Taipei Railway Workshop and Songshan Tobacco Factory

Taipei Railway Workshop

I visited Taipei Railway Workshop with some friends last fall. Sadly that was a few months before I started this blog. It was during an open period, where you could look around the grounds and buildings, much as they had been left on the last day of work. I'm uncertain of the exact proposals for the site, but I've seen big changes planned, so by the time you're reading this it may look quite different there. I visited toward sunset on the final weekend, so apologies that the photos are a bit rushed, and grainy.

The Taipei Railway Workshop is a huge facility to the north of Xinyi, which acted as a maintenance location for Taiwan's trains. It dates from the Japanese era, when the railways expanded massively, and facilities near Taipei Main Station were too small and hemmed in to expand. 

The main entrance. The sign reads 'Railroad Cultural Festival'.

Abandoned sidings with the new Eslite building at Songshan Tobacco Factory behind.

The first buildings were built in the 1930's, and included the very impressive carriage and engine works buildings. At that time the site was outside the city limits, but almost 90 years later it is surrounded by the city, and the land has high development value.

We started our tour in the main entrance building, which had been converted into a small museum. There were a few artifacts on display, such as old timetables and tools. Outside it was possible to explore the majority of the site, with just some parts to the south and east off limits. 

The next building we entered was for carriage repair. This building was cavernous and very long. It was dark inside, and a hypnotic light and shadow artwork was projecting on one wall.  

The second building was the engine works. This was an impressive sight. The main hall is over 100 meters long and about as tall as a six floor building. The roof is constructed out of complex tightly interlocking steel bars. It's an amazing piece of architecture and engineering. I was happy that most of the buildings were full of the tools and other items that had been left there. In a lot of heritage buildings in Taipei, whoever manages them, tends to decide to get rid of everything in the interior. It was great to see the machinery left as though work had just finished. 

The main engine works building and an old steam train boiler.

Some of the machinery was really ancient, including a steam hammer from Glasgow dating from 1889 in a smaller building.    

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L: The 188- steam hammer. Above and below: Old tools and machinery.

L: The 188- steam hammer. Above and below: Old tools and machinery.

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Behind the engine works was the boiler house. This was inaccessible, so we passed through a few smaller buildings nearby. Behind these there were some sidings, and several trains had been abandoned here (the workshop is now cut off from the mainline). They were mostly passenger trains, in the same colors as the regular express trains, and they looked in quite a bad state. It seemed like they dated from about the 1970's, and they reminded me of British trains that I remember from when I was a child. (I later found out they are British built trains). Behind these were some orange diesel trains that looked like they had not been used for a long time either.

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We passed a few more interesting smaller buildings, and a big winch crane that was used to lift carriages up.

I tried to head to the Japanese era bathhouse but was too late to avoid closing time. I managed a quick look in the side room though. The main room is a distinctive barrel roofed building that can be seen from Bade Road.    

This was a really fascinating site, and I hope it can be preserved. I have seen development plans. The carriage and engine works, boiler house, bathhouse, and a few other buildings are retained, but much of the site is lost. It would also be a shame if the buildings that are retained become another empty Huashan style commercial complex. However it is a very large site, so losing some of the more modern parts and smaller buildings wouldn't be such a disaster, as long as the essence of the main part is retained.  

Songshan Tobacco Factory

Immediately to the south is the Songshan Tobacco Factory. This has recently been renovated into a center for design and exhibitions. The main building contains a design museum and various smaller exhibitions around the subject. There are also some separate warehouses, which have a rotating set of exhibitions (most recently a Lego and a Disney one), and a boiler house which is yet to be totally restored. 

The art-deco entrance.

The main building dates from 1937 and is a beautiful art deco structure with a grand entrance. The factory dates from an era when bottom line wasn't the only factor in industrial architecture, and there are many subtle details such as some beautiful tile work. The main building also has a couple of large courtyard gardens. It seems it would have been a very pleasant workplace. The structure has been restored well and much of the interior detail remains. Sadly though, I couldn't find any machinery from the buildings manufacturing era, but perhaps there is some on the upper floors. 

The new Eslite behind the factory.

The other main building on site is the new Eslite and hotel. It's fairly well designed and doesn't jar too badly with the historic buildings. The factory is now fairly well known among Taiwanese, and it was very busy the last weekend I was there. Currently, the controversial Taipei Dome project is being constructed to the south. Tree Protection Activists can be seen on Guangfu Road protecting the remaining flora from destruction (the Dome project uprooted a lot of mature trees, and poor transplantation killed many). The project has since been mired in scandal and has halted.

Taipei Dome

Directions: The entrance to the Railway Workshop is on Bade Road. It's opposite the huge and under-used shopping mall with the large globe shaped entrance. The tobacco factory can only be entered from either the north, where the new Eslite is, or the east, where there is an entrance through a park. This may change with ongoing construction at the Dome. Have a look over at the Hidden Taiwan Map to find some more interesting places.