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How to discover the value of a heritage railway as the core of an industrial landscape? A case study of Alishan Forest Railway, Taiwan

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11:30 AM, Thursday 1 Sep 2022 (20 minutes)
Alishan Forest Railway, located in Chiayi, Taiwan, was built for transporting timber in the early twentieth century during the Japanese colonial period. The 72-kilometer-long railway, linking the main railway and Alishan, where modern timber harvesting was first conducted in Taiwan, elevates more than two thousand meters. After the end of commercial forestry, the railway used to transport tourists to Alishan but finally failed to compete with highways and vehicles. After decades of struggles, the railway finally figured out its position as a heritage railway which preserves not only the rail track itself, but also locomotives, techniques, and surrounding environments. Following the worldwide development of the concept of “cultural landscape,” Alishan Forest Railway and its surrounding forestry area was declared as the first national “significant cultural landscape” in Taiwan; however, the concept of cultural landscape has been quite unfamiliar in Taiwan. It is obvious that “the spirit of the place” does exist in the people who safeguard this railway, but, simultaneously, it is difficult to demonstrate this characteristic, as previous discourses on preserving this railway focus on infrastructure and forestry history. Therefore, discovering the community’s contribution and what they have the potential to do become important to safeguard and inherit the heritage value of the railway at present and in the future. This paper consists of two parts. In the former part, by comparing similar sites all over the world, I will argue that Alishan Forest Railway and its surrounding may be one of the most significant industrial landscape which contains industrial facilities, cultural activities, and natural landscape, all connected by a railway. In the latter part, I will first observe the roles of retired employees, residents, railfans, heritage experts, indigenous people, younger generations, etc., by participating in various events and locales along the railway. Afterward, I will explain and suggest some actions which can empower the actors, inherit the value of the railway, and discover the character of cultural landscape to link the people and the area by referring to domestic and international experiences. Recently, academia has been more keen to discuss heritage railway tourism or industrial facilities revitalization. In contrast, the aim of this paper is to emphasize the possibility of a heritage railway to become the core of a cultural landscape and explain how actors’ value in an industrial landscape can be brought into play, especially in Asia-Pacific contexts. When we focus on the techniques and facilities of the industrial landscape, we should also pay attention to the places, the people, and the acts along the railway. Heritage railway is not only valuable because of its scarcity, but because of its involvement in the community, which forms the spirit of a cultural landscape.

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