By Shelley Shan / Staff reporter
The Ministry of Transportation and Communications （MOTC） plans to promote two railway lines used by the sugar industry in Yunlin and Chiayi counties as tourist attractions, connecting them to nearby high-speed rail stations.
The two sugar railways belong to state-run Taiwan Sugar Corp’s （Taisugar） Huwei Sugar Refinery Plant （虎尾糖廠） in Yunlin and Suantou Sugar Factory （蒜頭糖廠） in Chiayi.
The Huwei plant, established in 1907, is one of the company’s two sugar refineries still in operation, the Bureau of High Speed Rail said.
The railway line to the plant is still used to ship sugarcane in the sugar producing season from December to March or April, during which railway fans would be able to see it in operation, it added.
The Suantou plant, built in 1906, was one of the three largest sugar refineries in Taiwan during the Japanese colonial era, the bureau said, adding that production was halted in 2001 after machinery was severely damaged by flooding caused by Typhoon Nari.
The railway connecting the Suantou plant was subsequently converted into a tourist line after the Chiayi County Government turned the facility and properties along the railway into the Suantou Zhecheng Cultural Park, it said, adding that the park has in recent years seen an increase in visitors due to its proximity to the National Palace Museum Southern Branch.
The plans to connect the sugar railways to high-speed rail stations in Yunlin and Chiayi have been included in the Forward-looking Infrastructure Development Program, an NT$880 billion （US$29.1 billion） initiative proposed by the Executive Yuan that is to be carried out over the next eight years.
Minister of Transportation and Communications Hochen Tan （賀陳旦） on Tuesday visited both sugar railways and discussed the development plans with local government officials.
The Yunlin County Government and Taisugar are to work together to renovate the railway in the county to also carry passengers, the bureau said, adding that they plan to extend the line to the high-speed rail station in Yunlin.
The railway line, once extended, would be able to transport visitors to the Huwei plant, the high-speed rail station, sugarcane fields and farming villages nearby, it said.
The agencies are also to work on integrating tourism resources in Huwei, including plans to build a hand puppet study center and to preserve military dependents’ villages.
The Chiayi County Government plans to extend its sugar railway east to the high-speed rail station in the county and west to the National Palace Museum Southern Branch, the bureau said.
Apart from visiting tourist attractions along the line, passengers could also go cycling on bike lanes that are to be built near the railway, it added.