Photos: Chinese start to miss slow, cheap train rides as China advances on high-speed rails
In today’s China, where the transport networks, made up of highways, railways, and airways, is expanding at a runaway speed, and paces of life have been accelerating nonstop, slow “green-skinned trains” doddering along a short rail link have become popular among many people, young and old.
Train 6417, its plain 4-digit numerical train number suggesting that it falls into none of the G, D, T, K categories that stand for “High-speed EMU,” “EMU,” “Extra Fast” and “Fast” trains, runs back and forth between Beijing and Chengde, a city 140 miles away in the neighboring Hebei province. It costs 17 yuan, or US$2.65, to travel from Beijing to Chengde, and as little as 1.50 yuan, or 24 cents, to get to Tongzhou, an eastern suburb of Beijing. Nicknamed “green-skinned trains” based on its look, the accommodation trains rolled off the production line in the 1950s and spawned an era of railway travel that have been embedded in minds of generations. (Read Chinese on the train: photojournalism that documents all walks of life.)
With no air-condition, no deluxe toilets, or reclining seats, all amenities on board green-skinned trains are so 20th century. However, even the clickety-clack of wheels hitting the rail that used to annoy passengers now sounds charmingly hypnotic. (Read how a series of sexually charged photos backdropped by green-skinned trains offend Chinese)
The train stopped at a small station full of foxtail grass and would not depart until 40 minutes later. Many passengers got off the train to take a saunter in the field.
Upright seats were a pain in the neck for passengers who doze off every now and then. But a plunge in the number of accommodation train riders, thanks to the government aggressive effort to push ahead with its high-speed rail network and phase out non-bullet trains, translates to much lower occupancy rates and hence great space and comfort. Many riders simply lie on the green bench while taking a nap.
The layout of seats, with riders of every two rows seated face-to-face and a tray table in the middle, facilitates communication and interaction – even among total strangers. A poker game or mahjong that beckons travelers from different backgrounds to sit down and have fun together was a common sight. But nowadays, people are much more distant from one another when they all face forward, no pun intended.
A German tourist who hails from Frankfurt. After he got on the train, he kept hopping from carriage to carriage. He said the train is very comfortable. Unlike Beijing’s super-crowded subway trains and buses.
The old-style charcoal furnace provides a less constant supply of hot water. On top of the boiler actually sits a steamer for reheating food for sale.
Even the kettle is frozen in time.
An old lady flipped through a heavily bookmarked Holy Bible. She converted to Christianity ten years ago. Train 6417, which she often takes, gives her much more time to pore over the scriptures.
Similarly, in the eastern city of Nanjing, people cannot wait to get a dose of the bygone days. According to Yangtse Evening Post, Ms. Yan posted online a photo of her revisiting a short-haul “green-skinned train” that connects a defunct transport hub of the city in the north and several tourist attractions.
Ms. Yan looking outside the window from a slow train (up); her train ticket
The 50 minute train ride costs 2.50 yuan, which is probably the most cost-effective way to cover the 9-mile distance in modern China throttled by heavy traffic jams and skyrocketing consumer prices as is manifested on taxi meters. The photos strike a chord and have inspired at least thousands to emulate the move.
Crowds followed Ms. Yan’s example.
Nanjing West Station is hardly open to passengers after the high-speed railway network is put to use.