Turntable tales Nº 17

‘A railway dream forever’

Made in Germany by the company: Josep Vögele at Mannheim in 1922 as Nº 132 and still able to roll albeit with no connection to the network. Temporarily or for ever depending on what they are going to build. Probably an extension of the shed for locomotive maintenance as seen on the picture above.
In that case Chiang Mai’s turntable will have a prolonged life and once in while will be used to revolve the half open panorama car of the Eastern and Oriential Express, a special coach always at the rear of the train so the passengers can enjoy the rail gliding from underneath till the horizon, the delusion if they are moving instead of you while sipping a drink or two.
Travelling on this train means enjoying the things on a relaxed manner. It must be said: for the ordinary people one have to save a while before booking a ticket if they still think it’s worth the amount of money.
Chiang Mai is not within the regular trips this train makes between Singapore and Bangkok. Only special occasions and on organized tours by which the train functions as a rolling hotel. Coming November 2nd and according the timetable leaving at 17.30 and arriving at Lampang the next morning.
Anyone familiar with the Northern Line knows immediately the train doesn’t need a whole night to bridge the 109 kilometre, so on what side track in between the hotel will be parked is a surprise for them in their comfortable compartments after a lavish diner, some entertainment at the bar and maybe late supper but for some a snack in the cabin will do as well. The superabundance of travelling in luxury and style like our forefathers did around the fin de siècle hundred years ago.
In order to give the travellers in time a feeling of being on the move maybe the train will not be tucked away on a siding but passing the destination and goes as far as needed along the line, return and arrives on time after the passengers had their breakfast and ready to board a hors and carriage for an extra ordinary sightseeing tour through Lampang.
It’s my imagination reading the itinerary of this tour on E & O’s website. What will happen to the panorama car if by that time there’s no restored connection with the turntable? Will it be hauled back to Lampang the way as it came because there’s the next available possibility in front of the former roundhouse? November 2nd will be a day to be at the station anyway.
The turntable is a relict of the steam era because the engines had to be turned in order to point their noses in the right direction and many devices survived the steel horses with their peculiar sound. 1922, the year wherein Chiang Mai got its long wanted connection with the capital; three days and quicker than the weeks needed by boat and elephant before while at the beginning night travel was considered as too dangerous. It did not last long and since then there’s hardly anything changed, according today’s timetable one still needs a minimum of twelve hours to reach Krung Thep or Chiang Mai if started the journey there and only if lucky without delays. The Northern Line measured 751 kilometre of which only 132 is double track. If one of the twelve trains daily (and most through the night) on its way do have a problem it will spread like an oil stain.
The twelve are trains running between the two cities only, on the Northern Line there’re more trains servicing destinations in between. Measured from Bangkok the first 90 kilometres are also used by trains going to the North East.
Here’s the bottleneck for any problem although this section do have double track. Departing on time, yes, arriving however rests in the hands of Buddha.
Twenty seven years I am familiar with the Northern Line Railhead and practically can dream all the details from loose nails (rail spike) and worn-out sleepers to the more obvious things; trains as they run but with an interval. A lot of arrivals in the morning and afternoon depart with in between silence; still the dream goes on, the dream being part of it on a lazy crazy Sunday afternoon. The turntable would be a perfect stage for gathering and share the tales of interest meanwhile trying to move the rusty mechanism in order to make a twist without alarming the railway staff. “What the heck those Farangs (foreigners) are doing?” It won’t go that far, by now they well aware the Rao Rak Rot Fai (we love train) guys are a special kind. However, on my own, through all those years never any problem occurred, a lot of things were possible and successfully done. Nobody can predict what happens if many of us would flock the premises every weekend though I have certain suspicions. The railway dream is a solitary one like many others, the turntable is just a gadget with several directions possible and the lever is always waiting for another go round.


About Robert von Hirschhorn

Author / Performer or in Dutch: schrijver / dichter
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