The Trans Mongolian: When the trains stop.

In the latest Friends ‘Review’ journal Anthony Coulls makes passing mention of his work on the upcoming NRM exhibition on the Trans Siberian Railway (Review, 174, Winter 2020/2021). His comment reminded me of happy times spent travelling in central Asia. As an obsessive traveller you might think I have been on the Trans Siberian but you would be wrong. I travelled on the Trans Mongolian instead, in 1988. You might need an atlas to follow this!

In 1988, 4 days out from Moscow, the Trans Mongolian and Trans Siberian reach Irkutsk. From there they skirt Lake Baikal on the Baikal-Amur Mainline (BAM) to Vladivostok before the Trans Mongolian heads south and east from Ulan Ude to the Mongolian border at Naushki. It crosses Mongolia, passing through the capital (Ulan Bator) before crossing into China at Erlian. From there it’s plain sailing through Datong to Beijing. It was especially interesting at Erlian where a change of gauge occurred. The Chinese and Russians, constantly suspicious of invading each other, arranged for the change of gauge in 1956 – from a Russian 1524 mm to a Chinese 1435 mm. Coaches were shunted into a shed where bogies were changed. On my trip the entire train load stood on the platform and nervously watched while the operation occurred. Customs men took the opportunity to work through the train confiscating TV sets, alcohol, anything that looked like contraband,