T r a v e l s  -  R e i s e n

F a r  E a s t  H i g h - S p e e d  I m p r e s s i o n s

China with its more than 1.3 billion citizens is world's most populated country and Shanghai with some 20 million inhabitants represents its commercial metropolis - and what a metropolis: The financing for Sun Yat-sen and Chiang Kai-shek had come from Shanghai, the Shanghai Express from Beijing had got fame worldwide for the movie with Marlene Dietrich, and now Shanghai has the most breathtaking skyline among all the mega cities in the world.

Shanghai Pudong (WS)

The maglev at Shanghai Pudong station, 2011 (WS)

The maglev from Shanghai Pudong airport (WS)

For the railway enthusiast of course the main attraction is the magnetic levitation SMT train connecting the Pudong airport at a speed of 430km/h, developed in Germany, but prevented there by opposition, media (and corruption?) from being installed in the country of its origin. Though Shanghai is jammed with motorcars, most important for suburban traffic is the subway. There you have to buy the ticket at one of the innumerable slot machines, go through the obligatory security check, board the Metro together with the crowd of people (the young ladies are fashionably dressed, Italian-style) and arrive at the Shanghai Railway Station, where you can watch from the nearby bridge the expresses entering and leaving, with electric engines, and every few minutes one of the white high-speed train sets of a network which step-by-step is extended to cover the whole country. Buying a ticket is not easy, the information center sends us to the ticket hall, crammed with thousands of people, at every counter waiting in an immense queue - no, let's try one of the hundred slot machines. With the help of a young Chinese who speaks English fluently, we get a return ticket to the place where we want to go, the city of Suzhou, the "Little Venice", discovered by my dear wife in a travel guide (while the rail fan is studying only the high-speed train types). After passing the luggage control, one of the waiting halls has to be entered and only with a valid ticket the way downstairs to the platform is open.

Shanghai railway station (WS)

Shanghai station and a CRH3 high-speed train, March 2011 (WS)

Shanghai station, express for Qingdao (left), another express and a CRH2 high-speed, 2011 (WS)

In the wide iron hall, built in the years after the end of communism, roughly a dozen trains are waiting. On "our" platform it is the express K294, bound for Qingdao (before WWI the German outpost Tsingtau), which it will reach the other morning. The long train consists of red/light-gray seating-cars, diner and sleeping-cars, hauled by a red SS9 type electric engine. Only the car correlating with the ticket number can be boarded, it is already occupied, but truly the two Pullman-type seats in accordance with our ticket are free. Another long-distance train, consisting of blue/red/light-gray seating-cars, diner and sleeping-cars and still another blue one are entering the station.

K294 Shanghai - Qingdao, 2011 (WS)

At quarter past one in the afternoon, our express leaves Shanghai station on this March18, 2011. After a stop in the strikingly modern new western station, the train enters the suburban country. Skyscraper-like living quarters between clean lanes and parks make forget the poor huts which had been the dwellings of the majority in the past. High-speed trains are passing by on nearby bridges and a creek, surrounded by thickets, accompanies the line. Drinks and snacks are offered by a friendly stewardess with a trolley service. Sadly, after an hour already the express has covered the 84km and stops at Suzhou in a modern station outside the city. A local bus driver knows at least so much English to answer "no" upon the question if he is going to the center. Take a taxi? No, we've already been cheated. A young guy with a motorcar finally is guiding us to the romantic gardens, to the canal and to the Buddhist pagoda, where Chinese are praying and the fragrance of incense is filling the air. Like already in the temples of Shanghai, the idea is coming up that Jesus and Buddha are friends in eternality…

Temple in Suzhou (WS)

Suzhou (WS)

CRH2 high-speed, Suzhou 2011 (WS)

Suzhou station (WS)

CRH1 as D5473 Xuzhou - Shanghai, 2011 (WS)

Back to the railway station, the white high-speed trains can be watched - every few minutes one is coming or going, stopping or passing the station at an immense speed. The terminal is crowded with people, everybody has to search for the waiting-area corresponding with the train number, only a quarter of an hour before departure one can pass the ticket control and search for the car number marked on the platform. Night has already fallen, when the train enters and - what a surprise - it is a high-speed train! A Chinese explains that we have a "no seat" ticket, but it doesn't matter. The train, a 16-car CRH1 type from Bombardier, truly a semi high-speed, is coming from Xuzhou, 535km distant, and takes only half an hour for reaching Shanghai. The time passes quickly, the monitor shows a speed of 207km/h, the ride is quiet and soon we arrive at Shanghai station, stopping by the side of a Japanese-type CRH2 and a CRH3 resembling the German ICE3. What an experience in a country where once, in 1876, thirteen years after the first project Shanghai - Suzhou had not yet been realized, the first railway to neighboring Wusong had been demolished by instigated demonstrators, being convinced that rail has no future and steam is too dangerous for mankind…

The CRH1 from Xuzhou after arrival at Shanghai station, 2011

Shanghai is the port of departure in that March 2011 for our booked cruise to Vladivostok and Japan aboard the "Ocean Princess" of Princess Cruises and in fact among the passengers some ones are telling us that Vladivostok was their dream, they want once to go there by a Trans Siberian train. However, because of to the earthquake catastrophe in Japan, the course was altered for Hong Kong, though truly the harbor of Osaka has not been closed and anxiety among passengers proved unfounded. Vladivostok was cancelled, but a call to Korea, initially avoided due to the military tensions with the North, has been added. So the "Ocean Princess" is berthing on March 26 at Incheon, the seaport for the South Korean capital Seoul, surrounded mainly by Weidong Ferries coming from and going to China.

Seoul (WS)

The Incheon railway station is situated near the old port and from there the electric suburban train sets of the combined Seoul Metropolitan Subway and Incheon Subway are reaching the capital in a little more than an hour, crossing the Hangang river and passing the Seoul railway station, where the TGV-type high-speed trains are a startling sight. We leave the train close to the vast area of the Gyeonbok Palace, the symbol of Korean tradition and pride since the Joseon Dynasty had started there to build up their empire, culture and Confucian teaching seven hundred years ago. And - by chance or by a miracle - our arrival is just in time to admire the spectacular parade in historic uniforms, shown by so many tourist books. It's a heavenly present… The walk leads us further to the Congye-Sa Temple, where we can join an immense crowd, praying silently. And later, when walking over the bridge on the northern side of Seoul railway station, we get another present: A plot has been cleaned, possibly for building still some more skyscrapers, and from there the trains of the standard-gauge Korean National Railroad KNR, entering and leaving the station, can be watched and photographed: First an electrically-hauled ordinary express, then a Saemaul Express diesel train set, a modern suburban electric unit (obviously it's not the A'REX of the new line to Incheon International Airport) and then, of course, the KTX high-speed trains, resembling the French TGV, but with 18+2 cars being of a higher capacity. Coming and going in intervals of 10 to 30 minutes, they connect the capital with Busan, Korea's most busy harbor in the south, covering the 409km in 2 ¾ hours.

KTX high-speed southbound, Seoul 2011 (WS)

The cruise of the "Ocean Princess", started from Shanghai, has been changed for Hong Kong instead of Japan and as a compensation for not calling to far-away Vladivostok, Princess Cruises has added a call to Keelung, the seaport for Taipei, the capital of Taiwan, and so we are getting the opportunity to see that prospering country.

Keelung is a picturesque town, built around the small harbor bay. The station of the Cape gauge railway and an electric railcar of the Taiwan Railway Administration can be seen from the upper deck and buses are parking nearby. One takes us through the hilly valley to Taipei, not even 30km distant, past factories and living-quarters on a river shore, into the busy capital. Skyscrapers dominate the scenery, but they are nothing compared to the "One-O-One", the 101-storey tower, some years ago the highest in the world, overtopping everything. Though its architectural appearance may be liked or disliked, it is a masterpiece in engineering, constructed to be safe against earthquakes. And walking towards the traditional city center, the tourist is captured by the cleanness of the roads, the discipline of the drivers and the obvious wealth, a 'Switzerland' in Far East. A look at the Chiang Kai-shek memorial is a "must", it's a white monumental building in a park filled with flowers, exaggerated, colossal, nevertheless of a good proportion. But where is the railway? Is there a viewing-point like in Seoul? No. The railway has been laid underneath, like the subway. The nice modern Taipei Main Station, neighboring a park, is divided up into various shopping and waiting areas, at one we ask an official for a platform ticket, uncommon there, but he understands what we want, and he says "cheapest ticket to Banciao." At one of the many slot machines we truly are successful in getting the tickets, the friendly employee opens the waiting-area and gliding down on the escalator, what a view is overwhelming us: Not a simple suburban train or a Cape gauge express, no, a standard-gauge high-speed train is waiting for us there, the ultra-streamlined Japanese 700T type, painted in a sparkling orange and light-gray. What an occasion to step in, to see the decent interiors with the light turquoise-colored Pullman-type seats - what a pity that we cannot make this journey aboard the THSRC, bound for the important seaport Kaohsiung in the south, covering the 336km within 1 hour 36 minutes, two stops included. The bus is awaiting us for boarding the "Ocean Princess" right in time for not getting lost in Taiwan, in a Far East paradise…

Keelung and the Cape-gauge station, 2011 (WS)

Taipei Railway Station (WS)

THSRC high-speed 700T for Kaohsiung, 2011 (WS)

THSCR high-speed 700T Taipeh - Kaohsiung, Taipei 2011 (WS)

Taipei "101" (WS)

Berlin - Baltikum  "Leningrad"  Moskva - Budapest  Ost-West-Express  Trans-Sibirien  Mongolei - China  Beijing  Abschied von Hong Kong  Japan's "Ultra-fast Nozomi"  Far East High-Speed Impressions