Monday, 22 October 2012

Shanghai to London Part 11

Kiev- Warsaw

The departure of train No.67 from Kiev is shortly after 3pm. It is a hot day and we have lugged our bags across town for 30 minutes to reach the station, we therefore spent the remaining time before departure buying water and supplies. When we reach the platform we find that our train is a short one, formed of just four coaches. Three of them are Ukrainian while the fourth is Polish and wears PKP Intercity Night colours. The whole formation will be hauled by a CHS4 locomotive.

Our train to Warsaw stands at Shepetivka, Ukraine where a pause
gives us the opportunity to buy snacks from the station vendors.
For this train we are travelling in a private 2 berth compartment located in the Polish coach (This was all I could book even though there are 3 coaches of our usual ‘Kupe’ accommodation on the train). Except for its livery this coach sticks out for being to the smaller European gauge and internally lacks the hot water boiler we have become used to. It does however have a very pleasant Polish attendant (with good English) from their service company WARS and a full set of opening windows which make the coach pleasantly cool in comparison to the rest of the train.

We pass numerous CHME3 shunting locomotives.
Upon leaving Kiev I take my position by the open window- it is refreshing to feel the wind on your face on a hot sunny afternoon as this is. As we leave the city behind the green landscape appears once again beside the track. The scenery changes very little over the next few hours- in fact I have seen little of any significance by the time we slow for our first stop, by which time the sun is setting.

At our stop I am somewhat surprised to see platform traders! We had expected them all trip but throughout China, Mongolia and Russia they had never come- now somewhere in the Ukraine they had arrived. The traders were most useful as well since we were under-stocked with essentials for this journey and had no time to stray from the train as it paused. Despite the language barrier we managed to obtain some pancakes, dumplings and a bottle of coke to supplement our staple of noodles. The food turned out to be pleasant even if none of the fillings were quite what we would have expected. It also had the unfortunate effect of getting grease on my trousers as I ate from a bag on my lap, there being no usefully placed table in our compartment- the effect on my trousers is rather annoying as I am running out of spares by this point in the trip!

After dinner and a bit of reading it is time to configure the beds for the night. We have not had a compartment like this before with beds just on one side and a sink-come table and storage on the other. The compartment has several positions for the bunks as it can be arranged for either two or three persons- each with a little more room when set up for two. Eventually after much tinkering with the top bunk we have to concede defeat and ask the attendant for help. He is quickly on the scene and has the bed just where we want it in a flash.

At around midnight the train pauses for a traction swap. The line across the border into Poland is not electrified so the locomotive from Kiev gives way to an M62 for the last stretch of the journey to the border. Once there border immigration officers are quick to board the train to collect our passports. Simultaneously the M62 is removed from the front of the train with CHME3-1534 appearing at the rear of the train- for there is more than just immigration to take place here.

Inside the gauge change shed at the Ukraine - Poland border.
Passports gathered and a panel in the ceiling of our coach removed and inspected we are shunted into the gauge change shed. Here our coaches will undergo two changes to make them fit for Polish rails. Firstly the bogies will be exchanged from Russian broad gauge to Standard gauge and secondly all the couplings will be changed over from buckeyes to the more familiar three link style.

The couplings are first to be changed. A gantry crane is used to take the weight of the buckeye before it is physically pulled out of the coach. The process is then reversed to insert the three link coupler, which looks flimsy by comparison. This process complete each coach is hoisted up into the air to have its bogies exchanged. First the pin which holds the bogie in place is removed internally, only then can the coach lift begin leaving the broad gauge bogies on the rails below. These are wheeled out underneath the train to the ‘broad gauge’ end, while standard gauge bogies are rolled under in the same direction. The coaches can then be lowered back onto the new bogies, any physical connections made and the bogie pin replaced. While the process is fairly slick it is not especially fast- the four coaches are inside the shed for well over an hour.

The train rolls towards the Polish capital.
The bogie and coupling changes complete the train can be shunted back together (this time with a standard gauge loco- another M62) and driven out of the shed on to standard gauge rails from the opposite end to which we entered. From here the whole train can be propelled back into the station where officials have our passports waiting for us. Eventually we depart the Ukrainian border behind a Polish SM48 locomotive (these are the Polish designation for the TEM2 locos we have seen so many of earlier in the trip). It does not have very far to take us before we reach the Polish border station and must once more relinquish our passports. By now it is approaching 4am and with the majority of interest in the loco changes and the bogie swap behind I retreat to bed. It seems incredible to me that with the exception of communicating with customs many of the passengers appear to have been sound asleep for the duration of these events. We are interrupted one final time when our passports are returned and are offered a stamp- which of course we say ‘yes’ to- it isn't easy to get a passport stamp within the EU these days on a British passport.

Arrival at Warsaw Gdanska with Polish EU07-377.
I must have fallen asleep with ease as my next recollection is waking to the call of ’30 minutes to Warsaw’ from the coach attendant. This gives time to wash and pack our bags before we cross the river and arrive at our destination station Warsaw Gdanska. We have arrived behind an EU07 locomotive (based on the British class 85) which took over the train at some point in the night. From here it is just a short metro ride to Centralna station and the city centre. Well, at least it would be if the central section of the Warsaw metro were not shut!

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Shanghai to London Part 10

Moscow- Kiev

Moscow Kievska is the grandest of the cities stations.
It is dusk by the time we arrive at Moscow Kievska station for our overnight train to Kiev. This is one of the more grand of Moscow’s railway stations both above and below ground- Many of Moscow’s metro stations look more like palaces than railway stations! Getting into the station however is a little more difficult than it could be. The entrance near to the metro station is only for the airport train, and there appears to be no way in from the front of the building either. Eventually we follow some people around the far side through what appears to be a building site to find the trains. Ours, train No.005, the 21:29 to Kiev is right in front of us on one of the outdoor platforms.

Platzkart- Not luxurious- but quite adequate for a nights
sleep. Some coaches pack in even more beds than this.
There is some question over our accommodation on this train. I have booked 3rd class ‘Platzkart’ (essentially open bunks) but the English cover letter reads ‘1st class with services’- clearly I am hoping for the latter. On initially seeing our coach, with partitions I comment ‘well, it’s not Platzkart’ but once we step inside it is clear that I have been mistaken- it is! The second thing I notice about the train is the stifling heat. We have the small window to our bay of beds open but it makes little difference- the heat is almost reminiscent of the Russian Banya- except that in the bath house there is a plunge pool of cold water to cool off in, oh- and men beating themselves with Oak branches. For better or worse this is not happening on the train.

We bid goodbye to Russia with our CHS7 loco.
We depart Moscow on time (it is almost totally dark outside now) behind our CHS7 locomotive. Almost immediately entry cards for the Ukraine are handed out.  It is clear that many of the passengers (myself included) are already tired and it is not long before the coach is in sleeping formation and the lights are dimmed.

Passengers are awoken at some stage during the night for Russian border control. While still inconvenient the process at the border between these former Soviet states is far less strenuous than the crossing from Mongolia was. I struggle to get back to sleep after this, not helped by a blocked nose, but it seems I did achieve sleep just in time to be woken by the next interruption- entry into the Ukraine. This procedure again is not arduous and we are finally free of visas and back in the EU. It is already starting to get light but there is definitely still the potential for a little further rest.

The sun is still shining the following morning as CHS4-102
is uncoupled from our train at Kiev Pass.
I wake up a while later and decide to spend the remainder of the journey admiring the Ukrainian landscape. As it turns out I have longer for this activity than I expected as the time zones have shifted once more. Initial impressions are quite different from the barren birch woodland I have grown used to on the Trans-Siberian. To start with brown has given way to green and the tree species have diversified hugely- the Birch which is present here is also covered in new leaves. The land is more utilized as well, there are more houses and extensive farming. All in all it is a pleasant outlook and it seems we are in store for yet another warm sunny day. By the time we cross the mighty Dnipro River downtown Kiev is very much in sight. It is not long before we pull into the platforms at Kiev Pass. I think we are a little late, but am in all honesty so confused by the times of this train by this point that I really can’t say- either way we have arrived, and have survived the night in ‘Platzkart’!

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Lion Returns- 50027 re-enters traffic at the Mid-Hants railway

50027 approaches Alton with the first train from Alresford

'Lion' basks in the sun at Medstead and Four Marks
On 13th October 2012 50027 made a welcome return to passenger traffic at the Mid-Hants 'Watercress' line. This railway was of course the locos original preservation railway having arrived after sale from BR in 1992. Some while later the locomotive in 'revised' NSE blue headed for new territories in North Yorkshire- staying for close to 17 years at the NYMR before moving back south to a home slightly more befitting it's Network South East identity.
50027 approaches Alresford- the sun is not playing ball!
The day brought out the crowds, and good weather, for three round trips of the line (the final one terminating at Medstead and Four Marks) with the 50, while steam locomotives 34007 'Wadebridge' and 850 'Lord Nelson' worked the regular steam services.

Awaiting departure from Ropley with the final run to Alton

50027 performs a shunt manoeuvre at Medstead
 Thanks is due to all involved in the organisation of the running day- hopefully there will be more to come- maybe with an extra coach or two next time!? I am sure the railway would have been even more thrilled with takings had the train conveyed the buffet and real ale coaches...
50027 arrives at Medstead with it's last train of the day.

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Shanghai to London Part 9

Tyumen (Ural Mountains)- Moscow

Having passed into the Urals there is little to note on the journey until our arrival in Yckaterinburg. Firstly it is the departure point of the Australian couple who have been travelling on the same trains us as since Beijing. We bid our farewells and will now continue the trip as the only English speakers (that we know of) on the train for the next 24 hours to Moscow. While the guidebooks all seem to imply that our train, No.1, is busy with tourists this has been contrary to our experience. Also at odds with the books is the buying experience at stations. We came prepared to be bombarded by an assortment of wheeler-dealers trying to sell us everything from the essential water and noodles to silk ties and garden sheds. This is not the case and it is the best we can do to maintain our supplies of essentials from the platform kiosks, which are at least plentiful.

TEP70-0520 waits on another train at Yckaterinburg. I had
been hoping to see one of these typical Soviet diesel locos on
this trip. The vehicle behind the loco is supplying fresh coal
for the carriage stoves!
Yckaterinburg is also the location of a locomotive change. The previous loco has remained with the train for a good 24 hours and is duly replaced by a CHS2- A Skoda build loco which looks identical to the Czechoslovakian locos found across eastern Europe and which can trace their origins back to the Swiss RE6/6’s. Certainly it is our oldest electric so far and while still being a Co-Co it is also much smaller that our other locos.

Skoda built CHS2 616 backs onto the 'Rossiya'
Like the previous day we will not be receiving a complimentary evening meal and having exhausted the Vodka supply (a feat we feared impossible), so Simon and I head to the dining car for some sustenance. As we wait for our food we pass another milestone (quite literally) on the journey- an obelisk at milepost 1777 which marks our passing from Asia into Europe. While it feels we are making steady progress back to London we must remember that we are still the whole of Europe away! Dinner arrives promptly and while neither a large portion or particularly good value the Russian take on ham and eggs with fried vegetables is most pleasant and the dining car does at least provide a change of scenery.

The Skoda locomotive is still in charge as we make an
overnight stop at Perm.
Back in the cabin the remainder of the evening is spent with my i-pod and making journal notes. It is quite nice to watch the sun set over the Urals without the addition of Vodka as we prepare to settle in for our final night on the Trans-Siberian Railway. Next morning comes and my hair feels even more disgusting than the day before- even so my morning freshen up in the toilet leaves me feeling awake and ready to face the day. It is amazing what a difference can be made by splashing around a little bit of water. Breakfast consists of the last remaining food from yesterdays ‘Supply stops’, which includes a bag of filled mini-croissants which turn out to be really quite tasty. A short while later we are perplexed when our bag containing water and condiments is delivered- usually the precursor to receiving our ‘Diet of guaranteed daily supply’, or meal to you and me.

It is some while later, around 11am when the meal, which we must assume is lunch, is delivered. My chicken soup may only contain one chunk of meat, but it fills a hole.

After our early breakfast there is plenty of time to observe the landscape once again. The Urals have now given way to largely flat land again- populated by pine and birch trees surprise, surprise! In fairness the scenery has altered slightly- there is a lot more water around and even occasional evidence of some farming. We can even see some shoots of green grass breaking through the monotonous brown vegetation from time to time.

A high speed 'Sapsan' train from the Siemens Velaro family.
Our first stop today is late morning and Nizhny Novgorod. I make my customary stroll to the front of the train to see what is now in charge following an overnight loco swap. The answer is a CHS4- a large maroon loco that will surely take us all the way to Moscow, now a mere 8 hours away. There is another surprise at Nizhry Novgorod- in the adjacent platform is one of Russia’s premiere ‘Sapsan’ trains- The familiar Siemens Velario- or ‘ICE 3’ again. These trains work the high speed services from Moscow to St Petersburg as well as a few services to Moscow from Nizhry Novgorod. I catch a crew member from the ‘Roissya’ taking a picture from the side our train, but while walking back myself I am informed by security that I cannot take pictures- the second time I have been approached now in Russia. Fortunately I have what I want so I head back to the train without further issue.

Back on our train the compartment is starting to get very warm again. Whoever wrote the guidebooks which deplore April as ‘possibly the worst month’ to travel the Trans-Siberian have clearly not had the weather we have enjoyed. There has barely been a day without sunshine since I landed in Shanghai yet there is still the last evidence of snow and ice around in places- the best of both worlds surely?

As we approach Moscow we start to see more local trains
such as this stylised Russian EMU at Nizhry Novgorod.
One thing the guidebooks have got right is the advice to bring a good book, or several. Simon is still munching his way through Sunflower seeds as he tackles Dickens' ‘Great Expectations’, quite a heavy read. I have now finished my somewhat lighter book and am left to brush up on my history of Moscow from my Lonely Planet guide as I am not about to embark on a novel now!

Early afternoon it is time for our final scheduled stop before Moscow at Vladimir, some 200km from the capital. To my surprise, but not displeasure, our locomotive is being detached- our third loco change now in less than 24 hours! This time it is a double unit electric of class CHS7 that backs onto the train. Aside from this activity the station is fairly quiet, most likely because it is a Sunday (this would also explain the decrease in passing freight I have noticed). This leaves me time to photograph the plinthed steam loco, of which every major station seems to have at least one, before re-boarding the train for the final time.

CHS4 698 is released from the train during our
final loco swap at Vladimir.
Around two hours before Moscow there is a clear feeling in the air of our compartment that the journeys end is approaching. One by one the four of us start to collect our scattering of possessions and pack our bags. We also start to tidy up the cabin, returning our sheets to the Provodnista and finishing off the last of our supply of junk food. We even unearth enough Vodka for one final toast.

With articulated CHS7-071 at it's head, train No.1 stands at
Moscow Yarinslavsky with the arrival from Vladivostok.
Knowing we are not going to be on the train too much longer makes the last couple of hours pass more quickly. Before we know it we have slowed to pass through the Moscow suburbs and suburban trains are passing either side of us. One wonders how many of the people on the platforms we pass can ever imagine that this train has journeyed all the way from Vladivostok? Arrival at Moscow Yarinslavsky is on time at 17:43. The station is not the impressive architecturally rich trainshed I was expecting but open platforms from where one can walk straight onto the streets of Moscow. The train journey has certainly been an incredible experience and one which I shall never forget. However after three days and three nights aboard we are not sad to see the train go and will be even happier once we have had a shower!