Taiwan bullet train breaks even for the first time

TAIPEI, May 27 (Reuters) - Taiwan’s bullet train broke even last month for the first time since starting service at the beginning of 2007, giving it leverage to list on the island’s main stock exchange, a transportation official said on Tuesday.

Due in part to a 136 percent year-on-year ridership increase last month, the train operator Taiwan High Speed Rail Corp 2633.TWO posted revenues and expenditures of about T$1.9 billion ($62 million) each in April, said Pang Jar-hua, the transportation ministry's high-speed rail director general.

“It’s the first time they’ve recorded break-even numbers,” Pang told a news conference. “In April they didn’t lose money.”

The high-speed rail corporation, which runs the Japanese-style bullet trains, has said it aimed to list on Taiwan’s main board in the second half of 2008 after breaking even in its first 18 months.

High Speed Rail Corp currently trades on Taiwan's grey market, where volumes are relatively thin compared to the larger main board. Its shares were down 1.44 percent on Monday at T$9.56, lagging the main TAIEX index's .TWII 0.81 percent rise.

The trains run on a 345-kilometre (214-mile) route between Taipei and the southern port city of Kaohsiung. The $15 billion bullet train system is the fastest ground-based line outside Japan, reaching speeds up to 315 km/h (196 miles/hour).

Passenger volume was an average of 85,000 trips per day, or 2.545 million total trips in April, Pang said. The company, which is adding trains as it lowers weekday prices, aims for a maximum of 145,000 trips per day by 2033.

The launch of Taiwan’s High Speed Rail, which uses Japan’s Shinkansen bullet train technology, has intensified competition with domestic airline routes, with Taipei-Kaohsiung airfares down to slightly below high speed rail’s full fares.

Reporting by Ralph Jennings; Editing by Kim Coghill