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.

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