Minister of Culture Cheng Li-chiun led a June 10 ceremony that marked the start of repair work on the office building and bathhouse of the Taipei Railway Workshop, which will be transformed into the National Railway Museum following the section-by-section arrangement of repairing and opening up the heritage site from 1935.
The Minister noted that Taiwan's first railway museum will boast three features: a "living" aspect where real, historic facilities act out the history themselves and restoration techniques are preserved; a "storytelling" aspect where railway evolution, transportation history, and collective memories are recalled; and a "forward-looking" aspect where Taiwan's modernity will be reflected and examined through the prism of social concerns and enacted with the spirit of public museums.
The compound itself embodies the functional design of modernist architecture. For instance, the bathhouse scheduled for repairment once provided past employees with hot baths to relieve the weariness of work, thus revealing a degree of care for the welfare of laborers at industrial facilities.
The bathhouse's architectural features include a dome-shaped ceiling symmetrically flanked by left and right wings, an ox-eye window on the rooftop, large-sized skylight windows, and arched beams that represent the quality of construction techniques at that time. Also, the bathhouse is very energy efficient and utilizes steam funneled along pipes that connect to the workshop's engine room to heat its two big, rotund pools of water.
The general office building was originally used as a factory office, and it had been a single-story house built in an "L" shape until 1966, when another level was added. In addition to serving as the compound's administrative center, the office building was fronted by a courtyard, a water fountain, and a garden and stood entry at one of the major passageways to the workshop.
Operations were moved to the Fugang Vehicle Depot in Taoyuan City by 2012, and the site remained idle until April 2014, when it was recognized as a national heritage site.
Unveiled on Oct. 30, 1935, the railway workshop remains the oldest and most complete facility for railway maintenance and manufacturing in Taiwan, making it a valuable and meaningful record of the nation's architectural history, labor welfare, and transportation development.
In February 2017, the Ministry of Culture signed a memorandum with the Ministry of Transportation and Communications on the "Implementation Plan for Transforming the Taipei Railway Workshop into the National Railway Museum" — a 10-year plan that runs through 2026, following the arrangement of repairing and opening up the whole site section by section.
The Ministry has placed emphasis on strengthening both the facilities and personnel of the historical site since pushing forward with the restoration plan in July 2017, when it took over supervisory control of the site from the Ministry of Communications and Transportation.
When it comes to reconstruction work, the Ministry has put the main buildings at the top of its list to keep them from deteriorating further. In addition to the office building and the bathhouse, the workshop also includes a diesel-electric workshop, a forge and metallurgy shop, an engine room, an auditorium, and a dormitory building.
Whereas the service-upgrading plan encompasses layout design; identification of the museum's vision, mission, strategies, goals, and action plans; implementation of key functions such as collection, research, exhibition, and education; and methods for working with other governmental agencies on gathering, studying, and digitizing historic documents.
For instance, the Ministry is working with the National Archives Administration (檔案管理局) on restoring and digitizing valuable Taiwan railway files; collaborating with the National Science and Technology Museum (國立科學工藝博物) on studying and gathering historic materials about railway machines; and teaming up with the Taiwan Railways Administration (臺灣鐵路管理局) and individual collectors on gathering railway artifacts and preserving railway culture.
These efforts aim to maximize preservation efforts, provide important resources, and deepen the knowledge base on Taiwan's railway and cultural development, which will all come together to enrich the experience of visiting the upcoming National Railway Museum.