WITH a population of around 2.8 million, Kaohsiung is the second largest city in Taiwan after the capital Taipei. For many years this industrial city has relied upon road transport with public transport provision dominated by buses, with a comparatively small number of commuters travelling on the Taiwan Railway Administration (TRA) Western Line from nearby cities.

Kaohsiung began planning for a mass transit system in 1987, but it was not until 2000 that construction began on the first phase of the metro network. Operated by Kaohsiung Rapid Transit Corporation (KRTC) and utilising Siemens rolling stock, services began in 2008. By March 2015 the two-line network had reached 43km and several extensions are currently under consideration.

KaohsiungSince the opening of both metro lines, Kaohsiung has initiated moves to further increase public transport usage while encouraging new residential/ business developments and tourist attractions close to public transport. This will be achieved through the development of a light rail network, which will complement the existing public transport system.

The network is being developed and built by Kaohsiung City Government Mass Rapid Transit Bureau (KMRT) and when completed will form a 22.1km loop around the city. Construction began on the 8.7km Stage 1 in June 2013 and this initial section of the route will have 14 stations. Stage 2 will be 13.4km long and will complete the circle with a further 22 stations.

The Circular Line will interchange with both the Orange and Red metro lines, which bisect the city and meet at Formosa Boulevard in the city centre.

Stage 1 begins at Lizihnei, following the harbour side and serving business districts, major shopping centres, education institutes, a stadium, the exhibition centre, and museums before reaching Hamaxing. The line will be 100% catenary-free.

A consortium of CAF and construction company Evergreen was awarded a $NT 5.7bn ($US 190m) turnkey contract in 2012 to build and equip Stage 1. As well as vehicles, CAF's share of the contract includes electrification, signalling, and fare collection systems.

The Circular Line employs former sections of the disused TRA Harbour Line, which was mainly used to carry freight, and Kaohsiung City negotiated the use of this land to minimise property acquisition for the project. The former Harbour Line was 1067mm-gauge whereas the Circular Line will use standard gauge track. The minimum curvature of Circular Line is 25m radius, and the maximum gradient is 5%.

By May the eight-station section of Stage 1 between Lizihnei and Kaohsiung Exhibition Centre was 80% complete and all nine LRVs for Stage 1 had been delivered. Trial public operation is due to start on this section of the route in August, with passenger services scheduled to begin on the remainder of Stage 1 to Hamaxing in October. Stage 2 is expected to open in December 2019.

Rolling stock

During the planning stage for the project in 2004, a Siemens Combino LRV destined for Yarra Trams in Melbourne stopped off in Kaohsiung for a three-month demonstration of light rail technology. However, CAF was ultimately chosen as both the rolling stock and infrastructure supplier for the Circle Line. The Urbos 3 LRVs for Kaohsiung are the first CAF trams for an Asian city, and the first vehicles arrived in Taiwan last September.

The tram and infrastructure design are both closely based on the Zaragoza light rail network in Spain. Both systems use vehicles equipped with CAF's Rapid-Charge Accumulator (ACR) system, which employs supercapacitors and batteries for catenary-free operation. ACR chargers are installed at all stations and the vehicles recharge during stops, a process that takes 30 seconds. The onboard ACR equipment is also fed by the regenerative braking system.

The bidirectional Urbos 3 vehicles have an entry height of 350mm above the rail and are fitted with modern passenger information systems. Trams are automatically given priority at road intersections and a GPS-based positioning system will enable the control centre to track the location of vehicles in real-time.

Each vehicle will accommodate up to 250 passengers, 64 of them seated, and the 450mm-wide seats have been designed for rapid cleaning and replacement. There are 14 seats for passengers with reduced mobility on each tram.

Minimum aisle width is 900mm, with four pairs of 1300mm-wide doors on each side of the vehicle. The five-section Urbos 3 is articulated with three bogies, two of which are powered.

The Circular Line will be developed as a green corridor with trees planted along the route and grass covering the track wherever possible. Grooved rails are fitted with rubber encapsulation and composite damping materials (CDM) to minimise noise and vibration. A tram depot will be complete by August, based on a design that has recently received a Golden Building award for environmentally-friendly design.

Stations are designed to reflect Kaohsiung's tropical climate, with occasional heavy rain storms and intense sunlight. Accommodating passengers with reduced mobility and providing easy parking for bicycles were also key considerations.

KMRT services will operate at a six-minute frequency along the whole length of the double-track line. Fare collection will be through a contactless smartcard system, although ticket machines at stations will also dispense paper tickets for short trips.

With the launch of the green and white trams this summer, Kaohsiung will take another important step towards its goal of becoming an eco-friendly city with a world-class rapid transit system which incorporates modern and inspiring design.

The author would like to thank KMRT, June Rong Chen, Chris Walters, and Kibu Hsieh for their assistance with this article.