PLATFORM LIFE

NEWS & VIEWS FROM THE RAILS

TRANS-SIBERIAN PLATFORMS AND HUNTING HIDDEN TRAINS

If you’re just going to sit on the train, forget Trans-Siberian tours as it’s not for you. This trip is full of discovery but you have to get up and go out on the platforms to find the most exciting sites and experiences.  When first stepping out onto a platform you can feel quite perplexed as some seem to have so many people around. Some of these people are selling local goods but thankfully are not “pushy”. Mostly we brought milk for breakfast and tea, a round pie filled with meat (very nice) and bread for soup. At some stops there are little shops.

At all there is always at least one friendly platform dog and little children laughing and running around. Being a dog lover I would have brought some dog treats with me, as they were all cute and friendly. All the platforms are different, from the people on them to the architecture of the station buildings. Although there is not always the time at stops to enter a building, the history and futures can clearly be seen. From old buildings to new and renovated, there is something of interest to everyone even if you’re not into structure design. For me it was the different colours and stone carvings. As you walk round a platform you see more and more we found statues, sculptures and even more exciting for my husband, different trains.

Spotting Different Trans-Siberian trains

Finding different trains on and around every platform was an unexpected extra that become a game of hunt the train. This is because although some of the steam trains were the same model, they were all at different stages of restoration. Several proudly stood fully restored, with mottos on plinths on platforms. While others hide behind sheds in different colours, glistening with snow, looking ready for use later in the year. Because we were also at the end of winter we found gritters and line cleaning trains that where magnificent. Keep looking as you leave stations for more trains.

You pass many trains along the way but don’t get caught up in trying to count the trucks, as at one point I ended up counting 108 on one train with a diesel pulling and one pushing. It really makes you admire the locomotives that are pulling you. We also took sleeper trains in China. I had been worried about these due to sharing a 4 bunk room but I had no need to worry the people we shared with were friendly, the train very modern and clean and a wonderful experience. My Husband loved the bullet train in Shanghai, this was defiantly an experience of speed.
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Photographing Conductors

From time to time these locomotives are changed. This is at longer stops and is fascinating. It is well worth a walk to the front to watch. It also allows you to take in the scale and beauty of the Trans Siberian trains and their history. It was on one of these walks I met the train master who is in charge of the attendants and general running of the train. Although our guard didn’t speak much English, the chief did. As I asked to photo him, he stood very proudly in his uniform, looking all the part, from the shiny buttons on his uniform to his hat badge, there was no mistaking him from the other guards.

The border with China, loos and bogies!

We also missed or were not allowed to leave the train at the border of China. This worked for and against us. Border stops can become quite confusing but are actually quite understandable. It is better to think of them in the same way as if you were going through an airport and to expect searches and import forms. They are polite but strict about you keeping still and in one place. This of course makes their job easier. However I was not quite expecting the length of these and that in the short trip between border points (of a few miles) the loos remain locked. This is required in and around all stations.

This left us for over 3 hours with no loo. Luckily our guide book (personalised by TSTC) had warned us of this and so we had not been drinking. The samovar also cools at longer stops. We had therefore been waiting for our guard to lower the step so we could leave and enter the platform building before the bogeys were changed but this never happened, no one seemed to have left the train.

This as it happened was a great experience and we were glad we had stayed on. We asked about taking photos and were told there was no problem. We all took some one off photo’s of the bogey’s being changed, from piles of them at the sides of the huge shed and the old locomotive shunting the carriages to the odd feeling of waving through the window at people in other carriages being suddenly along side us and lifted in the air on mammoth jacks. Although it is about midnight, this was definitely not a time to be going to sleep!

GUEST BLOG ENTRY

This is the fourth in a series of 5 articles written by guest blogger Louisa Howard who recently completed a Trans-Siberian tour with us from Moscow to Shanghai via the Trans-Mongolian, Beijing and Xian.

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