tianjin in 1858 opened Takao Port to foreign trade. After the Qing Dynasty signed the treaty, consulates and Hongs were established by these foreign countries, engaging Takao Port in international trade. After Japan colonized Taiwan in 1895, they started building the Taiwan Trunk Railway and transformed Takao Port into a mega port in an effort to accelerate colonization. At that time, the Ministry of Railways under the Government-General was in charge of not only the southern leg of the Taiwan Trunk Railway but also the construction of Takao Port. The ministry wanted to unify the regulatory authority and develop an efficient land-sea transportation network, making the port inseparable from the railway. Such construction played a key role in plundering resources and developing industries and businesses for the colonizer. For example, to develop the sugar industry in the south, modern processing equipment was needed; naturally, the equipment required shipping by steamboats to the port, and trains to the factories. The sugar produced was also transported by train to the port and exported. As the Trunk Line opened to traffic firstly from Kaohsiung to Tainan in the November of 1900, Taiwan Seito Company (台灣製糖株式會社) started setting up a factory in Qiaotou, the midpoint of the operational railroad.

The original Takao Station was set up 1 km north of the Takao Railway Museum and was still in operation shortly after the Taiwan Trunk Railway became fully operational in 1908. As sand was dug up from Takao Port, fortified tidal lands were created in the port station area. The station was then moved south to its current location and upscaled with facilities like a classification yard, roundhouse, coal storage tanks, platforms, overpasses, and a station building. On top of that, a shore line was constructed southward, connecting the port. This area was thus named “Hamasen”, the Japanese for shore line.

Going north from Takao Station is the West Coast line to Keelung and the Chaozhou line to Pingtung Plain; going south and east are the rails and sidings specifically for the port. Cargos from the north and Pingtung were transferred either manually or by machines onto boats, same for the cargos unloaded from boats. It is worth noting that due to the lack of investment from the Ministry of Railways in equipment like freight cars, arriving cargos were unloaded and piled beside the dock without cars to freight them away; this continued even after the war.

In the Japanese rule era, Takao Station, as the terminal station of the Taiwan Trunk Railway, is an important station not only for the combined transport of cargos but also for travellers to connect between maritime and land transportation. With a single connection ticket, travellers can take the train and the cruise to Southeast Asia. After World War II, Pier 13 in Lingyaliao was the port that connected between Kaohsiung and Kinmen for military personnel. From the Harbor line branched a “Landing line” by which off-duty personnel or dispatched garrisons would connect from to Kaohsiung Port Station and other places afterwards.

The Industrial Trait of the Loop Line

After the Taiwan Trunk Railway became fully operational in 1908, many factories were built around Hamasen and Sankuaicuo with the help from trains and boats. These factories, including those of Asano Cement, Taiwan Renga Company and others like canning factories, marked the dawn of the industrialization in Taiwan. Going along the West Harbor line to Pier 11, we can see the historic site of “Taiwan Steel Works”. Here lies the origin of Taiwanese industries as equipment of sugar factories and the steam locomotives of the sugar railways were manufactured and delivered via railways.

In the 1920s, Kaohsiung was designated as the base for Japan’s southward expansion as a part of its Southern Expansion Doctrine. As the old urban area was saturated, the Cabinet of Japan devised a plan for the long-term development of the city. Bypassing the Government-General of Taiwan, the cabinet came up with the “Kaohsiung City Renovating Plan” in 1930. With the goal of a 0.6-million population, the plan moved Kaohsiung Station from Hamasen to Dagang, where the current TRA Kaohsiung Station is. Additionally, a loop line resembling the “Yamanote Line” of Tokyo was planned to circle the city. The rear of the new Kaohsiung Station was the agricultural district, the front the business district, and farther south was the residential and school district. Outside the loop line was the heart of the Southern Expansion Base— factories of arms and heavy industries.

The loop line remained unbuilt due to the outbreak of the Pacific War in 1941. After the war ended, the west side and the east side of the line were combined to form a complete loop line, the “First Harbor Line”. Following the Kaohsiung Station were the vast maintenance depot, railway depot and Japanese dormitories of Railway New village beside the rail. The rail then turns right and goes south along Kaisyuan Road into the residential area, schools and hospitals in Wukuaicuo. Shortly after the train moving past Sanduo Road and into Lizihnei, the view changed; factories started to replace houses and stores. Various kind of factories, including the TRA Kaohsiung Railway Workshop, ammonium sulfate plants, 205th Arsenal, CPC Corporation, Taisugar, Taiwan Aluminium Corporation, Taiwan Fertilizer, Taipower Nanpu Power Plant and so on, were set up in the area. Special rails were planned and branched out from the Harbor Line, going right into the factory areas. The branching rails, complicated like veins in a human body, stood for the robust industrial trait of the Harbor Line.

Besides connecting the factories along the rail and freighting for them, the Harbor Line also had a special siding specifically used to connect the Kaohsiung branch of Taisugar. Sugar processing factories across the country would use the “North-South Parallel Preparatory Line” to ship their goods to Kaohsiung, transfer them to Taisugar warehouses and ports in today’s Pier 2, and finally export them through ships to foreign countries.

In the 1970s, Kaohsiung became the center of heavy industries under the “Ten Major Construction Project”. An additional branch was added to connect the Kaohsiung Port Container Terminal and factories of China Steel with Qianzhen Yard through Zhongshan 4th Road in Caoya area to form the “Second Harbor Line”. In order to transport containers and goods to center and north Taiwan faster, the West Coast Line was extended from Kaohsiung Station to Qianzhen when it was electrified in 1979; this enabled electric locomotives to haul freights all the way north through Kaohsiung Station, and thus contributed greatly to the bloom of Taiwan economy.

Transformation in a Changing Time

Affected by the labour market, environmental policy and globalization of Taiwan, heavy industries started moving offshore one after another in the 90s. Factories in an industrial city like Kaohsiung bore the brunt and were closed one by one. The freight business of the Harbor Line plummeted consequently. With the closure of petrochemical and other heavy industries, the need for railroad freighting was no more; soon it was replaced by freeway freighting, causing the freight rail traffic to go down. Ultimately, part of the Coast Line and its facilities were dismantled.

From 1999, the “Lantern Festival Train” started operating every year during the Lantern Festival, carrying curious locals and tourists on Chu Kuang Express or Fu Hsing Semi-express. The trains moved on the Harbor Line clockwise, enabling the passengers to see the view while appreciating the lanterns along the way. Seeing how well-received the line was, the Ministry of Transportation and Communications funded the city government 100 million NTD under its request from 2003. The fund was used on the safety improvement of the Harbor Line, and the modification of a Tze Chiang Limited Express DR2900 Diesel Multiple Unit into the “Do-do Train”. The train was then appointed to McDonald’s, who scheduled several snack trains and meal trains running the Harbor Line every day. The Harbor Line then became a new tourist attraction, a popular choice for local people’s leisure activity and the smartest way for tourists to learn about the city.

After Pier 13 was closed in early 2006 and military supplies were no longer transported by trains, the city government took the chance and negotiated with TRA to cease operation of West Harbor Line. In coordination with the Coastal City Project, the railway bridge over the estuary of Love River was plated with wood boards and turned into a recreational space for citizens. The loop of Harbor line was obstructed as a result, ending Do-do Train’s route at Xinguang Station. Shortly after that, Do-do Train ceased operation.

The last freight trains of Harbor Line carries bulks of Far Eastern Silo Corporation from Pier 71 and 72. For a long time, the Harbor Line was dominated by hopper trains. After the West Harbor Line was obstructed, the hopper trains were shunted at Qianzhen Yard instead. As the Kaohsiung Railway Underground Project progressed at the tunnel in Gushan District, the only access to the West Harbor Line would be shut off in the end of 2008. From November 1st to 9th, the Kaohsiung City Government held an event called “The Glory History of Kaohsiung”. On November 9th, the last train of the event left Kaohsiung Port Station at 17:30. The last train leaving the station was a boxcar carrying the remaining railroad materials, marking the temporary end of the 108-year history of Kaohsiung Port Station. The spacious station became idle from then on.

In 2010, the Kaohsiung City Government offered TRA to “adopt” the inactive Kaohsiung Port Station, and Takao Station was reborn as the Takao Railway Museum. Over 200 thousand visitors come to the museum every year on average, and with the collection of 11 vehicles preserved here, Takao Railway Museum has become a must-go in Hamasen. In 2013, the government started to build the Light Rail over the original Harbor Line loop as the first stage of the new rail system. C14 Hamasen Station, the terminal station, was erected at the original third and fourth track of the Kaohsiung Port Station. The old Takao Station will resume its function as a train station again since 1900.