Turntable tales Nº 12

‘Counting sleepers with your feet’

It’s pitch-dark and somewhere during the last decade of the 20th century.
A Dutch journalist and humble writer of rail related stories decided to walk back to the station through the tunnel after they ploughed themselves over the top finding a way without any already existing path. Adventures things one can do if age is nothing to worries about. Surrounded with holy darkness the only orientation is a dim light in the distance. Once the breaking point is passed the light becomes bright and brighter. Complete silence, only the hollow sound of dripping water from the ceiling and the more or less moved question if I was sure that there won’t be any train with the same idea. As far as one can feel there’s not much space between the tunnel wall and track. Just after we left the entrance on the station side, a train did as well. Timing is a must in railway land. We even had to run to catch ‘the beggar’ in order to reach Chiang Mai.
Train 408 goes the opposite direction. After leaving with roaring engines soon the choke can be closed, it’s rolling down, down and breaking almost till the next station. Steel bridges, three in a row, showing the difference in elevation. While the rail deck is without girders or railing, hanging out the window gives the sight a magnificent feeling. Fear of height would punish itself by not looking in another direction. The mountainous jungle conquered by train, the quest for a suitable terrain for an alignment without using a rack. That’s why the railway line makes a big detour compared with the much later build highway and extended to four lanes. It’s is out of the question for the rail, there’s hardly enough space for a single track or the whole area should be passed underneath in a substantial tunnel. Something planners always dreaming about, a fruitful event passing of the night but in most cases only that. However, plans building high-speed railways in this country are more vivid than ever before and not only as an engineers dream. The new Khun Tan tunnel will be much longer than the existing one and certainly not accessible any more for adventures. It’s once in a lifetime one shall say: “Yes, I was mad but I walked through the tunnel.”   

Mae Tan Noi – km 671 + 808 meter and 11.125 from Khun Tan though there it says: 11.341 – Two tracks situated in a long corner, old signals and a two storey building, it looks like a little church. More fun for a fan: ‘religious rail’ (Reli rail). Actually it’s a split level house; down the station with a classic interior, upstairs four people living less organized, railway men I presume.
They couldn’t have chosen a more remote place to settle. Serene tranquility; not much happens here. Once a day the 408 and on the other track the 51 if the latter runs on time. While making notes for this part surprisingly it did, so for a moment the railway men are occupied. Hardly anybody noticed a farang disembarking together with his bicycle. Long not seen here or maybe never before. Unfortunate you can’t sneak away without satisfying the curiosity of the staff. To reach the road one has to climb over both tracks, this station is not accessible on another way. One last feature caught my eye; a small closed wooden shed with again a weighing machine inside. ‘Bascule Automatique Vivax’ Paris – Engineering supply Ltd. Pty. Bangkok. Weathered letters for whom who likes statistics and proof that he really got off here!       

The worship of rail

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About Robert von Hirschhorn

Author / Performer or in Dutch: schrijver / dichter
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