Tuesday, 8 March 2016

Avoid The Freeways: Take The Train

One of the things I like about Taiwan's TRA railway system is that it seems to be relatively safe. In the ten years plus I've been here, I can only remember reading about one accident in the papers (and if I remember correctly, nobody was hurt). The tickets are also relatively cheap; I can buy round-trip tickets from Tainan to Ershui (which takes two hours) on the same morning as the trip and they cost less than NT$400, or about eight quid. A one way ticket for a route of similar length in Britain (e.g. Edinburgh to Durham) purchased on the morning of the trip would be something like NT$3,000, or about sixty quid.

Whilst the trains appear to be quite safe in Taiwan, sitting as a passenger in someone else's car on either Freeway 1 or Freeway 3 fills me with dread. There is always debris - broken organs from long dead cars and trucks - lying around next to the partition wall or the perimeter fence from the most recent horrific accident. I can't remember ever seeing that kind of thing on England's motorways.

And then there's the nature of the accidents. Bus drivers seemingly falling asleep at the wheel and ploughing into all the vehicles in front whose drivers were slowing to a stop and totally oblivious to what was coming up behind them in their rear view mirror. Lorries careering over onto one side at high speed after a tyre explosion to crush other vehicles. Cars flying through the air from the southbound lanes into the northbound lanes to crash into someone else's windshield.

Possibly the most frightening aspect of this is the fact that there is next to nothing you can do to avoid becoming a victim of someone else's error. If you are stuck in a traffic jam, you have no room for manoeuvre when a bus or lorry crashes into the vehicles immediately behind you. If a car comes flying over the partition wall, there is almost no time to react and nowhere to swerve to in any case that doesn't involve the high risk of a crash. If a lorry's tyre explodes next to you at high speed, you might not be able to get out of the way in time.

Most of the time, these accidents don't happen. But they happen often enough to leave pieces behind that don't get cleaned up.

So I much prefer the trains - even if they are sometimes late. They don't have traffic to contend with and they have few, if any accidents.

I also prefer my motorbike on the provincial highways and smaller county roads, as I have much greater capacity to adapt to the risks posed by other drivers than I do on a freeway. I can pull over and wait, I can turn off onto another road to get out of the traffic, I can slip in and out between the cars and not get stuck in a traffic jam waiting for a bus to crash into me. There are other things I can do to keep away from danger too.

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