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MY TRAIN TRAVELS IN ASIA-PACIFIC REGION
Fiji, Australia, and China

This page covers the Fiji sugar cane train, the Kuranda Railway in Queensland Australia, a 1974 train trip from Hong Kong to Shanghai en route to Beijing, and trains, subways, streetcars, buses, ferries, hydrofoils, a cable tram, and cableways on a vacation in Hong Kong in 2009. Variety is definitely the spice on my Dish of Life.

Coral Coast Railway -- Fiji's Sugar Cane Tourist Train -1993
The island country of Fiji in the South Pacific Ocean creates memories of tropical Paradise that last a lifetime. In addition, Fiji has trains - not many and not fancy, but easily found by tourists. One is shown here from a vacation in 1993. The Sugar Cane Train operated by Coral Coast Railway runs from Sigatoka up to Natadola Beach. Nearest airport is Nadi, Fiji, about an hour north of Sigatoka.

A very pink steam loco converted to diesel, with open-air excursion-style passenger cars, hauled us the 10 miles from the depot near the Shangri-La Hotel to Natadola Beach. Tracks are two-foot gauge (610 mm) hidden in the grass. A picnic BBQ buffet was laid out in the trees for lunch - very peaceful. Bring your own bottled water, as parasites abound and they are mean! There was no tourist development at the beach in 1993, but one hotel is now complete and a second is in progress.

Real sugar cane cars were hidden in the bushes and under sheds, but no one was using them that week.  The sugar cane lines cover 375 miles (600 km) of industrial rails - the largest garden railway in the world.

Today, 25 years after my trip, the train is more run-down and more of a tourist trap. Don't be guilted into buying candy for the kids -- it's not good for them and they should be in school anyway. Ditto souvenirs in the village shops.

On another day, be sure to visit a Fijian village with a Fijian guide. The cultural contrasts are worth the side trip. The villages you see from the train are too close to tourists to represent Fijian village life accurately.

   

   

   

   
All above photos taken in 1993 by the author

A real diesel, and still pink. This photo circa 2014, from the TripAdvisor website.




Another view, from Wikipedia


 

Coral Coast Railway
Tel: 011.679.652.8731
Fax: 011.679.652.0434




No direct website - see nice review at
http://www.railserve.com/jump/jump.cgi?ID=15422

 

 

Kuranda Scenic Railway - 1993
Australia hosts many narrow gauge tourist trains, as well as some mainlines that were never converted to standard gauge. At one time there were thousands of miles of 42" gauge railways in Australia.  One of these is shown here from a vacation in 1993. The Kuranda Scenic Railway runs from Cairns (Queensland) north to Kuranda and return, about 34 kilometers each way. Tracks are three-foot six-inch gauge on immaculate mainline right-of-way.

The line was begun in 1882 by Christie Palmerston and completed in June 1891, to serve miners in the area. Dense jungle and cliffs with sheer drops of up to 327 metres and a slope as steep as 45 degrees were literal death traps for workers. Without modern equipment but simply fortitude, dynamite, and bare hands the team eventually finished the job, after removing 2.3 million cubic meters of earthwork, creating 15 tunnels, 93 curves, dozens of bridges, and 75 kilometres of track.

Purple and cream coaches pulled by diesel power carry a large audience over the spectacular eastern coastline of northern Queensland. Numerous spindly bridges, short tunnels, water falls, and tropical rain forest keep the camera clicking.

There is now a cable car, known as the Kuranda Skyrail, to view the rain forest from above, not present in 1993 during my visit. Locomotives are more modern today and carriages boast LCD television screens pointing out the scenic wonders visible from the windows. A short side trip to the aboriginal theater and art gallery at Kuranda are must-see cultural attractions.

Photos by the author taken in 1993, except as noted.

      

   
Above: My photos


Kuranda Scenic Railway bridge over Barron Falls. Locomotive here is bright white GE 6-axle unit with only 10 tons per axle so it is pretty gentle on the trackwork. Photo from Wikipedia.

Below: Images from postcards and KSR brochure


Postcards -- Stoney Creek Falls with diesel train (top), Barron Falls (middle), Stoney Creek again with steam locomotive on the point (bottom)


Freshwater Connection Station (top), Freshwater Restaurant (middle), and Kuranda Station (bottom)


Souvenir Ticket and Boarding Pass


 

Hong Kong To Shanghai - 1974

I visited Hong Kong twice, first in January and February 1974 on a business trip, then 35 years later in January 2009 on a family vacation. Photos are from the 2009 trip, historical photos are from websites  as noted.

Kowloon Canton Railway (KCR) - 1974
In 1974, I was en-route to Beijing with four colleagues for a six week technical sales presentation. This was a year after US President Nixon "opened China to the West". The British, Germans, and French were there before him of course, but who's keeping track? 

We had three days in-bound, waiting on paperwork, to tour Hong Kong streetcars, the Victoria Peak Tram, Kowloon Ferries, and the harbour just west of the Peninsula Hotel.

Out-bound, I enjoyed Chinese New Year with a total of $10 cash in my pocket - the banks were closed and bank machines didn't exist. Even the black market currency exchanges were closed, so I walked a lot. The Colony was British and the buses, trucks, and cars were mostly 1950's and 60's British Leyland. The Empire had not yet been dispersed.

 
Orientation Maps of Hong Kong Special Administrative Region

The 1974 train trip from Kowloon to Canton (now Guangzhou) ran 22 miles north to the Chinese border at Lo Wu. Here we walked across a bridge, through customs, to catch the steam driven express for the remaining 89 miles to Canton, followed by the longer trip to Shanghai.

 

Known as the Kowloon Canton Railway (KCR), the British section was completed during 1906 - 1910, with through traffic over the Chinese section beginning in 1911. 

The KCR train was hauled by n GE-EMD G-12 or G-16 Diesel locomotive. They had 6 wheel trucks to keep the load on the light rails to a minimum. The G-12's had 1250 hp, arrived in 1954 - 56, and were numbered 51 - 55 (built under license in Australia). The G-16's with 1650 hp were #56 - 59 and arrived in 1960 - 64  (3 built in Illinois and the last one in Australia). G-12 #51 is preserved at the Hong Kong Railway Museum at Tai Po. G-16's #56 - 59 were still running in early 2008 with the KCR logo, usually switching or hauling mail cars to the International Mail Center as "extras". They appear to have been retired in 2008 - we did not see them on our 2009 trip.

Antique GE-EMD G-16's still in use in 2008, photos from www.railpictures.net

  
          KCR #56 "I. B. Trevor"                     KCR #57 "Bobby Howes"

  
                 KCR #58 "Gordon Graham"          KCR #59 "Gerry Forgates"

In 1974, there were official "minders" at every transfer point to see that we found the correct train and did not stray into sensitive areas. We were the only North Americans on the train, the balance were Chinese officials, plus British, German, and French businessmen. Miles of rice paddies, water buffalo, farmers up to their knees in water, small villages, and many bridges whizzed past as we rumbled along to Shanghai. We were not allowed to take pictures from the train. The steam locomotive at right is similar to the one that hauled us from Canton to Shanghai.

We were guided to our hotel, slept in cool stone-walled rooms, and toured downtown Shanghai on foot. The Sun Yat Sen central park was the focal point of numerous ornate buildings, nothing more than 3 or 4 stories high. After another night at the ancient hotel, we waited two more days at the Shanghai airport for the 6-engine Russian equivalent of a DC-8 to fly us to Beijing. Canvas seats on aluminum frames sized for smaller bodies were extremely uncomfortable, and the noise from six engines was phenomenal. By then we started to feel the cold. Beijing has about the same climate as Winnipeg, and Shanghai's is similar to Vancouver.

Interlude: 35 years later

Now it's 2009, and everything is new, really NEW, except the Hong Kong streetcars, the Peak Tram, and the Kowloon Ferries. Well, they don't look new, but all have been rebuilt or replaced since 1974 and are merely replicas of their former selves. New buildings, new buses, new underground metro transit, new airport, new everything. The old is still there, tucked away between skyscrapers or on steep hillsides.

  
 Old and new in downtown Kowloon       Mostly new in downtown Hong Kong

Aside from the 1974 and 2009 trips into Hong Kong, I passed through the old Kai Tak airport on at least 5 other trips before it was closed in 1998, en route to Bangladesh or Indonesia.
 

                    Kai Tak Airport c.1974

Kai Tak was notorious for its difficult approach and landing procedure while skirting the mountains and high rise buildings that had sprung up around the airport. It involved a descent to about 650 feet, (facing into a 1400 ft hill), then a 47 degree right turn that also dropped the plane to about 140 feet, hopefully leaving the plane lined up with the runway. Before 1975, this was done visually, later aided by ILS, but the eyes were still better.

Canadian Pacific Airlines always asked us to lower the window shades so we
wouldn't see how close to the buildings we were; Cathay Pacific just let us gasp in awe.

Hong Kong Info

Large Scale Kowloon Map

 

Kowloon Canton Railway (KCR) - 2009
In the early days of course, KCR was steam powered; diesels arrived in 1954 and electric multiple unit (EMU) commuter cars arrived in the 1980's. The KCR was merged with the MTR, Hong Kong's mass transit system, in December 2007, after nearly 100 years of independent operation. The route towards Guangzhou (Canton) became the MTR East Line. KCR West Rail, a light rail commuter line, became MTR West Line.

The inter-city trains to Guangzhou and beyond use the same track as the East Line, running diesel powered express trains, including some high speed bi-level tilt cars, as well as a "bullet" train. There are at least 10 such trains per day between Kowloon and Guangzhou.

Our hotel room at the Stanford overlooked this set of tracks just south of East Mong Kok Station. We could see and hear the electrics swish past quietly, as well as the burbling exhaust of the inter-city diesel starting out with 10 or 12 cars. We also saw a "bullet train" and some bi-level tilt cars, but were not quick enough with the camera. Ask for a room number ending in a "2" if you want to train-watch from your bedroom.

  

  
  DF-0008 leaving East Mong Kok Station, taken through the safety screen on the exit platform.

  
      Telephoto shots of trains south of East Mong Kok Station, from Stanford Hotel room 1602.

The Stanford is on Soy Street halfway between Yau Ma Tei and Mong Kok Stations, the heart of the Golden Mile shopping and restaurant district. Reasonable prices too, but food is usually cold in the hotel restaurant. It's more fun out on Nathan Road anyway, with every ethnic cuisine you can imagine, including McD.

  
                                                       Night lights on Soy Street

 
Stanford Hotel - the exotic window arrangement gives everyone some interesting views.

 

Hong Kong Railway Museum, Tai Po, New Territories - 2009
This is a small but immaculate collection of KCR equipment, and the original Tai Po station built in 1913 on the Kowloon Canton Railway. An older diesel, a narrow gauge steam engine, and 6 passenger cars are on display, with numerous artifacts in the station. An LGB model train runs in the garden at the push of a button.

The diesel-electric locomotive #51 was introduced in 1955. This one is named "Sir Alexander", after the former Governor Alexander Grantham.

An early W.G. Bagnall 0-4-4T narrow gauge steam locomotive, restored from the Philippines in 1995, is one of two that formerly ran on the Sha Tau Kok Railway line between Fanling and Sha Tau Kok. When that closed, they were used by sugar mills in the Philippines. The other locomotive of the pair was also brought back to Hong Kong and is reported to be undergoing restoration. According to one reference, these locos were probably used during construction of the original KCR, which was narrow gauge while being built and re-gauged before the railway opened.

The six coaches are:
    1911 third-class compartment #302
    1921 engineering coach #002
    1955 third-class compartment #223
    1955 luggage compartment #229
    1964 first-class compartment #112
    1976 ordinary-class compartment #276


In addition, these, there are a hand-car and a diesel-engined railcar.

The museum is located about half way between Tai Wo and Tai Po Market Stations on the MTR East Line (surface railway). Catch the train at Mong Kok East and walk west on the north side of the tracks from Tai Po Market Station. No entry fee.

  
                                         GE-EMD G-12 KCR #51 "Sir Alexander"      

   
         W. G. Bagnalls 0-4-4T Narrow Gauge                              Model on display

  
                     Ticket Display                                                        Crew Car

  
G Gauge Garden Railway at Tai Po Railway Museum
 Wikipedia Page

Victoria Peak Tram, Hong Kong Island
The Peak Tram dates back to 1888 when it used a coal fired boiler to run a steam driven cable to operate two funicular cars. The upbound car is balanced by the downbound car, thus little real power is needed. It runs on a single track with a passing siding at the halfway point. Today it is electric and the two two-car trains carry 120 passengers each way.

     

The current 2-car trams were built in 1989 by Gangloff in Switzerland. The track is 1384 meters long and rises 368 meters with a maximum grade of 27 degrees. Track gauge is 4 ft 11-7/8 inches (1520 mm).

  
 Views from Victoria Peak:  Kowloon              Hong Kong

The upper station is all glass and steel now, with six stories of shops and lookouts reached by a dozen escalators. Nothing like 1974; this was a parking lot for tourists then. You will find the lower Peak Tram Station a short walk south of the MTR Central Station. Cash fare only.

Historical Photos from Peak Tram Website

  
                       1888                                                                 1890

  
                                      1897                                                             1926

   
                                 1948                                                              1970


1998

 

Streetcars, Hong Kong Island - 2009
Streetcars and high speed mass transit co-exist in Hong Kong, as they do in Toronto, Munich, and other intelligently planned cities. In fact, a proposal to replace the streetcars in Hong Kong with another subway was voted down by the citizens. Surface stops, frequent service, low priced fares, and no stairs won the day.

Hong Kong Tramways dates back to 1904 and the cars look much the same today as they did then, as well as in 1974 during my first visit. As double deckers, they look top heavy and ride pretty roughly, especially around sharp corners. There were no real skyscrapers in 1974, but lots now.

The streetcar makes a long 13 km east west run through downtown Hong Kong and returns on double track. A complete round trip on the Kennedy Town - Shau Kei Wan route will take 2 hours 20 minutes, so it's a great way to see the new and the old close-up. There are 163 cars available for service, running six different variations of the downtown route. All were built and refurbished by the railway shops.
                              We rode car #155 for quite a while.

Car #6 trailed behind

Many tramcars date back to the 1930's, with many modernizations and improvements across the years. Newer cars were built in the 1950's and 60's, and 3 were built in 2000 with air conditioning. Two older cars (#28 and #128) were refurbished to look like the original 1912 versions for tourists and private parties. 

The cars can hit 50 Km/hour, run on 550 volts DC, and travel on 1067 mm (42 inch) gauge track. Cars are rated at 115 passengers and run 1.5 minutes apart in rush hour while competing for space amongst auto and pedestrian traffic.

Use MTR to Central or Admiralty Stations or the Kowloon Ferry; both drop you within a block of the tracks.  Cash fare or Octopus card as you alight.

Historical Photos from Tramways Website

 

 

 

28  90

120  169

128

Wikipedia Page

Hong Kong Mass Transit Railway (MTR) - 2009
In 1974, MTR was just a dream about to change Hong Kong forever. The first line was opened in 1979, with many mote to follow. The system now carries four million passengers every weekday on very modern 7, 8 or 12 car trains (depending on the route)  - fast, smooth, quiet, frequent, cheap, and on-time. There are 211 Km of track with 150 stations. There are 10 subway routes and 11 surface routes.

Station announcements are in Cantonese, Mandarin, and English, plus illuminated route maps over the doors, making it easy to get off at the right stop. The many routes seem complicated at first so a good map is essential at all times. Stations are huge with many exits. There are at least three flights of stairs and probably one or two escalator rides to get to your train. Turnstiles, not to mention the stairs, make large luggage a bad idea.

 
               Click HERE for larger map     Click HERE for expanded view of downtown map

Although there is a human driver, the trains are basically computer controlled to stop within inches of the correct position. Most station platforms have glass walls to prevent people from accidentally falling on the tracks, so the train must stop precisely at the automatic sliding doors in the protective screens. Most cars can hold up to 300 passengers, and at rush hour, probably  more. The trains can hit 80 Km/hour between stations with very smooth acceleration and braking systems. A few lines  have a first class car in the middle of the train; for double fare, you get a padded seat and leg room.

Airport Express on Cross Harbour Bridge, taken
from Ngong Ping 360 Gondola

The airport line is less crowded and very first class, arriving at Central and Kowloon Stations in less than 25 minutes. Get your Octopus card as you leave the airport - it gives a return trip to the airport plus 3 free days travel on the rest of the MTR for a reasonable fee. You can add more money to the card at any MTR station


 

   .

All subway and surface lines are electric, standard gauge (4 ft 8-1/2 inches, 1435 mm) but diesel powered inter-city express trains also use the surface lines. These diesels have a gorgeous burbling exhaust, well muffled for urban environments.

    
                      Mong Kok Station inside and out                                Yau Ma Tei Station inside

 
      Train at Yau Ma Tei                                 Local bus on Nathan Road

The MTR runs special dedicated trains to Disneyland from Sunny Bay Station. The windows are shaped as a profile of Mickey Mouse. There must be a word for something that is too cute for words. The station is also pure Disney.

 

 

Bus LINes, Hong Kong Island and Kowloon
The buses are all relatively new rear-engined double decker jobs from various makers. All the old front-engined "snout-nosed" buses I saw on my first trip are gone. Like the streetcars, the new buses seem top heavy but sway on corners is amazingly slight, although the ride can be rough. Pollution and noise suppression are excellent - no smoke or smell.

The upstairs views are pretty good if you don't get sea-sick from all the motion. The buses have great acceleration and brakes, so hang on tight. A good ride is from Central to Stanley or Aberdeen on Hong Kong Island. If you want scary, try the trip from Victoria Peak back to Central.

There are five privately owned bus companies serving the Hong Kong area with large buses on fixed routes, plus MTR which runs feeder buses to train stations. Publicly owned mini buses cover more local and feeder routes.  Cash fare or prepaid Octopus card work on all.

   Leyland Titans c.1974

Modern rear engine buses 2009


Things you can't do on a bus      

  
    At Wampoa Mall                                                   On Nathan Road

   

 
More suggestions you probably should observe in Hong Kong
 

Hong Kong - Kowloon FerrY - 2009
The Star ferries carry passengers across the Victoria Harbour, between Hong Kong Island and Kowloon. beginning in 1888. The fleet of twelve ferries operates four routes across the harbour, carrying over 70,000 passengers a day. All are diesel electric, built between 1956 and 1998.

Even though there are now other ways to cross the harbour (by MTR and road tunnels), the Star Ferry continues to provide an efficient, popular, and inexpensive crossing of the harbour.

The main route runs between Central and Tsim Sha Tsui, opposite the Peninsula Hotel, where I stayed in 1974. Only millionaires can afford to stay there now. The original Edinborough pier and clock tower I remember from my 1974 trip were torn down and replaced in 2006, sans clock. The other routes are Wan Chai to Tsim Sha Tsui, Central to Hung Hom, and Wan Chai to Hung Hom. A Harbour Tour makes an indirect, circular route to all the stops, namely Tsim Sha Tsui, Central, Wan Chai, and Hung Hom.

          

        
                     Ferry scenes on Victoria Harbour, Celestial is the oldest, built in 1956.

 
Kowloon Ferry Terminal c.1974                                    Star Cruise Ship                  

Hong Kong - Macau FerrY - 2009
Several fleets of high-speed Macau ferry vessels serve the 40-mile route between Hong Kong and Macau: jetfoils, turbo-cats, jumbo-cats and CotaiJet. There are more than 100 sailings throughout the day and evening, with all-night service by jetfoils.

There are two terminals in Hong Kong. The main sea terminal and heliport are located in Shun Tak Centre, on the waterfront west of Central District on Hong Kong Island. It stands over the MTR Sheung Wan Station.

The other terminal is the China Ferry Terminal offering ferry services from the Kowloon side, located on the Tshim Sha Tsui waterfront alongside Harbour City, and is used for Jumbocats, and Hover-ferry sailing to and from Macau.

In Macau, the Maritime Terminal and heliport is situated in the Outer Harbour, close to lots of casinos and hotels. The older, more interesting city, is a modest hike west and inland a bit. Good restaurants exist but are hard to find. 

The Boeing 929 - 100 Jetfoil hydrofoil ferries are 90 feet long with a beam of 31 feet carrying 190 passengers in very comfortable seats. They can travel 50 miles per hour using two 3300 horsepower gas turbines driving 2 mixed axial flow, 24,000 gallons/minute Rockwell Rocketdyne Powerjet 20's. The ship burns 430 US gallons of fuel per hour, getting about 0.1 miles per gallon. The hydrofoils lift the ship's hull out of the water giving a very smooth ride even in a large swell.

  

 The oldest Jetfoil "Flores"     built in 1975.

A year before our trip to Hong Kong and Macau, 133 of 435 passengers were injured, 19 of them seriously, when two high-speed ferries, Funchal and Santa Maria, collided five nautical miles away from Macau and limped back to Macau to treat the injured. Now I know why some, but not all, Jetfoil ships have seatbelts. But where in hell was the radar that night????

Ngong Ping 360 Cable Cars to Giant Buddha
Ngong Ping 360, sometimes called Skyrail, travels about 5.7 Km on a dual cable system over 8 towers (counting the two terminal towers), rising 428 meters on Lantau Island. One cable hauls the cars, the other acts as the support rail. Each of 109 cabins carry up to 17 passengers on the 25 minute ride, giving a capacity of 3500 passengers per hour each way.

The contractor and initial operator was Skyrail-ITM of Australia, using equipment built by Leitner of Austria, and is owned and now operated by MTR. It was completed in 2006, but closed for 6 months in 2007 when an empty cabin fell 50 meters in an after hours accident during a system brake test. Skyrail-ITM was fired after the accident and MTR took over the cableway. 

Mules from Canada were used to carry equipment and supplies through sensitive environmental areas so no new roads needed to be built. No one assessed the environmental impact of all that mule poop. Large items were brought in by helicopter.

The cableway starts near the MTR Tung Chung Station and terminates near the Giant Buddha at Ngong Ping, a theme village especially built to exploit tourists. There are no intermediate stops. Cash fare or prepaid Octopus card.

  

   
Views from the Ngong Ping 360 Cable Car

 

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