Trans-Mongolian Bogie Changing
Changing Bogies at the Mongolian-Chinese Border
Whether you are a train aficionado or not one of the more unusual Trans-Siberian tours experiences available to the traveler occurs at the Mongolian-Chinese border at Erlian. Here the train’s bogies (the name for each set of train wheels) have to be changed due to the different track gauges used by the Chinese and Mongolian / Russia railway networks. Unlike other borders where this happens you have the choice of remaining on the train throughout the changeover and so have one of the more interesting train stories to tell!
The Bogie Changing Begins After Customs and Immigration
On arrival at the border the customs and immigration checks begin and once these have been completed you have the choice of either staying on the train or getting off and remaining on the platform or in the station buildings. The only real advantage of getting off (and this can, admittedly, be quite a large and ultimately determining factor) is that if you stay on the train you will not have use of a toilet as these are understandably locked while the train is stationary at the platform as well as when it is being raised up in the sheds.
Staying on the Train to Watch the Bogies Being Changed
If you elect to stay on, the train slowly moves off with a good deal of shunting into vast sheds where the bogie sets are decoupled and large hydraulic jacks lift each carriage up over 1 meter into the air whilst you are still in the carriage. The redundant bogies are then rolled away and the new gauge versions are rolled into place. The whole train is then lowered down onto these, secured and the train makes its way back to the station platform to collect the passengers who decided not to experience this or desperately needed a loo!
You are not meant to take photos of this but enforcement doesn’t seem to be too strict most of the time and you should be able to snap a few surreptitious shots. Once all passengers are back on the train the journey continues either towards Beijing or Ulaanbaatar depending on if you are heading east or west along the rail route.
Note that the bogies also need to be changed at the Russian-Chinese border if you take the Trans-Manchurian railway route. However, you are required to leave the train at this border and so cannot witness the procedure unfortunately. Perhaps another, albeit small, reason why the Trans-Mongolian route is so popular.
Article originally posted by Phil Stanley: 16th September 2013