Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Rail Pass for the Klang Valley

If you are visiting Kuala Lumpur or any other locations in the Klang Valley, RM150 ($45) buys a month of trips all transit operated by owned KLRapid. This includes Kuala Lumpur's monorail, the Kelana Jaya and the Ampang light rail lines, and all RapidKL buses. Called the RapidPass Integrated, it is for sale at all light rail stations and at major bus hubs.

In the past few years, the government of Malaysia has been taking over transit in the Kuala Lumpur metro area. The private entities that developed ran transit and built the light rail lines, did a poor job making it difficult for people to depend on the transit system. The result was one of the lowest rates of transit use in Asia as well as severe traffic problems and pollution.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Good Post on the Kyushu Shinkansen

I don't know if any of you have read the Sleepy Tako's blog on Japanese culture, but he recently wrote a good post about the Kyushu Shinkansen and its pokemon.

Of course, I prefer the express trains. You can see more.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Kuji - stub

Of Interest: Sanriku Railway
Lodging: yes

This small town in northern Iwate is the hub between the JR East's Hachinohe Line and the Sanriku Railway's tourist line.

If anyone has spent time in Kuji, it would be great if they could write something about this small town.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Sanriku Railway Company

At some stations in Japan, you can see a picture of a train going over a gorge. That train is run by the Sanriku Railway Company The company runs two lines on single track that JR abandoned when it was privatized. The first runs from Kuji to Miyako, and the second from Sakari to Kamaishi, all in Iwate Prefecture. The company is still associated with JR, and JR passes will get you a deep discount on a one day pass. Train schedules are coordinated with the JR trains.

Most of the passengers are commuters, but there are a significant number of tourists and railfans on the north part of the northern line. We stopped three times on the part of the trip so that people could take pictures. Both routes are scenic. In fact, I kind of preferred the parts where we were actually moving.

The northern line trains are a single car with a restroom and a vending machine. The southern line runs multiple cars. A multi-car train runs over Sanriku's northern line on Sundays and holidays from April to October. The special trains are only 200 yen more than a regular train, but rail passes may not work on it.

Each station has a map with local attractions.

(This company may run one or two rush hour express trains from the southern part of their route to Sendai.)

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Thailand to Laos by rail

Laos has a single train station at Thanaleng on a 15 minute line that links Thailand and Laos through a bridge over the Mekong River. It connects with overnight service to Bangkok. Currently, the train leaves Nongkhai, Thailand at 10:00 and 16:00 every day. (It is my understanding that the train will wait for the Bangkok train.) The train returns from Thanaleng at 10:45 and 17:00.

Thanaleng is close to Vientiane, but is not part of the city suburbs. It is between eleven and thirteen kilometers to the center of the capitol, depending on the source you consult. If you can, try to arrange transport from the station to Vientiane in advance. Otherwise, taxis and tuktuks are usually available. There are no services near Thanaleng Station.

According to The Man in Seat Sixty-One, you can get a visa for Laos at the train station, but according to a member of the Asia Loco Shed Yahoo group, visas for overseas train travelers are only available in Bangkok. You can get Laotian visas at the border if you take a train to a different city and then take the bus into Laos. (There are current timetables for all of Thailand at the Asia Loco Shed Yahoo group. Cook is not accurate, but English langualge timetables are available once you are actually in Thailand.)

It is my understanding that you can walk from Nongkhai to Thanaleng and from there to Vientiane, that the main barrier it distance, not the condition of the roads.

I encourage people to use trains as a means of transportation, but if you just want to take the train, you can go to the station in Laos and then come straight back.

Here is video of the trip:

(Note: This post is not based on personal experience.)

Hachinohe line

The Hachinohe line is set up for those environmentalists out there. Instead of air conditioning, this train has fans and open windows which is good because it was cold in northern Japan this summer. It is a beautiful ride, running through forests away from roads.

This two-hour long line runs from Hachinohe, Aomori Prefecture to Kuji in Iwate Prefecture. It is mainly run by JR East, but the Japan Freight Company runs the line from Hon-Hachinohe to Hachinohe Station. The line runs every two to three hours. The Hachinohe line connects to the Shinkansen at Hachinohe.

(Today is a good day to publish this post. Someone came to my site today from a search for Hachinohe.)

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Beijing to Shanghai

by Vladimir Pariev

I made my trip on Chinese trains in the Spring of 2009. The building of the main train station in Beijing is large, grey coloured in a monumentalistic Soviet style of architecture. There is a spacious square near the railway station. It is not far from the city centre. Metro exit is located on the other side of the square from the railway station. There is also quite good and not expensive hotel across the square from the railway station. Despite the large spaces the main feature of big railway stations in China are crowds of people. Especiallyso the Beijing station, since it is in the capitol of China and many train lines go in all directions from Beijing.

I was on the trip together with my friend. Another Chinese friend bought us train tickets in advance. In China a passenger would need a ticket to enter the train station. Tickets themselves are bought in another building close by. There is a temporary storage room for the luggage, where one can keep bags for a small fee. After entering the station a passenger is supposed to wait for his train in a waiting hall. There are many waiting halls according to the categories of the trains. We took the overnight Z train to Nanjing. The waiting hall for Z trains has many seats, so we got a seating for our wait. Other halls for lower class trains has too few seating places, so they were crowded with thousands of people standing or sitting on the floor. There are many shops inside the railway station selling snacks and drinks.

About half an hour before train departure time, passengers are asked to proceed to the platform. Tickets are checked once again. Z trains have compartments with four soft sleeping berths each, two berths below and two berths above. Sheets, pillows, pillow cases, blankets,
towels are included. There is also hot water and a clean toilet in the train. Some light food is sold on the board the train. The train went from Beijing to Nanjing without making any
stops for 9 hours journey. Despite quite high speed (more than 120 km per hour) the train was pulled by a Diesel locomotive, which I saw at the head of the train.
In the morning we arrived at Nanjing station, which is also quite large. We needed to show our tickets at the exit from the railway station again. There is a separate exit door from the platforms,which leads directly to the street. Once having passed through this door, a passenger cannot reenter the station without having another ticket for another train. It is not possible just to stay for a while inside the station without intending to actually board a train. We took express D train to Shanghai. The train was electric, fast, going at the speed up to 250 kilometres per hour, but making five stops, and it took us about two hours to get to Shanghai.

Shanghai railway station is also large and more modern than the station in Beijing. It is crowded too and it uses the same system of tickets purchasing and waiting rooms as in Beijing. In front of the railway station there is a road busy with traffic, but people criss cross at all times. The exit from the metro station is located on the other side of this road. The building for selling tickets is in about 200 metres from the railway station building and there are some other buildings and a road in between. So, it is not easy to guess quickly, without reading Chinese, where they sell the train tickets. There are a number of hotels close to the station
and we stayed in one of them, which was quite good. We took another Z train from Shanghai back to Beijing. The train took 11 hours of non-stop travel in the night. The train had the same interior as the Z train from Beijing to Nanjing, clean and quite comfortable.

As a side note, all our neighbours inside the compartment (all together4 people on both Z train trips) were males. I do not know, if it isdue to rules for selling tickets, or whether some females initiallyhad tickets in our compartment but then exchange their berths with males from another compartment,or if it has happened by chance (with probability 1/16). This is different from Russian trains, where males and females are usually assigned sleeping places at random, in any compartments.

Purchasing train tickets in China is somewhat difficult to do in advance. The tickets are sold not earlier than 10 days before thedeparture of the train, except for Z trains, when the tickets can be purchased 20 days before the travel date. It is easy to buy tickets while in China, either at a ticket office close to a railway station or in some travel agency. As my Chinese friend told me, it is wise to buy a ticket 2-3 days before the long distance trip in usual times and one needs to reserve tickets 10 days in advance during peak travel times in China, like the Spring festival. Suburban tickets are always available right before departure, if a passenger is willing to stand in the train. If one wants to buy tickets before coming to China, the Internet travel agencies charge high fees for this. Fees amount to 50 per cent of the cost of the fare itself. I could not find any cheap English language travel agencies, which would sell train tickets in advance to me and resorted to asking Chinese friends in China to get the tickets.