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I awoke in my bunk on board train D942, a high speed sleeper train which I had boarded the previous night in Zhuhai, on China’s southern border. We had stopped at Shaoxing East station and after checking the timetable I found that were not scheduled to stop here, but appeared to be “waiting time”. The timetable for train D942 is designed to allow the train to depart Guangzhou not too late, and arrive at Shanghai not too early. I dozed in the warm, comfortable compartment and we departed, stopping at Hangzhou, before arriving at Shanghai Hongqiao two minutes early.
Train D942 at Shanghai Hongqiao after its overnight journey from Zhuhai
I stood on the platform for a while, watching the parade of CRH trains arriving and departing from the large station, before going inside to find breakfast. Shanghai Hongqiao is similar to most large, modern Chinese terminus stations; platforms at a higher or lower level with ticket offices, waiting rooms and shopping at ground level. The station is huge, with the internal concourse full of shops, so I had no trouble finding a restaurant.
My next train was a CRH G train to Jinan with a maximum operating speed of 300 km/h. It ran along the Beijing – Shanghai high speed rail line which is 1,320km long, with trains running at up to 350 km/h. The full journey takes between 4:25 to 6:10, depending on the number of stops and the speed of the train. 16 car trains depart every 10 to 20 minutes in each direction from 06:30 to 19:00.
One of the waiting halls at Shanghai Hongqiao railway station
The waiting hall for my train served multiple gates. It was a large open structure with light coloured stone floors and a very high ceiling of glass and steel. It should have felt open and airy, however it was overcrowded and the retail outlets down the centre of the hall further restricted movement. The only seat I was able to find was on the opposite side of the waiting hall to my gate, and as the boarding announcments were only in Mandarin, I nervously watched the clock. About 1o minutes before my train departed, I gave up my seat and hovered around the boarding gate. A line had already stared to form, and shortly after announcement was made and people started surging to the gate. The Chinese characters next to the train number changed to green and the gates opened. Down on the platform I found a 16 car white and blue CRH380BL set waiting.
My CRH380BL train from Shanghai Hongqiao to Jinan (mine is the one 2nd from the left)
The journey to Jinan in the economy class car was smooth, uneventful and punctual. Unlike many slower trains, standing room tickets are not sold for G trains, so although it was full, the train did not feel overcrowded. Seating in economy class cars is 2+3 and faces the direction of travel. Leg room is much more generous than economy class airline seats, and the large windows give a good view of the passing countryside. The train has a dining car (selling questionable quality reheated food and prepackaged snacks) as well as a cart that comes around regularly selling drinks and snacks. A popular item is instant noodles, with passengers able to prepare their snack using the boiling water dispensers at the end of each car.
I arrived in Jinan in the early afternoon, and briefly met a friend for lunch to deliver some parcels and my large suitcase (I would return to collect this later). After the quick meeting, I had a few hours to kill before my overnight train back to Shanghai, so I decided to go for a walk to see if I could find somewhere to take photographs of trains.
The frustrating thing about many Chinese cities is that although there are plenty of trains to photograph, it’s very difficult to find a place to get a clear shot. Station platforms are ideal, but you can’t access a platform unless you have a ticket, and your train has arrived (or is just about to arrive). Most roads and footpaths are separated from rail lines by tall fences, and crossing points are generally tunnels under the line. After about an hour of walking beside the railway line, being able to hear trains regularly passing but not able to see them, I gave up and walked into central Jinan.
Jinan is situated on natural springs with beautiful parks, such as Daming Lake.
Jinan is the capital of the eastern province of Shandong. It is an affluent commercial centre, with many luxury brand shops (such as Channel, Gucci, etc). The centre of the city has open plazas, glitzy shopping centres and modern office buildings. The city is also built around natural lakes fed by underground springs with beautiful parks and moats. Unfortunately, the city has big traffic problems, and walking 2 km in the inner city was just as quick as catching a bus would have been. The city has a subway system under construction (due to be opened in late 2018), and is currently served by an extensive bus, BRT and trolleybus network. Buses run every 2 – 3 minutes on most routes, but due to the heavy traffic, they crawl through the inner city.
Jinan’s skyline at dusk, taken over the moat surrounding the old city.
I found a Starbucks (any port in a storm) and nursed a coffee and muffin for about an hour while I charged my phone and used the WiFi, thankful that I’d bought the overpriced SIM card in Zhuhai because a Chinese mobile number was needed to activate the free WiFi. I twas time to head back to the station (walking again) for my 17:35 departure back to Shanghai. Outside the station, I bought some steamed buns, flat bread and a tea egg from a small stall, before entering the station and passing through the security check. It wasn’t long before my train was ready for boarding.
Boarding for train T135 (left) has commenced, as a CRH380BL approaches from Qingdao (right)
Train T135 from Jinan to Ningbo was waiting at the platform; 17 green and yellow cars with a red and silver SS9 electric locomotive at the front. I found my lower bunk in the hard sleeper car and stowed my luggage for the journey. Hard sleepers are dormitory style cars, with 3 tiered bunks running across the car, open to the aisle one end. The aisle runs along one side of the car and along the aisle are fold down seats next to small tables. A pillow and quilt is provided for each bed, and despite the name, the bunks are quite comfortable. The lower bunk is the most popular and also slightly more expensive than the others, with the top bunk being the cheapest. I actually prefer the top bunk, as people tend to sit on the lower bunk during the day, the upper bunk is also the quietest, with less noise from passengers passing in the aisle. On the negative side, it’s a long climb up to the top, and there is no control over the ceiling light, which is switched off at around 22:00 and back on at around 06:00.
Train T135 stands behind an SS9 locomotive, with an HXd in the background
At 17:35 precisely, train T135 departed south for Shanghai and Ningbo and shortly after departure, the conductor came along to collect tickets. In sleeping class on Chinese trains, your tickets are collected by the conductor, and you’re given a token in return. Shortly before your station, the conductor will come back and give your ticket back. It’s a simple and effective way to reduce the risk of passengers sleeping through their stop. It also helps the conductor know which bunks should be empty, and catch anyone who has snuck in from sitting class.
Hard sleeper class car, with seating along the aisle
As the train rattled through the countryside I recieved many curious looks from passengers passing in the aisle (some people stared). It’s unusual for a westerner to catch a conventional Chinese train (even more so now that the high speed trains are so prolific). They’re not being rude or threatening, it’s just an unusual for them to see. I ate the food I had bought outside Jinan station at my bunk, before sleeping early for the 5:50 am arrival into Shanghai.
This article first appeared on theraillife.wordpress.com
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