Russian and Chinese Trains: Very Different.
My 2011 trip to Russia and China included rail travel from London to Berlin to Moscow to St. Petersburg and back to Moscow. At that point, I joined a tour that took us by rail across Siberia to Mongolia, then down to Beijing. On my own once again there, I took the Chinese high-speed train to Shanghai, and flew home via Seoul.
Passenger trains in Europe and Asia, particularly the overnight trains, vary in style and design quite a lot. Here are two photos that provide a glimpse into what I thought was a rather striking contrast.
On the left, is a look at the vestibule between cars on the Russian train that took me overnight from Berlin to Moscow. As I hope you can see, moving from car to car took some careful footwork. On the right is a photo of the passageway between two of the Chinese sleepers. I must note that the interiors of the two cars were both very acceptable, although the Russian sleeping car was typically ornate with over-stuffed seating and the inevitable double curtains on the windows, while my compartment on the Chinese train was very modern and almost spare.
Crossing into Russia on the way to Moscow was an interesting experience because the gauge of the track changes at that point—from standard gauge which is 4 feet 8.5 inches wide to broad gauge which is five feet wide. As I recall, there were nine cars on our train—eight sleepers and a restaurant car. Trains crossing the border, whether entering or leaving Russia, have to change the wheel assemblies—called “trucks” in the U.S. and “bogies” in Europe—to match the gauge of the track.
At the Russian border, our train was rolled into a long shed four cars at a time. Once carefully positioned with two jacks on each side of each rail car, the sleeping cars were raised about a foot and the standard gauge trucks were rolled out from underneath.
Next the broad gauge trucks were rolled into position, two under each car, and the rail cars were then lowered onto its new set of wheels.
There are several reasons given as to why this procedure was considered necessary. One is that when the Russians began building their railways, it was thought that the wider gauge would be an impediment for any invading army attempting to bring massive amounts of men and material into Russia by rail. Others poo-poo that notion, saying the broader gauge was chosen because it would permit trains to run at higher speeds and with heavier loads. Based on my one-time experience, logic would seem to favor the latter argument since the switch from standard to broad gauge for my train only took about 90 minutes, start to finish.