Monday, 27 August 2012

Shanghai to London- Part 7

Nauschk (Russia)- Irkutsk

Half of loco 2TE10M-K-3001 will haul us forward from the Russian Border.
It is seen here arriving from Ulan Ude- while we have been away from the
station it has turned and attached to our portion of train 263.
While we have been out buying Russian snacks our train has been augmented with a further five coaches, including a dining car. The all wear the Russian railways colours of grey and red leaving our own Mongolian coach looking slightly out of place at the back of the train. Traction has changed again also- we now have one half of a 2TE10 at the helm. A nice noisy, powerful and smokey machine, if a little hard on the eyes. Once on the move our first impressions of the Siberian landscape exceed expectations. Passing the window we see mountains and frozen rivers, the scenery reaching its climax as we follow the shoreline of the fantastic Goose lake in the last of the days sunlight.
Incredible views from the rear vestibule as we pass the
semi-frozen Goose lake. Sadly the mighty lake Baikal
will fall under the hours of darkness on this trip.

Our first Russian Dining car- not my favourite of the trip!
With the view from the window over for the day attention next turns to the evening meal- despite having spent so much of the afternoon munching through the food we brought at the border. A Russian dining car is now in the consist of the train, but after a quick exploratory trip it turns out that the meal prices are almost as off-putting as the loud Russian pop music blaring from the attendants portable CD Player. Instead we decided to go back to our coach of westerners and enjoy some good old instant noodles- on this occasion enhanced by some slightly odd looking tinned sausage. Noodles are somewhat of a mainstay on these trains as there is a constant supply of boiling water available. The water boiler, or samovar is, incredibly, coal fired! It is one of the duties of the carriage attendant, or Provodnik to shovel coal into the back of the boiler to maintain the heat.
TEM18D 198 shunts various coaches onto our train at
Ulan Ude. The length of the train has increased significantly!

With dinner out of the way and our train still trundling along its single track line the next few hours fly by until we reach Ulan-Ude at around 10:30pm. This is an important stop on the route as it is the junction with the Trans-Siberian ‘proper’ from Vladivostok as well as being a sizeable town. Our coach empties out significantly here as several groups leave the train to explore the southern side of Lake Baikal, famed for being the world’s largest freshwater lake by volume. It is all change for the train once again as well with a further set of coaches being added behind ours, leaving our lone Mongolian car sandwiched in the middle of what is now quite a lengthy formation. In joining the main line we have also gained the benefits of overhead line electrification, which is installed throughout on the route from Vladivostok to Moscow, thus our locomotive is duly changed once again. This time our diesel finally gives away to electric traction in the form of an EP1 locomotive.
Freight loco VL85 240 awaits it's next move at Ulan Ude.
These locos became ubiquitous as we continued along the
electrified Trans-Siberian route.
EP1 136- our first Electric locomotive since China!
Most Trans-Siberian stations host a plinthed steam loco.
Sy205-91 stands guard at Ulan Ude.
During our station stop there is time for me to grab some night shots around the station, which at a glance appears to be both busy and large. Among the serviceable locos is a ‘plinthed’ steam engine on our platform. All too soon it is time to re-board the train (for I feel I could spend hours happily snapping away on this station). On board midnight is fast approaching and as we leave Ulan-Ude behind thoughts must turn towards bed- a thought made much easier now that I have acquired a spare set of ear plugs from one of my fellow travellers.

Next morning we wake at around 6:30am to an assortment of our alarms. Soon after the Provodnista knocks on the door to check that we area awake ready for our arrival in Irkutsk- a reassuring sign. Everybody is tired and it is some effort to drag ourselves out of our bunks. It turns out we are running a little late so there is time to have a quick wash- Oh how I long for a proper shower when we reach Irkutsk! There is also a moment to drag some food from the depths of my bag to serve as an impromptu breakfast.
Another beautiful day awaits- EP1 136 arrives at an
immaculate Irkutsk Station with our train from Mongolia.

Soviet trams in Irkutsk.
Arrival in Irkutsk is around 30 minutes late. The station is a large and impressive structure on the opposite side of the river to the main city. Like all the stations I have so far seen in Russia it appears to be impeccably maintained. For the first time on our trip we encounter trams running outside of the station. Much as I had expected they have a very familiar Soviet look, very much like the examples I have seen on previous trips to Poland- despite it being some 5000km away! Our hostel is very close to the railway station so it will not be necessary to board a tram today as the walk is less than 10 minutes.

Saturday, 18 August 2012

Shanghai to London- Part 6

Ulaanbaatar (Mongolia) - Nauschk (Russia)
The preceding train departs from Ulaanbaatar
It is dark by the time we arrive at Ulaanbaatar station for train 263 to Irkutsk. There is a train in the platform upon our arrival- it is about to depart so a quick check with the platform staff is made to ensure that w are not in the process of missing our train. ‘Next train’ is the response when I flash my ticket. Sure enough not long after the first train has departed a TEM2 loco appears hauling in the stock for train 263, which runs daily to Irkutsk starting in Ulaanbaatar. Traction for this train, which is much shorter than our last is a single locomotive: M62M-018.

We take our bunks in coach number one and quickly discover that all the other westerners seem to be here also. We are sharing our 4 berth ‘Kupe’ compartment with an Australian couple who area also travelling to England over land- all be it by a different route to us after Moscow. The ‘Intrepid’ tour group whom we met on train K3 are also onboard, along with several other familiar faces. It certainly feels good to be back on the train after two nights staying with Nomads in the Mongolian countryside and having exhausted the entertainment that Ulaanbaatar has to offer.

The train departs as scheduled at 21:10. After settling into our compartment and receiving our sheets for the night we move down to join the ‘party’ in the cabin of the ‘Intrepid’ group. We have a selection of food and a hip flask of Vodka which my friend has brought along- keen to experience the real Russian train experience. The next couple of hours fly by and it is only when we feel we are keeping the rest of the coach up that we retreat to bed. We are all aware that we will have an early wake-up call in the morning by Mongolian border control.
TEM2 6541 will haul our single coach across the border

M62YM-015 keeps me entertained as it shunts around the
yard. Note the high Mongolian exhaust stack which
distinguishes these locos from their sisters in neighbouring
It is around 8am when the knock comes on the door with the obligatory customs forms. This is a pleasant surprise as it had been feared that we would be woken around 5:30am, the time when the train arrived at the border town of Sukbator. In the meantime we have discovered the reason that all the westerners bound for Russia are in coach 1- The rest of the train, along with our locomotive is nowhere to be seen. The single car is now hooked up to a TEM2 locomotive while there is some entertainment in the adjacent yard from another M62 which is shunting. There is also time for a quick toilet break to freshen up (The toilets flush to the track and are therefore shut for long periods when the train is stationary) before the Mongolian customs process begins. Our belief that this would be simpler than the border with China (after all there is no gauge change here) is quickly dispelled. The Mongolian officials spend a long time checking we are who we say we are and even carry out a quick search of our compartment which involves removing a large pile of dirty laundry from one or the passengers bags. While fairly severe these precautions may not be undue as the Mongolian lady in the far compartment seems to have a rather unusual array of possessions which keep appearing hidden in various places. Just a selection of these items include a used car tyre (wrapped), numerous bottles of whisky and what appears to be a lifetime supply of jeans. She is later seen wandering the corridor with a collection of frying pans...
Stunning scenery on the Mongolia- Russia border
 Some while later we eventually leave the border station and begin our journey through ‘no mans land’ to repeat the process on entering Russia. The landscape here is stunning once again, it would strongly resemble the African Savannah if it were not for the semi-frozen rivers running next to the railway.

My first steps on Russian soil- Nauschka station, Siberia
Security here is tough and our single coach train passes numerous lighting gantries, outposts and cameras before arriving at the Russian border at Nauschka. Officials are quick to board the train here and hand our arrival cards. There is much commotion when one of our Australian friends fills out his form incorrectly. Our assumption that he can simply acquire a replacement form seems beyond the realm of reason to the immigration officer and he is left to fill out a rather spoiled form until a more pleasant official relents and produces a clean form for him. The train is searched once again, this time also with dogs, yet the mysterious used tyre still seems to raise no eyebrows!
A monster of a locomotive, Russian 2TE10M-K-3066
is shunting around the yard at Nauschka
With customs finally complete we are free to enter Russia- however the train is not booked to leave the border for a further three hours. This allows us passengers time to sit down to lunch at the local cafe, buy some supplies for the journey ahead and generally pace up and down the platform wearing shorts. Yes- Shorts. It seems this particular April day in Siberia is warmer than had been expected, indeed my first Siberian purchase is an ice cream!
Our lonely coach has made it across and is now shunted by TE18 218

Friday, 17 August 2012

Picture of the week- 17th August 2012

Parts of northern France are still a hive of interesting railway activity. One such line is that from Paris to Boulogne where 1970's built diesel locos haul intercity trains on the non-electrified section north of Amiens.
On Sundays four different locos work on the line (there are only two booked diagrams on weekdays), and with the area so close to the south of England where I live it is entirely practical to take the car over for a day or two to sample the action.
In this picture BB67430 is seen in the evening sunlight following its departure from Rue on the 19:07 Boulogne Ville to Paris Nord. After Amiens the train will continue to Paris with electric traction.