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China’s Bullet Trains A Speedy Experience

July 29, 2013 DESTINATION, Headline News No Comments Email Email

The taxi driver was making unusual noises and gesticulating in the foyer of the hotel badly mimicking a train journey.

When we finally cottoned on and nodded in confirmation, we were on our way from Shanghai’s iconic Bund to the vast and ultra-modern Hongqiao Rail station to board the G2 bullet train to Beijing, then the Trans-Siberian train to St Petersburg via Mongolia in time to experience the famous Naadam Festival in Ulaanbaatar.

Grey skies and low cloud followed us as we sped out of China’s largest city past mega apartment blocks, and further on the thousands of market gardens, villages; and everywhere, people. The information screen at the front of the carriage shows a speed of 295 kph and I was still waiting for us to get going. An amazingly smooth ride at such a high speed.

The train left at 8.59 according to the clock on the screen, one minute before schedule.  Boarding had been swift and seamless. The train was nearly full but I managed to snaffle two empty seats in the middle of carriage 13.  As we continue our journey north there are yet more high rise apartments as far as the eye can see.  With a population of 24 mil in greater Shanghai one would expect such an expanse of housing but this is overwhelming.  China is not only one of the world’s financial powers but is also leading the world in infrastructure and development. The recent re-development of the financial sector in Shanghai over the Huangpu river via the Nanpu bridge into Pudong is massive and they hope to have the second tallest building in the world when the Shanghai Tower next to the Hyatt Grand and Park Hyatt is completed next year.

We slowed to 160 k’s on the outskirts of another city and I was ready to move my body to my designated seat but thankfully we didn’t stop and I am tapping away here in relative luxury.

On one of the longer and straighter legs we reached a top speed of 302 k’s but it was hardly noticeable. The rail network in China is huge and helps to move the more than one billion population around this immense country.

We arrived at massive Beijing South station right on time and headed to our hotel in time for the  briefing for our Sundowners Overland tour which was to be on a much slower train and in a far less sophisticated carriage: the Trans Mongolian Railway to Irkutsk (via Ulaanbaatar and Lake Baikal, then the Trans Siberian to Moscow and St Petersburg.

We met our guide, Tim Holland, a Pommy Science graduate who has lived in St Petersburg for the past seven years and speaks fluent Russian. Working as a translator when not escorting trips, Tim was more like a friend to the group, knowledgeable, helpful and patient. There were three Sundowners Overland groups heading north from Beijing to the Naadam Festival in Ulaanbaatar and three heading south from St Petersburg and all would be together at the festival. Our group of l8 over 50’s was made up of two Canadians and the remainder of Aussies from all over. We were all aboard train number K23 at 9.00 the next morning as this extraordinary train trip with Tim began. Seeing the sights on the way with the excellent local guides in China, Mongolia and Russia will also be a highlight.

I will appraise the early part of the trip and the Naadam Festival in the next article.

Written by : John Savage

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