■ 22:55 (UTC+08:00), 25 JAN 2019 | CHN CHENGDU, SICHUAN
Station 365 — Yingbin Road — and a nice WELCOME sign, welcoming me to Station 365. It’s not a sin to repeat a milestone achieved: this officially means I’ve been to the equivalent of a different railway station, every single day, for an entire year, although probably due to matters closer to home and work (and I don’t work for the railways!), it took me a little longer than 18 April 2018 — which was what should have been the day Station 365 was unearthed had I actually gone to a different station, day in, day out!
Late on 25 January 2019, at around 18:20, I hit that Station 365 marker (Station 366 would be it for leap years).
Given how special the journey has been, I’d like to share a few clips of the stations that were just so unique…
Station 3, Hefei South, Anhui: The magically artistic departures hall
I had actually used this station before shooting on this documentary began, but I went the wrong way — it was straight to the exit and the metro station instead. Rail crew had told me that to start a journey here would be a beautiful idea — literally. I was taken aback at how amazing the station was. This was when everything from the entrance hall to the departure gates were works of art — even the signage appeared very, very artistic. Thumbs up, big time, big like.
Station 27, Yangcun, Tianjin: Two oddities you might’ve never noticed
This is the first thing that throws you off (if you’re into languages): a hybrid/bastardised version of what is “严” in simplified Chinese, or “嚴” in standard traditional. It basically means “strict” and what’s “strict” here is the ban on explosives. Obviously, not allowed on trains or in stations — never take risks!
The second is all about the platforms. Usually, Platform 1 is the side platform, and Platform 2 is the island one — repeated at probably too many stations, in particular Classic Rail. But Yangcun takes exception, with the two the other way around! Also, at most stations, Platform 1 is just outside the waiting hall; here, the underpass has to be used no matter what!
Station 51, Shidu, Beijing: Almost hidden in the mountains…
This one busted my tyres (and yes, I do drive to some of these stations). Shidu remains one of the most remote/”secretive” stations (although it was open to the public!). Coming just out of a tunnel, the station is showing its age, but the views are awesome. To me as a Swiss, all I could want are mountains. (Better still would have been snow-capped ones a la Gornergrat, but oh well!)
Station 73, Xi’an North, Shaanxi: Biggest HSR hub of them all…
At 34 platforms, Xi’an North is as big as High Speed stations go. Even here, a few remain more than futureproofed… but the action is already there. You will have to be absolutely sure which gate you’re going to use to get to your train, because it’s… ginormous!
Oh and fingers crossed I’ll get to Qingchuan station — as I hear it, probably the sole station on the High Speed network with just one island platform — and no non-stop tracks!
Station 101, Caka/Chaka, Qinghai: Maximum elevation so far…
At 3,100 metres above sea level, I’m still feeling… rather OK. (I learnt it the hard way: I would feel perfectly OK at 3,000+ metres above sea level except for when on a boat!…)
This is notable as the “tallest” station visited (if counting from sea level — or would “most high-up” be better?). It’s also odd in one sense as in it’s seen more as a Halt for Ticketing Purposes — but trains do originate and terminate here for the time being!
Station 126, Zhengzhou Green Park (Lüboyuan), He’nan: The unintended Canadian invasion
The station itself is perfectly OK, but this massive picture of this huge… red… MAPLE LEAF (ALL CAPS INTENDED) throws me off. Have we suddenly been transported, warp speed, to Canada!?
Also, station signage in total Pinyin calls this station “Lvboyuan”. Good luck pronouncing that!
Station 138, Dingyuan, Anhui: The least used station on the Beijing-Shanghai HSR
Geoff Marshall is too totally into the Least Used Stations bit. Well, the Middle Kingdom equivalent on the world’s fastest line (as we speak) is the thousand-strong Dingyuan Railway Station, frequented by a patronage that reach into four digits on a daily basis. Sorry, Shippea Hill… sorry, Barry Links!
It’s also probably one of the most artistic of the least used stations (although Station 117, Hefei Beicheng, is equally artistic — and at that, actually quieter still, with maybe just 8 or 9 passengers a day… although word is there’s a new HSR line coming through that station!).
Station 150, Tongxiang, Zhejiang: Amazing views at night
At night, Tongxiang station looks awesome. It’s one of the stations designed in late 2010 that look all the same: paths divide immediately after the entrance gate, which is in a bit of the concourse that is intentionally semi-submerged right next to Platform 1.
(Told you this was going to be geeky, too!)
Station 192, Lulong, Hebei: One station, one train a day!
Train K50 is the train’s sole service (as it was in late 2017, when I visited it; let’s hope it now gets a little more love!). Despite this, there are more than just a few passengers using the train…
it’s also got one of the larger squares for Classic Rail stations. It might probably be somewhat barren, but the views of the station building are quite good from the outside.
Station 212, Huishan, Jiangsu: Design Flair from Formosa?
Granted, Mainland Chinese take issue with the use of the word Formosa for some reason, even if in Portuguese it actually sounds downright — and at that, quite literally — beautiful…
It’s said that the designer behind Hsinchu HSR station in Taiwan also got busy with Huishan. I didn’t see a plaque or anything like that, but I’ll take it, as the two do look somewhat similar…
Station 286, Shangbancheng, Hebei: The three arrows
At most Classic Rail stations, you’ll see the name of the station (in simplified characters plus Pinyin) and two arrows. Shangbancheng takes exception, as it’s located right next to a junction, so three arrows are visible.
The clock inside the main hall is of interest, too. It seems to be a prize given to the station — for having some very fit members of staff across northern Chinese stations… (at least that’s what the characters on the thing said!…)
Station 290, Beimajuanzi, Hebei: So hidden away… we needed help!
This one was probably the most difficult to locate. Satnav pointed me to a blocked road by this massive industrial estate, so I had to actually seek assistance from rail crew. I had to proceed via this tiny village road across this desolate bit of town that was being flattened. Only then did I get close to this very old station.
But as remote and little used it might be, it’s not actually broken. The seating’s still there, and what I loved was the fonts in Roman characters, indicating the name of the station in Pinyin.
Station 313, Ruijin, Jiangxi: Red Communism visible all over
Officially, China is ruled by the Communist Party, and you see a lot of political slogans across the country. But station squares are usually more cultural — unless it was the likes of Ruijin. Here, the first Jiangxi Soviet was established — this was back in the days after the fall of the Qing, but before Mao’s People’s Republic was set up.
If you’re for red stars, political statues, or anything politically (or historically) interesting, this would be the station for you, O China Academic… O China Scholar… O Old China Hand-To-Be…
Station 331, West Kowloon, Hong Kong: Just by Victoria Harbour…
And now an exact polar opposite: where capitalism still rules supreme in Hong Kong (along with standard traditional characters and Cantonese), West Kowloon also figured itself into the show. To be on the safe side, no pictures of checkpoints were taken, but it was still a pretty unique station. Colocation, no matter how controversial it might be, is a blessing, as you no longer have to deal with two rounds of inspections for your whole journey.
Now if only I could use the e-gates… ■ ■ ■