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Back to the Valley of the Watchmakers
I was woken by the bustle of the carriage preparing for arrival long before my sleeper train arrived at Shanghai South station. It was early in the morning (too early for my liking) and although the train continued to Ningbo (another 5 hours south), the majority of the passengers on board were leaving the train at Shanghai. We arrived right on time, and I stepped out onto the cold platform with several thousand other bleary eyed travellers.
Although it was early, I decided to go to my hotel and drop my bags before exploring the city’s metro system. I walked through the near empty railway station, and was surprised by the view from East Gate; a lush park amidst the concrete jungle of the city.
The unexpected gardens outside Shanghai South station
I entered the subway station and boarded a train. As it was still before 6:30, the train was lightly loaded and we rattled swiftly through inner Shanghai. I left the train at Caoyang Rd and had a short walk through the office workers heading into work; buying breakfast from street stalls and dodged the hundreds of bikes and electric scooters rushing along the footpaths. I had some difficulty finding my hotel; although it was close to the station it was located through a construction zone and in the middle of a residential area. To make matters worse, the position on Google Maps was slightly off (I found a lot of this in China). With the help of the map on the hotel’s website, I finally found it, dumped my bag, and ventured out to explore Shanghai.
A Shanghai Metro train waits in a siding at Shanghai South station
My first visit was the newly opened Pujiang metro line to the south of the city. To get there I had to take two long subway rides, in what was now peak hour. As I got further out, the train became less crowded, and finally we arrived at Shendu Highway station. I transferred to the Pujiang line platforms.
The Pujiang Line APM in Shanghai’s south
The Pujiang line is an APM (automated people mover), a similar type to those used in places like Singapore (Changi Airport, Bukit Panjang & Punggol) and Guangzhou. Driverless 4 car trains run on rubber wheels along an elevated guideway. It was now mid morning, and the APM was lightly loaded, but as it had only been open for a few weeks, there were a lot of sightseers. As there is no Driver, passengers are able to stand up the very front and look out through the front windscreen; many older Chinese people were standing, taking video.
The Pujiang APM was only a few weeks old and proving to be a bit of a tourist attraction!
Rubber tyred APMs generally have inferior ride quality compared to steel wheel on steel rail, and although acceleration was smooth, we bumped along at speeds of up to 70 km/h. The stations along the route were unimaginatively named after the nearest major road, and after a short journey, we terminated at Huizhen Road station. The station platform provided a good view of the elaborate switching tracks to allow the train to automatically terminate and return to the opposite platform for the run back to Shendu Highway.
The Pujiang Line APM terminating Huizhen Rd station
My next destination was Songjiang, which used to be a separate town, but has now been engulfed in Shanghai’s urban sprawl. Subway line 9 runs between Shanghai and Songjiang South Railway station on the Shanghai – Hangzhou High Speed Railway. The subway line is elevated for much of its journey, running through light industrial and new office developments. The area was typical of new developments in China; the infrastructure is built first and the people come later. Many of the buildings appeared unoccupied and there were very few people to be seen. The train rattled along above the near empty streets and few people boarded and alighted; most looking like cleaners or tradesmen. Approaching Songjiang, the train entered an underground section, and I alighted at the penultimate stop; Zuibaichi Park.
The map had shown a railway station close by and as I exited the subway station, I found the small Chinese Railways station directly over the road. I consulted the timetable, and found that there was a train departing for Shanghai South in about 45 minutes. I entered the ticket office, and in contrast with the major stations where multiple ticket windows have unruly queues with hundreds of people pushing and shoving, here I found a single window with only one person waiting in front of me. I typed out the train number and “Shanghai” on my phone, and showed the ticket agent. She looked at me with disbelief and said “Shanghai??”. I nodded my head and she burst out laughing. She called out to the man waiting behind me and said something in rapid fire Mandarin, he burst out laughing too.
The ¥9 ticket which caused the ticket agent such mirth
I understood their mirth; it is unusual for someone to take such a short distance on a long distance train, especially when there is a frequent and cheaper (and probably cleaner) subway service running practically parallel with the railway line. They didn’t understand that my reason for choosing the train was my not the destination but the journey! The agent shook her head at the silly foreigner as I passed over my passport and ¥9 (A$1.90). A ticket was issued for train K72 and I entered the station.
Songjiang railway station waiting room
I passed through the security checkpoint which each Chinese train station (including subway stations) has, put my backpack through the x-ray machine and walked through the metal detector. Past the checkpoint was a long waiting room with metal benches. At one end was a metal fence from floor to ceiling with gates; above each gate was a train number, departure time and destination (in Mandarin).
A passenger train arrives at Songjang
There were a few trains ahead of mine, and passengers came and went. A couple of express trains passed through. The departure time for train K72 came near, and I grew nervous as nobody came to open our gate. A young couple also seemed to be waiting for the same train, and one went to speak with the railway police on the security checkpoint. He was waved away dismissively, and went back to sitting nervously. Departure time came and went, but our train had not passed through. Finally, about 15 minutes after departure time, our gate was opened and we were waved through onto the platform.
A platform attendant keeps watch as my train from Songjiang to Shanghai arrives
This was what I had been waiting for, and I was lucky enough to see an express passenger and a mixed goods rumble through before my train arrived. Train K72 was 17 cars long and hauled by a blue and white SS8 electric locomotive. It rattled to a stop, and I rushed to find car 11. As the platform was low level, the carriage attendants had to raise the trap doors in the carriage vestibules, and the alighting passengers climbed down the internal steps. I boarded and we were quickly underway.
Inside the hard sitting car on the train from Songjiang to Shanghai
I was in a sitting car (hard seats) which was full, it smelled of sweat and slightly decaying food. This train had originated in Chongqing more than 27 hours ago, and many of the passengers looked fatigued. A near empty bottle of alcohol sat in front of one of my fellow passengers; a coping mechanism for a night in a hard seat on a Chinese train (a torture which I have endured – see my post from a few years ago: Lanzhou to Jinan). We sped through Shanghai’s southern suburbs, the 35 minute journey passing quickly and without incident. The train terminated at Shanghai South station and I made my way to the Jinshan Railway.
A DF7G locomotive at Shanghai South comes to shunt empty carriages
The Jinshan railway is a suburban line that runs from Shanghai South railway station to Jinshan. The line is 56 km long and uses CRH rolling stock, running at up to 160 km/h. Ticking is either by single use tickets available at stations, or the Shanghai Metro smart card.
I walked onto the platform and found a CRH 6A train waiting. Despite the island platform serving only one line, some passengers were waiting on the other platform. I wasn’t sure why, but I boarded the train anyway and found a seat. The train departed soon after and we sped through the western suburbs of Shanghai… and kept speeding and speeding as one station passed by without us stopping, then another, and another! It dawned on me why the passengers had been waiting on the platform, there were a mixture of express and stopping trains, and I had accidentally boarded an express service. I had intended to leave the train at about the halfway point, but the train kept going, and in just over 30 minutes we had arrived at the end of the 56km line!
A CRH6A set at Shanghai South, ready to depart for Jinshanwei
Jinshanwei station is a modern commuter station with 4 platforms. Outside the station, there is a large car park and bike parking shed. On the other side of the station, there is a bus interchange and more car parking. This all sounds like any other modern station, but here the station has been built first and the suburbs later. There is a lot of empty space and construction sites around the station. Wide streets see little traffic, and the large car park at the station is well below capacity. Beside the station is a small enclave of car workshops, building supply stores and low cost restaurants, which will one day be the town centre, but is now just an outpost on the edge of Shanghai.
CRH2A sets at Jinshanwei Station
After photographing arriving and departing trains from a conveniently placed footbridge, I reentered the station and boarded a train back to Shanghai. Fortunately, this was also an express train (I later found out that the express train numbers started with 30 or 32 and the stopping trains started with 36), and I was soon back at Shanghai South.
From Shanghai South, I caught the subway back to Caoyang Road and stopped off at a street stall for dinner. From there, I walked back to my hotel and for the first night since leaving Hong Kong, I slept in a bed that wasn’t moving.
This article first appeared on theraillife.wordpress.com
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