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.

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