The Canadian settlement of Saint-Louis-du-Ha! Ha! shares a similarity with this post — it is one of the very few such posts on my domain to end in an exclamation mark! But it finally happened: I got to talk to hundreds and hundreds of PR crew at China Railway — particularly those doing new media posts.
For a moment I just couldn’t believe this was happening. It was just f*cking epic. (Sorry.) OK, granted, I had spoken to rail crew about dumping Chinglish for proper English — but these were more local, confined to a particular geographic area of China. To pretty much have representatives of the entire nationwide network in front of you was not something the average, totally random mere mortal could really pull off. ▶
This new line goes through an incredibly mountainous part of Central and Western China, zipping through Tianshui, Dingxi, and other stations. Along with wife Tracy, I got to ride on the new line out from Xi’an North to Xining, incorporating the Baoji-Lanzhou bit, and got a look at Lanzhou West Railway Station. (Some have deemed that to be one of the lesser well-done HSR hubs, but I see it quite differently.)
Much of the line appeared to be familiar to me — remember I had been to all stations on the Xi’an-Baoji HSR, so it was only after we left Baoji South that the new bit of the line meant I was looking out the window. Quite a bit. Or at that, just a bit. The new high speed line went through probably a million tunnels, this being a very mountainous part of China.
When we did have a look at the countryside, I had to look very closely at a station we were only going to zip through — Dongcha Railway Station. Media interviews included me looking away to see if I’d finally snapped Dongcha station (I did do that on tape, or rather video), as the station was very unique. Initially it was intended only to be a place where trains would overtake one other — ie let slower trains take a breather whilst faster ones zipped by. However, they eventually converted this to a proper station. And not any station: Dongcha would feature, as I saw on pics released just before the line opened to the general public, a rather long, all-enclosed elevated walkway from the station building to the platforms, as they weren’t exactly under the HSR rail line viaduct. ▶
So after filming three more stations on 27 June 2017, we got back to Beijing late that evening and hopped right onto Train G123 the next day. Yes, 48 hours late, somewhat inexcusable for the Shanzhai Sheldon Cooper of Beijing, but oh well.
The new Revival Express train is in red. This to me is an excellent choice for colour… even before 1949, red was seen as a very Chinese colour. When people got married, it’s known as a “red party”. Enterprises are established at lavish parties where guests of honour wear “red tags” with a red flower and baskets of flowers (fake or real) are draped with ribbons of red. Over Chinese New Year, money is stuffed in red packets. Coincidentally, the present-day largest-denomination banknote, CNY 100.—, is pinkish-red. Red was also the colour of the walls around Tian’anmen, Zhongnanhai, and the Forbidden City. So it made sense to have a red train literally in the China of the same colour! ▶
It’s a funny kind of day, and it’s all about trains. Brilliant skies today in this part of Central Western China as I’m on my way out west to Baoji (never tried that on the new HSR line), and the launch of the new Revival trains on the Beijing-Shanghai HSR. All trains, promised. But the big thing: TEDx.
To have mic access as a keynote speaker as in being the first onstage — that was something I hadn’t been expecting for quite a while. But to do this on the TEDx stage as the lead speaker was just absolutely wild.
My 18 minute talk (which I nailed with only about half a minute more to spare) was about my documentary, Next Station: China, that’s in the making, but far more also about how I’ve come to discover and appreciate the views, the items evoking curiosity, and the plain unexpected in doing this documentary. ▶
That’s me having just completed an interview with Radio Beijing about the Next Station: China trip I’m doing right now. Finish all railway stations on the mainland of China by early 2022. (Now you just have to make a real effort!)
I’ve really been into discovering stations since I stumbled upon the Tanggu-Beijing high speed trains (I thought they used to go only as far as Central Tianjin). Since that time, I’ve been hooked. Unhappy with “just” Beijing South, Tianjin, and Shanghai being the sole three stations I’ve visited and taken a trip from in 2008, I’ve been dreaming of doing a “rail stations atlas”. The documentary, hopefully, will make this one come alive. ▶
About the most ridiculous “cutesy Chinese girly phrase” these days is the über-cute — and at that, extremely infantile — Coffee, tea, or me?. But there is something less silly in the form of trains — and the stations they call at.
There’s a whole new website out — Next Station: China — which is my new documentary, going after all national railway stations in China. Of course, Geoff Marshall and Vicki Pipe of All the Stations must also have all the fun going after an equally big network in the UK (there are 2,306 stations in China — mainland only, so far — the UK has 2,500+ stations — you lucky people!). Also, it’d be kind of cool if two rail documentaries were being shot at the same time across two countries.
The idea is to completely visit every single station open to the public on the mainland of China, They must be open to all (locals and expats), and have full ticketing facilities. I myself won’t be too happy with a mere stop-push-door-open-button-snap-push-door-close-button-go jaunt. I’m allowing myself upwards of nearly five years to totally explore the network, at a time when the HSR network is being doubled from a 4×4 network to an 8×8 one. ▶
We still don’t officially have a name for this new monster yet, but it’s there: the new CR400 trains. Both the Golden and Blue trains, coupled into one, came out as Train G65 today at Beijing West. Of course my wife Tracy joined the first trip; she hardly misses a beat!
On the inside, there are already a few novelties, and you can discover more on my Twitter feed, where there are even more pics of the train we took today. Welcome features include a new sink outside the toilets, child lock protection for the hot water machine, new unified PA alert tones (using the same tones as announcements at newer stations), and “softer beeping” when doors close.
The coupled train took centre stage, but interestingly enough, missing were the hordes of cameras and microphones, as it was seen more as a “soft launch”, although before we left, we did see a China Central TV reporter with the mic and camera kit on the platform. ▶
Lucky Yunnan! They’re officially part of the Chinese national HSR network as of today, with the opening in full of the Shanghai-Kunming HSR, including the just-opened-part between Kunmingnan (Kunming South) and Guiyangbei (Guiyang North) termini.
Of course Twitter was all abuzz with this… With me just recently verified on the service, how can you not expect this to be big news? For a part of the country “starved” of any fast, reliable rail service, the opening of the Shanghai-Kunming HSR seemed to be the news of the day.
Except for it wasn’t. In addition to getting the new HSR to Guiyang and Shanghai opened, there were two other express routes opened today — a new line to Guangxi (terminating ultimately in Nanning) and a short sprinter service to Yuxi. I’ll have to try both of these another day. ▶
I’ve seen quite a fair bit of railway stations by now — the good, and the bad; the well thought-out, and the absolute horrendous. Yujiapu fits none of these four because it’s magic that’s bound to take you away.
OK so not quite. I got in early on the train out from Beijing South. Because I wanted to get some real work done, I travelled in Business Class (pretty much all the time, really). The journey out was not too dissimilar with the previous HSR-then-regular-rail journeys I did, except of course we now travelled on the new 350 km/h (217 mph) line, passing through Junliangcheng North station enroute. And then we parted ways, with the HSR trunk line to Northeastern China heading further northeast, whilst we stayed further east, then slightly due southeast, with Tanggu the first station that could be served.
But the bit after Tanggu was new. We went underground and of course, that could mean only one thing: Yujiapu was an underground HSR station. Of course, it was a “regular” underground station with nothing fancy such as platform edge doors, so it was just putting the train station underground rather than above ground. I didn’t have enough time to snap a pic as I got out of the train. ▶
Sometimes, it’s the little things that make China’s HSR great. Like, say, the 261 km long Tianjin-Qinhuangdao HSR. At just 163 miles, this is hardly a major trunk line in one of the world’s largest countries, but it links the high speed lines between Beijing and northeastern China via Tianjin, Qinhuangdao, and the coast. This new line has allowed “full” HSR services to connect northeast China with Shanghai.
The new Zhengzhou-Xuzhou HSR isn’t massive, either, at “only” 362 km. Yet, for its mere 225 miles or so, this new line, good for speeds upwards of 350 km/h (217 mph), formed a crucial link — it was the first rail line good for such high speeds to connect between two of China’s most vital north-south HSR routes — the Beijing-Hong Kong and Beijing-Shanghai HSR routes. It also meant that my long-awaited connection from Xi’an (where I’ve ancestral roots) to Shanghai is finally reality. Most trains that run on this line “borrow” it to reach their final destination. ▶