Thursday, January 08, 2009

Jean was over in Shanghai at the turn of the year, thus explaining my complete absence for the past 10 days.

Today’s discourse will be limited to one aspect of our adventures: trains

The journey from Shanghai city to the airport by taxi can take anywhere between 30 to 90 minutes. However, the airport train service uses magnetically levitated trains that whiz along at an awesome 430 km/h, reducing the travel time to a mere 7 minutes. And at 50 RMB per person, it is also far cheaper than the 150 - 200 RMB taxi fare.

The ride is exhilarating. An LED text display shows the current speed (most trains use this to indicate the next station), and the numbers steadily blink from zero up to 430 as the scenery whizzes by at increasingly fun speeds.

The elevated track is gently banked at curves, so that when the train whizzes into the curve, the view on one side will be mostly sky and clouds, while the other side will be dominated by a dizzying view of motor vehicles slowly puttering along on the highways.

Very soon, the speedometer begins to blink downward as the train approaches the station. The train must have been travelling at top speed for not more than 2 minutes; the rest of the time is spent gently accelerating from rest, and slowing down on approach into the station.

And the ride is over. Too fast.


Shanghai has two railway stations – the Shanghai Railway Station and Shanghai South Railway Station. For our trip to Suzhou, we went to Shanghai South to take a train Suzhou. Shanghai South is a new facility, clean, spacious and aesthetically pleasing – unlike most train stations in China.

We got a pair of tickets from Shanghai to Suzhou on a fast train, and had a long wait ahead of us. While in the toilet, I had a sudden horrible flash of insight. The ticket says Shanghai to Suzhou, not Shaghai South. It doesn’t really make sense for this railway station to sell tickets for departures from the other station, but strange things do happen in China…

A bit of asking around revealed that we make our way to the older station, located about 20 minutes away by subway. MCH.

The train stations are generally dingy places, with huge crowds, filthy toilets, smoky halls and not quite enough seats to go round (which is not surprising, seeing that each train can hold thousands of passengers). This was indeed the case in the Shanghai Station.

The train, however, was a completely different story. A bullet train with well a finished interior that is better trimmed than an airplane cabin and seats with more room than in a bus, it was entirely comfortable.

This being the fast train, it was really fast. At 200 km/h, the 75 km trip was done in 30 minutes.

Not bad.

Of course, that was the fast (and expensive) train. The slow trains can take up to 100 minutes, where the fares are much cheaper and the seats being hard benches.

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