Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Shanghai to London- Part 5

Erlian (China)- Ulaanbaatar (Mongolia)

Dual gauge tracks at Erlain
The Chinese DF4 locomotive leaves us
at the Mongolian border
On arrival at Erlian an officially dressed lady promptly boards the train checking and retaining both our Chinese departure cards and our passports (the latter is a bit of a surprise for those of us new to the procedure). This is just one of several procedures which will take place at the border for we are also crossing from the 1435mm standard gauge track in China to the 1520mm Russian broad gauge. Following the collection of passports we are free to leave the train, or if passengers prefer they may stay on board while it is shunted into the gauge change shed for the bogies to be exchanged.

Note the security cameras on the DF7G shunting loco!
 I elect to come off the train to photograph the proceedings. The Chinese loco has already been detached from the train, but is positioned perfectly floodlit for a picture. Meanwhile a shunting locomotive removes some coaches from the train. After a short while the entire formation is shunted off for the bogie change and the remaining passengers are ushered into the station building to await its return. This is not entirely what I was expecting. Fortunately I find some English speaking company in the waiting room, an Australian lady who is travelling to see relatives in Ulaanbaatar. After squandering our last Chinese Yuan we discuss important topics such as the Olympics (coming to London and previously held in Sydney from where my company originated) and when we might see our passports again! A long hour and a half later and the train- now on Russian broad gauge returns for re-boarding.

2M62- 0979 prepares to haul our train into Mongolia
I have to wait a little longer to discover our traction into Mongolia and when it does turn up I am not disappointed- a 2M62 locomotive- exactly what I had hoped for. Ever since beginning the planning of this trip these were the locos that I had most wanted to see- twin diesel units- powerful and very Soviet!

With the new loco attached I returned to the compartment on the train. Despite an influx of travelers at the border my friend Simon and I are still the sole occupants of our 4-berth compartment- We are even given our passports back! Finally after a stop of almost 3 hours we are on the move again, leaving China and entering Mongolia. That is of course until we reach Zamin Uud around 10 minutes later. It transpires that the border checks are not completed together and much of the process must now be undertaken again to enter Mongolia. We finally get away from the border a meager five hours after having arrived (Longer than I have ever had to wait at an Airport by far!). Our compartment has already been set up in its sleeping format and at 2am Chinese time it is finally time to attempt some sleep.

We pass one of the most interesting trains I have ever seen-
Lead by 2ZAGAL- 001 the second part of this double loco
is actually general electric Dash 7- 001. The 2ZAGAL locos
are most odd in being rebuilt M62's with new GE power units
I do not know what time the sun arose, but it was certainly bright by 9 am at which point I have given up trying to sleep and peered through the blind. We have now left the Gobi Desert behind and are crossing the vast Mongolian Steppe. While brown and dead-looking now a fellow passenger informs us that the Steppe is transformed to rich green grazing land in the summer- and he should know- he has written a book on it!

The lavish Mongolian dining car
Smokey M62's cross the vast Steppe. An overnight loco
swap leaves 2M62M-061 at the head of our train.
Having decided to get up the search then begins for breakfast. Rumors begin to spread that the new Mongolian dining car which was added the previous night at the border is the place to be- and we arrive to discover that it is indeed impressive. The coach has a wooden paneled interior with carved details and a variety of Mongolian embellishments.- it is like stepping back into the history books of rail travel. Fortunately the food is also good. A very nice omelette with jam and bread- Though nothing fancy it is a pleasant change from the Chinese breakfasts I had been enjoying recently.

With breakfast over it begins to dawn on us that Ulaanbaatar is now just 3 hours away. With the landscape becoming steeper and the train following the lands contours I decide to take some time to watch and photograph our monstrous locomotive at work- finding myself some strategic opening windows in the process.
Approaching Ulaanbaatar

Another Russian loco- TEM2- 0883 shuts at Ulaanbaatar

The K3 train will continue to Moscow
 with a smart M62MM-041

As the final approach draws nearer it is time to bid farewell to our new friends on the train. Some we would see again on other legs of the Trans-Mongolian, others we would meet in Ulaanbaatar while some were also staying on the train right through to Moscow. As the haphazard city of Ulaanbaatar begins to draw past the window we gather our things and prepare to disembark. I manage a few photographs in the station (which seems to be no trouble at all here- even when I leave the platform) including yet another traction swap on train K3. It would go forward with another 2M62 locomotive while our loco heads off to the depot, presumably to re-fuel.

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Picture of the week- 24th July 2012

Another trip down memory lane for this picture of the week. I have spent some time working on one of my oldest 'favourite' images in an attempt to bring it up to standard for another website- having failed in that attempt I still like it enough to feel it deserves a place here!
In the early morning sunlight 37408 'Loch Rannoch' leads the 07:58 Knaresbrough - Leeds commuter service across Knaresbrough viaduct. At this time Arriva Trains Wales were hiring class 37's from EWS to work both this return commuter working and also a daily trip over the Settle and Carlisle Railway. The train is formed of four Mk2 coaches and two locomotives in top and tail formation- on this occasion the rear locomotive is 37411 'The Scottish Railway Preservation Society'. 37408 was scrapped on 25th January 2008 following a derailment in 2005.

Friday, 13 July 2012

Shanghai to London- Part 4

Beijing to Erlian (China)-
Our train, K3, is the weekly through train from Beijing
to Moscow via Ulaanbaatar. The destination board in
Chinese, Mongolian and Russian is seen on the side
of the Chinese coach.
A DF4 loco backs onto an adjacent train
Carriage attendants greet passengers as they join the train
It is a reasonably early start to get to Beijing station an hour before our train at 08:05. A short hop on the efficient but always busy subway system provides the transport. The main station at Beijing follows the format that is now familiar- having proceeded through the security check our train, K3 to Moscow, is located on the departure board and we make our way as indicated to waiting room 2.

A DF11 double unit diesel locomotive arrives from Harbin
We are allowed down to the platform 30 minutes in advance of departure which gives ample time for me to locate my birth, deposit my heavy bag and grab some pictures. Our train is, to my surprise, headed by an electric loco. Each of the green Chinese coaches is prepared for its passengers with the coach attendants standing attentively at the doors. Elsewhere on the station there is plenty of activity- a rather nice looking diesel loco is backing onto coaches in the adjacent platform and a high speed Shinkansen style train also arrives into the terminus. Finally a loud double-unit diesel pulls in with an arrival from Harbin before the doors close on our coaches and one of the world’s great railway journeys can really begin.

A freight train heads towards Beijing on the other side of 
the valley
The train quickly gains speed as we pass Beijing South Station where we previously arrived by high speed train a few days earlier. Almost as quickly I am asked by the carriage attendant to shut the window through which I have been looking. Once we have cleared the city limits the landscape quickly and dramatically changes. The train climbs up into the mountains and the double track splits into two single lines which plunge into tunnels and soar over viaducts staying as close to the valley sides as possible. In places the available space is so little that each of the two lines takes up position on opposite sides of the valley. The landscape here is far more dramatic than I was expecting and the first few hours of the trip fly by as I am glued to the view from my compartment window- helped by the sunshine of course!

Snaking through the mountains north of Beijing with our
electric loco
Our carriage attendant appears brandishing lunch and dinner vouchers- another surprise as I am quite sure the train was booked ‘without services’. Not being ones to grumble we consign ourselves to the fact that we may have slightly overstocked on ‘just add hot water’ noodles. I am sure that they will come in handy later on. Eleven o’clock arrives and it is time for our sitting in the dining car for lunch. My friend Simon introduces me to some of the people he has met while I have been too busy admiring the view. We sit down at a table with a Dutch couple and soon discover we are not the only ones to be surprised at the provision of complimentary food.

The Chinese dining car
The train food is a pleasant surprise- a typical dish of Chinese celery with chicken and pepper to follow. The dining car also sells some very reasonably priced drinks including beer and wine. As the train is not very busy today we are allowed to remain in the dining car a little longer than our allocated 30 minute sitting. There are many westerners on the train and we use this time to swap stories about our travels with our fellow passengers. The train has a very relaxed and friendly atmosphere.

We say goodbye to our SS3 locomotive at Da Tong
By the time we have retreated back to our cabin it is not long until our second stop of the journey at Da Tong. This is the first time we are allowed to disembark from the train, some six hours after having left Beijing. It is also at Da Tong that that our first loco swap takes place- the SS3 electric locomotive giving way to diesel power in the form of a very attractive DF4 loco (which has a very loud horn!). I take some photographs of the operation which seems to bemuse the platform staff. One man watches very closely over me as I take a picture, but having inspected it he seems to decide that it is OK. Having tried several doors which have already been locked I find my way back onto the train and await our departure.
The new order. Our DF4 diesel locomotive couples to the train
for the journey onward to the Chinese-  Mongolian border.

The next two hours are whiled away quite pleasantly. The landscape has now become less severe, our train seeming to traverse a desert plateau bordered by distant hills on either side. We join some friends we made earlier in the dining car in their compartment at the front of the train. Two American ladies and two younger travellers from Australia are berthed here as part of an ‘Intrepid’ tour group with an itinerary which turns out to be very similar to ours.  We swap stories of our trips so far, our plans and aspirations while indulging in a selection of Chinese snacks which the American lady has purchased for the trip- all of them look a tad suspicious, but all seem to taste better once they have been dunked in peanut butter! Content with our indulgences it is soon time to start thinking about more food- back in the dining car for dinner. Less of a Chinese affair than lunch, the meat and potato is still accompanied by rice. We also bring our own Chinese wine (of varying quality) to the table. With discussion and wine flowing it is with regret that we are told we must return from the dining car.
On leaving Da Tong we pass a DF7 loco on a freight train

I join my friend who has found a group of Dutch travellers, and some beer, further up the train. Like many on the train their ultimate destination after completing the Trans-Mongolian route is St Petersburg- a destination which will evade us on this trip.

Our final sunset in China viewed from the train compartment

As we watch a beautiful sunset over the desert the train continues towards our final stop in China- the border town of Erlian.

Friday, 6 July 2012

Picture of the week- 6th July 2012

It's been a little while since the last 'Picture of the week' and I captured just the thing last weekend.
47854 in almost ex-works condition following a recent repaint glistens in the sunshine at Edinburgh Waverley  on 29th June. The locomotive, now named 'Diamond Jubilee' is about to head a 3 day West Highland excursion with the Royal Scotsman luxury train.
This is said to be one of the best ways possible to experience train travel- and if I ever have a spare £3000 or so for a ticket I'm sure I shall let you know!