All Aboard the TRA

So you’re ready to visit places outside Taipei, and you learned that the best way to get there is via the Taiwan TRA (Taiwan Railway Administration). You think, that should be easy. Well, it should be and it is. But if you’re feeling unsure and you fear it’s going to be difficult to navigate, here’s a post to show you how to book and purchase tickets, make sure you ride the right train on the right platform, and, ultimately, show you how easy it all could be. 🙂

The local train, a.k.a. “Tai-Tye” (台鐵 in Chinese) travels the eastern side of Taiwan along places that aren’t reachable via the HSR. Usually, those are counties facing the Pacific Ocean, on the eastern half of Taiwan.

This chessboard of a floor becomes a picnic ground on weekends.

Back in the Philippines, we don’t have a local train yet that goes through all of Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao. The best form of transportation is the domestic airlines. So in Taiwan, I really enjoy traveling the island using the TRA or HSR because they don’t have unpredictable traffic that buses experience and don’t have check-in times like domestic airlines have. They’re also faster. If you want to truly travel like a local, the TRA is the way to go.

And here are four important tips to help make it an enjoyable experience for you:

First tips first: Check available train schedules and fares

It all starts with this website: Taiwan Railways Administration

If you already have an itinerary outside Taipei, and would like to see which trains go there, you can check the routes available on the day of your travel. On the Vehicles option, just choose All types, then click Go.

Local Trains are free-seating and can actually be paid using your EasyCard so you don’t have to worry about getting advanced tickets. Meanwhile, express trains offer guaranteed seats if you were able to book reserved-seat tickets.

There are two things you can do while on the timetable screen. You can either just take note of the train schedule you want (have at least 3) and then buy your tickets right on the station. Or you can also purchase tickets online–which can happen in two different ways, both of which I’ll show you below:

How to buy TRA tickets online

1. After selecting your preferred route on the Timetable, tap the ticket icon to get to Booking Online.

2. Just fill out the necessary details then press Start to Order.

3. Once you get to the Booking Success! screen, just read through all the information then press Online Payment to proceed.

4. Carefully read through all the stuff you’d see then if all goes well, you should get the following screen to pay via credit card. You can also try if it’ll work on a VISA debit card, as most online purchases in Taiwan could.

Best to print or print-screen this page before you pay just to be sure.

4. Print your ticket payment confirmation or print-screen the page, then remember to do this on the day of your trip:

Don’t worry about the pick-up time, as there are convenience stores in every train station.

How to book TRA tickets if you don’t have a credit card

Here’s another way to book your TRA tickets if you only have cash, or your debit card doesn’t work online. However, if you do it this way, you have to pick-up your tickets at the Taipei Main Station, or in any train station that has this ticketing machine:

1. Follow steps 1-2 when buying TRA tickets online (see previous how-to above) but stop on the Booking Success! screen.

2. Once there, read through all the information then print-screen the page. Take note of the Ticket-taking due date because this is the deadline for you to pay and get your tickets.

3. At least one day before the due date of ticket pick-up, go to the train station, find the ticketing machine, then tap Ticket Collection.

4. On the first screen, with red Chinese instructions, type your Passport number then press Enter to proceed to the next screen. Then type your ticket’s Booking Code then press Enter.

Type your passport number here
Type your ticket’s Booking Code here.

5. The next screen will reflect the details of your booking, so review it and make sure it’s all correct, then press Confirm.

6. Select Cash, pay the amount shown onscreen. Don’t worry if you can’t pay the exact amount as the machine will give you change. Then, voilà! Pick-up your ticket inside the slot marked as 3.

Check out all the details on your ticket, especially the Car and Seat numbers.

Second tip: Know what your train looks like

The main reason why I actually took time to post this is because there are different types of train that run along the TRA. It’s fashioned after the Japan Rail so expect 5 different kinds (at the very least) of trains to pass here, except the HSR.

So, without further ado, here are the main stars of the TRA tracks:

The local train

The local trains are the usually the cheapest fare, and they also travel every single station on their route. That said, they’re also cheap because it’s free seating inside and the ride may take longer than express trains. If this is what you’re going to ride, you can actually just use your EasyCard to pay for your fare by swiping it on the gates as you would on the Taipei MRT. We usually ride these trains going to New Taipei City, or further up North such as Fulong or Yilan.

These trains are easily recognizable by their steel cars, the color of the middle lines may differ though, but they would ultimately remind you of the Taipei MRT–only with cushioned seats. And you can also ride them using your EasyCard since you can’t reserve a seat anyway. So the most you can do is check which local train leaves to your destination, at the time that’s best for you. If you also use Google Maps to go around Taiwan, these are the trains that might be recommended as part of your public transpo options.

This is a local train ticket and they’re also the smallest. There’s no seat or car assignment on them.

The express trains

Here are the express trains behind the names on the TRA website, and ultimately, your booked ticket:

Chu-Kuang train (C.K. Exp. on the ticket)- These are the semi-express trains that are faster than the local trains. Their main difference is that you can book seats here, whereas you can’t on the local train. However, they still issue tickets even if all seats have been reserved, so you’ll just stand on the aisle or in the corridor connections throughout your journey.
Tze-Chiang train (T.C. Ltd. Exp. on the ticket) – The express train that used to be the fastest on the TRA before the Puyuma happened. They may skip some stations to make your trip faster than the Chu-Kuang, but they also issue tickets to willing standing passengers if all seats have been reserved.
Puyuma train – This is one of the fastest trains that run on the TRA. It gets booked easily because they kinda rival the HSR speed for a cheaper price. Because of this, they don’t allow passengers to stand in this train and would only issue tickets for reserved seats. Unlike the Taroko, it’s a distinct red and white train.
Taroko train – This is the other fastest train on the TRA, recognizable by its white and orange color and its bullet-like nose. It’s also the newest among the express trains and runs a longer route than the Puyuma.

Last but not the least tip: Mind the platform

The local TRA usually has two platforms that correspond to North-bound and South-bound destinations. All you have to do is know which county your destination is on. There are signs everywhere telling you which platform runs through which places so I guess that should be pretty easy to figure out.

Once you’re on your platform, check the timetable monitor to know how long you need to wait before your train arrives, or if there are delays. The timetable monitor can also confirm to you if you’re on the right platform. Check the Car number on your ticket to find which part of the platform you should be waiting on.

It might appear in Chinese first, but English will always appear next.

Then, that’s it! All you have to do is enjoy your train ride. 🙂

Oh by the way, if you have time, try to buy one of those traditional Taiwanese train bentos that are just the ultimate local TRA dining experience. They’re often sold beside the TRA station entrance and they sell fast because they’re delicious, cheap, and very filling!

Here’s my mom enjoying her first TRA experience with the famous train bento! 🙂

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