Airport MRT Up and Running

The luggage drop-off area at Taipei Main Station for airport-bound passengers. Photo: Wikipedia

Since starting operations in March 2017 after repeated delays, the Taoyuan Airport MRT line has quickly become popular among airline passengers. Riders have commended the service as convenient, safe, and punctual.

Last year, the airport MRT carried an average of 63,000 passengers daily, 12.5% more than the 56,000 in 2017. The train served 34% of all air passengers, up from 25% in 2017.

“If those 63,000 passengers a day still went to the airport by car, you can imagine how congested the traffic on the freeway would be,” says Taoyuan Mayor Cheng Wen-tsan.

Passengers need only 40 minutes to arrive at the airport from downtown Taipei, passing five stations along the route, free from the worry of missing their flights due to traffic jams. The trains travel between Taipei Main Station and Terminal 2 of the Taoyuan Airport, departing every 15 minutes between 6 a.m. and 11 p.m. The on-time rate reached 99.95% last year.

Passengers of all Taiwanese airlines and five foreign carriers (Cathay Pacific, Cathay Dragon, and Malaysia’s AirAsia and its two subsidiaries, AirAsia X and Philippines AirAsia) can complete all airport check-in procedures – including luggage check-in – at those airlines’ counters at the Taipei Main Station before boarding the Airport MRT. Each day, an average of 500 passengers, checking in about 440 pieces of luggage, use the service.

The train has caused the proportion of travelers using bus service between the city and the airport to plunge from the previous 26% to merely 15%.

However, the share of passenger cars, including taxis, has remained virtually unchanged, as travelers from outside the central Taipei area may still find it more convenient to come by car.

In addition to the airport-link service, the new MRT line also helps meet the regular transportation needs of residents of greater Taipei and Taoyuan. Trains for their use – colored blue rather than the purple cars for airport transportation – start from a different platform in Taipei Main Station than those for the airport. They end at Huanbei station in Taoyuan, stopping at 19 stations in between. The total travel time comes to one hour and 20 minutes.

The Airport MRT has proved popular with passengers due to its convenience and punctuality. Photo: CNA

To attract more passengers, the Taoyuan Metro Corp., the operator of the Airport MRT, last October cut the fare of a full-range one-way ticket by NT$10 to $150. The company, which belongs to the Taoyuan government, cited its healthy profit levels and said it wished to give something back to its customers. The operation took in net profit of NT$220 million (over US$7 million) in the first half of 2018, compared with NT$118 million for all of 2017.

One major reason for the profitability is that the entire construction cost of NT$120 billion (excluding land cost) was borne by the central government, which took over the project in 2003 following the bankruptcy of the original BOT (build-operate-transfer) contractor.

To further increase ridership, Taoyuan has started construction of a 2.06-kilometer extension of the Airport MRT. But the additional line, for which NT$13.8 billion has been budgeted, may not meet the original schedule of beginning operations in 2026.

The electromechanical system must be compatible with the Airport MRT’s existing system, built by Invesys plc of the UK, which was later acquired by Siemens. But due to the small scale of the project, Siemens has been reluctant to bid.

MOTC’s planned solution is to enhance the appeal to potential bidders by combining the contract with the one for the electromechanical system of the airport’s projected third terminal. That tender is scheduled to be held in June.