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!

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