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I had been staying in Hong Kong for a few nights, and was now to travel by train into mainland China. Before leaving Australia for Hong Kong, I had booked a premium class ticket on the Kowloon Through Train (KTT) from Hung Hom to Guangzhou East (HK$250 one way + HK$12 online booking fee). Although I had to create a login on the surprisingly clunky website, the booking process at https://www.it3.mtr.com.hk/b2c/frmIndex.asp?strLang=Eng was fairly straightforward, but changing the travel date after booking was not. Finally (after numerous emails) I had to make a new booking and email my credit card details and the original booking number to MTR and was (eventually) given a refund on the cancelled seat. On arrival in Hong Kong, I had to take the original credit card I had used to book on the website to an MTR service centre (Admiralty, Hung Hom, Mong Kok East, Kowloon Tong or Shatin MTR station), and the ticket was printed.
On the day I was to depart, I left plenty of time to get from my my hotel at Tsim Sha Tsui to Hung Hom station. My train was scheduled to depart at 08:15; at 6:30am I left my windowless shoebox of an hotel room and walked through the underground interchange between Tsim Sha Tsui and East Tsim Sha Tsui MTR stations. Due to the public holiday, the stations were virtually empty, and I had no trouble navigating the underground corridors with my suitcase.
Just after 6:30am at Tsim Sha Tsui MTR station on a public holiday. I’d never seen it so empty!
The one station MTR journey from East Tsim Sha Tsui to Hung Hom was quickly over, and it was just after 7:00 as I exited the subway station into the intercity station. I found the ticket gate, and found that the previous train (07:25) was still boarding. I showed my ticket to the lady at the gate and she said in a heavy accent “You change ticket for this train… quick, still time” and gestured towards the ticket office. I knew that the 07:25 didn’t have a premium class car, and I pointed this out on my ticket. The lady smiled and said “You come back. 7:50”.
A sign showing departure times for international trains from Hung Hom
I hadn’t had breakfast yet, and wasn’t hopeful of finding decent food at 7:10 on a public holiday. I had plenty of time, so I followed the signs to the food court and was pleasantly surprised to find 10 shops open on the mezzanine level. After a tasty breakfast of savoury dumplings, sticky rice and tea, I made my way back to the ticket gate. My train was now boarding, and my ticket and passport were checked before I passed into immigration. After a quick glance at my passport, the Hong Kong border official waved me through to the waiting room.
The intercity waiting room was windowless and poorly laid out, with bench seats placed in seemingly random places. Customs posters in English and Chinese adorned the walls, and there was little else to look at. At 8:00, there was a boarding announcement in English, Mandarin and Cantonese, and we lined up to move down to the platform.
One of the Japanese built carriages on the MTR operated KTT
At the platform, the 10 car double deck KTT was waiting, a smiling attendant at each door. I found my car, and showed my ticket. After finding my seat and dumping my luggage, I went to take a photo of the front of the train. As I approached the locomotive, a harried looking railway employee with a clipboard blocked my way. He asked where I was going, and I told him that I wanted a picture of the locomotive. He sighed and said “ok, be quick, and you make sure you don’t photograph any staff”. I thought the request was odd, but I complied. I showed him my photo, and he relaxed a little before waving me back to my car.
A Swiss built electric locomotive at the front of the MTR KTT
There was only 5 minutes before the train departed, and a carriage attendant ushered me through the first door of the first car and told me to walk through the train. Most of the cars were first class, with 2+2 seating. I was in a premium car, which had slightly wider 1+2 seating. There was not a lot of difference between the two, except that the seats were a little wider and the fabric was a different colour. There were also more vacant seats in premium class, but this may have been due to the public holiday. Given that the fare difference was only HK$40, it was probably worth the extra A$6.75.
Seats on the lower deck of a premuim class car on the KTT
There are two different types of train which operate the intercity service between Hung Hom and Guangzhou East; the KTT (run by MTR of Hong Kong) and a Chinese service operated by Guangzhou Railway Corporation. The three daily KTT services are double deck carriages built in Japan hauled by Swiss locomotives, with both first and premium class seating. The Chinese services are run using locomotives and rolling stock (25T) built in China. Both services take approximately 2 hours to complete the journey and a first class seat costs the same with both operators. There are also through trains from Hung Hom to Beijing and Shanghai on alternate days, operated by Chinese Railways. These trains take approximately 24 hours to Beijing and 19 hours to Shanghai and have Hard Sleeper, Soft Sleeper and Deluxe Soft Sleeper berths available. Information and ticket bookings all of these trains is available on the MTR website (https://www.it3.mtr.com.hk/b2c/frmIndex.asp?strLang=Eng).
Our train pulled sommothly out of Hung Hom station right on time, and we slowly made our way along MTR’s East Rail line. For the section of line between Hung Hom and the Hong Kong border at Lo Wu, the Intercity trains share the tracks with local MTR trains, so the journey is not fast. As we made our way north at a stately pace, an attendant came through the car taking Starbucks coffee orders! As a Melbournian, I don’t think highly of Starbucks, but it was 9am and I hadn’t had a coffee yet, I I forked over HK$40, and a few minutes later a hot cup of coffee was delivered to my seat.
We soon arrived at the Chinese border; a stark area after the lush northern hills of Hong Kong. After passing through the Lo Wu MTR station, we passed over a concrete walled canal, lined with mesh fences topped with razor wire. Railway workers stood vigil as the train passed through, and we crossed into China.
After crossing the border, we were no longer held back by local trains, and accelerated up to our cruising speed of 160 km/h. We passed frequent CRH high speed trains, conventional Chinese passenger trains and slow goods trains, stopping briefly at Changping before an uneventful trip into Guangzhou East railway station. Passing through Chinese immigration at Guangzhou East was much less stressful than at an airport, and I was soon out on the street in mainland China.
My next long distance train was an overnight sleeper train from Zhuhai (south of Guangzhou on the Macau/China border) to Shanghai. To get to Zhuhai, I had to take a C train (short distance high speed train) from Guangzhou South station and as I was at Guangzhou East, that meant a subway trip. I didn’t yet have a ticket for the C train to Zhuhai (they were frequent, so I was not concerned) so my plan was to go to Guangzhou South, buy my ticket, leave my luggage and check out Guangzhou’s tram line.
From Guangzhou East, there were a few different ways I could get to Guangzhou South. After consulting a subway map, I decided to take the number 3 line to Hanxi Changlong, then change to the number 7 line. After entering the subway station and passing through the security check (every Chinese subway station has an x-ray scanner for bags and a metal detector), I boarded the crowded number 3 line train. I was prepared for a long journey, but found that after 2 stops the train terminated at Tiyu Xilu, where I had to change to another, even more crowded number 3 line train to continue my journey. Although line 3 shows on the map as running through, it actually runs in 2 segments (most frustrating for those with big bags). The rest of the journey to Guangzhou South passed without incident, and I made my way into the station.
A CRH6A set, as used on the Guangzhou – Zhuhai Intercity Railway
The the ticket office, I’m not sure if it was the communication barrier or that the rest of the trains were sold out, but the only ticket the agent would sell me to Zhuhai was on a train departing in 40 minutes. I made my way through another security check to the waiting room and soon after boarded a CRH6A set. The train departed without fanfare and we made our way smoothly and rapidly through southern Guangdong province.
Inside a CRH6A set on a C Train service from Guangzhou South to Zhuhai
At Zhuhai, I left the station and wandered through the forecourt. Zhuhai station was opened in 2012, and is only served by high speed trains on the Guangzhou – Zhuhai Intercity Railway (although there are some long distance through trains). Like most modern Chinese stations, it is mostly bare concrete and steel, with elevated platforms and ticketing areas below.
The forecourt of Zhuhai railway station on the China/Macau border.
As it was lunch time, I walked across the road and wandered along through the market area, looking for somewhere to eat. I came across a small shop selling steamed buns and as soon as showed some interest, the proprietor insisted I sit down and eat. It seemed rude not to (and I was hungry), so I sat and without ordering, I was brought delicious baskets of steamed buns and a meat broth. After eating my fill (3 baskets of dumplings, a tea egg and a mug of broth), I paid the ¥40 (about A$8.30) and left the store.
A CRH1E high speed sleeper train stands at Zhuhai station, ready to depart on the 1,600km overnight journey to Shanghai.
After wandering around the markets (and paying too much for a local SIM card), I made my way back to the station. My train to Shanghai was a D train (long distance high speed train – max 250 km/h), formed by a 16 car CRH1E set. All passenger accommodation was soft sleepers; 4 berth compartments with a door leading to an aisle running the length of the carriage. Toilets and washrooms are at each end of the car. I had a lower bunk, and settled in for the 13 hour journey to Shanghai.
A “soft sleeper” on board a CRH1E high speed sleeper train.
This article first appeared on theraillife.wordpress.com
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