Odyssey of Steel - Lin Yangchen
стали одиссея

Saigon to Scotland by train
Lin Yangchen

Calling stations marked with 🚂 (list may not be complete and distances are approximate)

5 May 2017

Touchdown at Tan Son Nhat International Airport. In 1975, a Pan Am Boeing 747 took off under Communist gunfire, carrying almost 500 people on the last commercial flight out of Saigon as the city fell.

North-South Railway, Vietnam (French-built in 1936, reopened 1976, single track)

Track gauge: 1000mm

🚂 Sài Gòn 0km ("Reunification Express")

Chợ Bến Thành. ©Lin Yangchen

Saigon street food. ©Lin Yangchen

Conducting a Saigon symphony. ©Lin Yangchen

Saigon railway station, the start point of the Odyssey of Steel. ©Lin Yangchen

🚂 Bình Thuận 175km
🚂 Nha Trang 411km
🚂 Diêu Trì 630km

A slow day. ©Lin Yangchen

Diêu Trì station, with a hint of Cubism. ©Lin Yangchen

🚂 Quảng Ngãi 798km
🚂 Đà Nẵng 935km (start of French invasion, 1858)
🚂 Huế 1038km (Vietnam's imperial capital)
🚂 Đồng Hới 1204km
🚂 Vinh 1407km
🚂 Thanh Hóa 1550km
🚂 Ninh Bình 1611km
🚂 Hà Nội 1726km

Drivers conducting the pre-departure checklist in a Chinese-built D19E (120 km/h) bound for Saigon. They served the author a glass of strong Vietnamese tea. One of these locomotives was wrecked in the Dien sanh train crash. ©Lin Yangchen

Overtaking on the Cầu Long Biên (1902), an iron cantilever bridge designed by Daydé & Pillé (Paris). The bridge was a strategic axis heavily bombarded during the Vietnam War. ©Lin Yangchen

Crossed the mile-long bridge on foot.

Hanoi, before the morning rush-hour. ©Lin Yangchen

7 May

Track gauge: 1435mm

🚂 Gia Lâm
🚂 Đồng Đăng (Vietnamese border)
🚂 Pingxiang (Chinese border)

8 May

🚂 Nanning 2035km (train Z6)
🚂 Nanning East
🚂 Liuzhou
🚂 Guilin
🚂 Hengyang
🚂 Changsha
🚂 Wuchang
🚂 Zhengzhou
🚂 Shijiazhuang
🚂 Beijing West 4530km

Yuan-Dynasty (1206–1341) urban design survives in central Beijing, where a man runs a shop in one of the traditional courtyard houses lining an alley or hutong (胡同). ©Lin Yangchen

10 May

🚂 Beijing (Train K3)

In the 1960s, Red Guards from all over China arrived at Beijing station in great numbers. They were on a pilgrimage to catch a glimpse of Chairman Mao (Jung Chang, Wild Swans).

🚂 Zhangjiakounan 4734km
🚂 Jiningnan 4904km

Trans-Mongolian Railway (completed 1955 following an ancient tea-caravan route)

🚂 Zhurihe 5078km

The People's Liberation Army base here is the largest military training base in Asia. Two months after I passed through, the army held a massive parade here to celebrate its 90th anniversary.

🚂 Erlian (Chinese border) 5237km

Track gauge 1435mm --> 1520mm

Bogie change from standard gauge to Russian gauge at Erlian. The cars are separated and raised by jacks. ©Lin Yangchen

🚂 Dzamin Uud (Mongolian border) 5247km
🚂 Sainshand 5482km
🚂 Choyr 5709km
🚂 Ulan Bator 5956km

Ulaanbaatar station in the left-hand window of the Mongolian restaurant car. ©Lin Yangchen

🚂 Zonhala
🚂 Darhan 6237km
🚂 Suche Bator (Mongolian border) 6335km
🚂 Naushki (Russian border) 6358km
🚂 Dzida 6402km
🚂 Ulan Ude 6613km

Trans-Siberian Railway

🚂 Slyudyanka 6945km
🚂 Irkutsk 7069km
🚂 Zima 7319km
🚂 Nizhne-Udinsk 7575km
🚂 Ilanskaya 7878km
🚂 Krasnoyarsk 8156km
🚂 Malinsk 8541km
🚂 Taiga 8729km
🚂 Novosibirsk 8918km

Train K3 en route from Beijing to Moscow. ©Lin Yangchen

🚂 Balabinsk 9221km
🚂 Omsk 9545km
🚂 Ishim
🚂 Tumen 10117km
🚂 Yekaterinburg 10443km

A coal truck resupplies the train at Yekaterinburg. While the train is powered by an electric locomotive, coal is used for cooking and making hot water. ©Lin Yangchen

The Ufa train disaster happened not far from here. In 1989, sparks from the wheels of two passenger trains ignited propane and butane leaking from a pipeline, killing 575 people and injuring 800.

🚂 Perm II 10824km (former centre for Soviet tank production, was closed to foreigners)
🚂 Balezino 11030km
🚂 Kirov 11271km
🚂 Nizhni Novgorod 11781km

In 1988, a Soviet freight train carrying 120 tonnes of explosives, including hexogen, detonated in nearby Arzamas. The blast killed or injured more than 1,500 people.

🚂 Vladimir 12031km
🚂 Moscow-Yaroslavskaya 12221km (Trans-Siberian Railway terminus)

Moscow Metro. ©Lin Yangchen

15 May

🚂 Moscow-Kiyevskaya
🚂 Suzemka (Russian border)
🚂 Konotop
🚂 Kyiv-Pasazhyrskyi 13093km

Kiev railway station. ©Lin Yangchen

Ploshcha Lva Tolstoho station, Kiev Metro. ©Lin Yangchen

16 May: Kiev Express

🚂 Kyiv-Pasazhyrskyi
🚂 Korosten
🚂 Sarny
🚂 Kovel
🚂 Yahodyn (Ukrainian border)

Track gauge 1520mm --> 1435mm

🚂 Dorohusk (Polish border)
🚂 Chełm
🚂 Lublin
🚂 Dęblin
🚂 Warsaw Wschodnia
🚂 Warsaw Centralna 13783km

Warsaw Metro. ©Lin Yangchen

Warsaw Old Town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. ©Lin Yangchen

The Berlin Wall. ©Lin Yangchen

17 May

🚂 Berlin Hauptbahnhof (ICE 954)
🚂 Berlin Spandau
🚂 Hannover
🚂 Bielefeld
🚂 Hamm
🚂 Hagen
🚂 Wuppertal
🚂 Köln 14829km

The celebrated TGV (Train à Grande Vitesse, 320 km/h) pulling into Köln Hauptbahnhof for the Thalys TH9448 high-speed service to Paris-Gare du Nord. ©Lin Yangchen

🚂 Aachen
🚂 Liège
🚂 Bruxelles-Midi 15012km
🚂 Paris Gare du Nord 15276km

Opposite the Gare du Nord. ©Lin Yangchen

Some argue that the longest train route in the world should end in Porto, Portugal. Indeed, the great-circle distance between Saigon and Porto is 11,240 km, while that between Saigon and Thurso is 10,110 km. But Porto is hot and crowded like Saigon, while Thurso is a remote hamlet at the end of the world. The choice was clear. And how could I come so far and so close, only to bypass the Channel Tunnel and the world's capital city, London?


🚂 Paris—Gare du Nord (train 9055)

Eurostar first class, at or near the train's service ceiling of 300km/h. The author requested to be put on a service operated by the older-generation Eurostar train with the austere and timeless interior design by Philippe Starck. The train is 387 metres long and has extensive fireproofing for safety in the Channel Tunnel, including materials, heavy-duty wire insulation and fire doors. ©Lin Yangchen

🚂 Ashford
🚂 London St. Pancras 15356km

The famed St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel, which fronts the Eurostar terminal. ©Lin Yangchen

The Shard. ©Lin Yangchen

London Underground (Westminster station). ©Lin Yangchen
See my London Underground Photo Exhibition.

19: May East Coast Main Line (opened 1850)

The "Highland Cheftain" service, introduced in 1984, is powered by the fastest diesel engine in the world, the Class 43 InterCity 125 (238 km/h).

🚂 London King's Cross
🚂 York
🚂 Darlington
🚂 Newcastle 15754km
🚂 Berwick-upon-Tweed
🚂 Edinburgh 15988km
🚂 Haymarket
🚂 Falkirk Grahamston
🚂 Stirling
🚂 Gleneagles
🚂 Perth
🚂 Pitlochry
🚂 Kingussie
🚂 Aviemore
🚂 Inverness 16291km

Inverness, from the author's room on the top floor of the Pentahotel. ©Lin Yangchen

20 May: Far North Line (completed 1874)

🚂 Inverness
🚂 Beauly
🚂 Muir of Ord
🚂 Conon Bridge
🚂 Dingwall
🚂 Alness
🚂 Invergordon
🚂 Fearn
🚂 Tain
🚂 Ardgay
🚂 Culrain
🚂 Invershin
🚂 Lairg
🚂 Rogart
🚂 Golspie
🚂 Dunrobin Castle
🚂 Brora
🚂 Helmsdale
🚂 Kildonan
🚂 Kinbrace
🚂 Forsinard
🚂 Altnabreac
🚂 Scotscalder
🚂 Georgemas Junction
🚂 Thurso 16548km

Thurso, the northernmost station on the British National Rail network and the final station on the Odyssey of Steel. British Rail Class 158 (140 km/h) with aluminium chassis. ©Lin Yangchen

Seat 61
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