Suning (肃宁, Stn 325): A Very Chinese Modern-ish Station!

Where is it? Southern Hebei, Northern China
What calls here? Classic Rail trains on Beijing-Kowloon Railway

There is something I have come to love about Suning Railway Station: the fact that the station is very Chinese in its look — or certainly as I arrived at the station square by car.

The settlement of Suning is actually a mini rail hub of sorts. There is the Shuozhou-Huanghua rail station further north, which is — no surprise! — Suning North, a cargo-only station. The main passenger station in town, this one on the Beijing-Kowloon Railway, is of course Suning (Main).

In Pinyin, the name of this station looks almost the same as a major electronics retailer (苏宁 for the e-tailer; 肃宁 for the station — it’s only when you read it out loud, or see it written, that you find out that there’s quite a difference!)…

Digital displays are increasingly common across stations, and are very much standard at High Speed stations. So it was nice to see them being retrofitted or added to Classic Rail stations, where they altenated between the welcome message, and the particular train service due on at a platform.

Like at Renqiu station, there were two platforms — the side platform, number 1, and the island platform, number 2. However, this station was very much busier than the last one, and incidentally, I came at a time when basically there were trains coming in not long after the last one left!

A Year of Next Station: China

Hankou safe and sound and that was Station 300 here at Next Station: China!

Thank you all for following us here on this epic journey. I personally visited this station for the first time in 2012 along with Tracy, but it was only on this journey today that I’ve a better appreciation of the station.

The hall remains as big and as impressive as ever, although with just “the basics”, lighting was a little on the dimmer side on the upper mezzanine with my face in the way. Outside of that, though, the station remains a sight to behold.

There’s also a finer and improved allocation of departure gates as intercity services begin to take off from the station. The other part I liked? The mini station sign that you get to see as a “combo sign” with the platform number. So far, unique to Hankou…

Best thing? The Revival Express out to Wuhan first (we’ll save that epic station for later), before the onward connection to Luohe West, Station 301.

Enjoy and thank you for being part of Next Station: China — for both the first year and all 300 stations we’ve been to so far!

Cangzhou West: Times are Everything…

Cangzhou West (Cangzhouxi) Railway Station is one of a handful of High Speed stations which feature a clock (the others Next Station: China has been to featured Tianjin’s main station, which also hosts HSR trains. (Most stations don’t have one any more — for very obvious reasons!) The very modern station is designed so it is a very abstract representation of two lions — not unsurprising, as Cangzhou is known for its Steel Lion.

David has actually visited the station in 2013, and since that visit almost four years back, there have been some improvements; notably, splitting the boarding area so that there are now two departure gates instead of one. What used to be one main, central departures gate has now become Gate 1, which is for northbound trains (including those via Tianjin to northeastern China), whilst a newer Gate 2 has been opened for southbound trains. A semi-permanent barrier has been put in place so to ensure passengers always use the correct gates for their intended train.

Railway services mostly use the south part of the main station building, as the whole edifice incorporates a coach centre as well. Right in front of the exit is also a sizeable bus hub, so passengers aren’t too far from their connections. The upper level mezzanine at Departures Level has also been opened up a fair bit, so you can take the opportunity to also snap a pic to see how big the departures hall really is.

Much loved also is the miniature station garden — certainly not as huge as those at other stations, but a bit of greenness is certainly better than none. Finally, most loved is the parting shot of both the clock on the station building, and the smaller equivalent at platform level. Nice!…

Zhengzhou: The Clapham Junction in Central China

Visited & filmed: 15 June 2017

The problem in China is that the country is so huge, it’s hard to “centralise” on one single hub, but if there was anything that would give Clapham Junction or London Waterloo a run for the money, it’s most likely Zhengzhou Railway Station.

When we gave the station a visit on 15 June 2017, the station showed its true dimensions. It has two of probably the busiest exit underpasses in the national rail network in China — one taking riders to the Northwest and Northeast Exits, and another to the Southwest and Southeast ones. Thank heavens the flow of traffic is separated: everyone goes to the platforms from the upper level, and all who leave must use the underpass. Imagine the mess if a one-way system was not put in place! The Departures Hall, by the way, looks a fair bit like at the Beijing West Railway Station — however, it is rather much smaller, and also looks a little bit like Birmingham New Street (before it was massively redone).

Zhengzhou station is unique in that it is sandwiched between passenger and cargo / freight lines. A somewhat “lesser half” on the west side of the station forces passengers to a rather “squashed” set of 13 platforms (1 side, 6 islands giving 12 in tall). Also, like just a handful of stations in China, it uniquely labels platforms by both platform numbers and track numbers, so you can easily have Platform 2, Track 3 as one side of the second platform of the station.

Traditionally, you can still get pink tickets from the counters at the West Ticket Hall, plus there’s a lot more in the way of food choices by the West Square. There, too, is the sole link to the Zhengzhou Metro. Access between the two squares is only directly possible inside the stations — there’s about a 20-minute reroute on foot needed if you don’t have a ticket!

The introduction of High Speed Rail to the Zhengzhou area means that we also get to see these amazing speed demons here, although passengers will benefit from many more connections at the Zhengzhou East (Zhengzhoudong) Railway Station.

Tangshan North: Redone and So Much Better (Station 11)

Visited & filmed: 08 May 2017 (with some footage from other dates)

If you wanted to recreate a station and totally impress people, then do it the Tangshan North (唐山北) way. This station, also known as Tangshanbei on some signs (as it’s the Pinyin name), was miniscule, sported a separate, mini ticketing hall, and had rather antiquated waiting facilities — until a 2015 revamp completely changed it beyond recognition.

Tangshan North station in 2011

A huge hall, not unlike a regional airport, greets passengers, and after the quick security check, the integrated ticket hall is also accessible, now with a fair bit more counters and machines as well. Then it’s just a quick hop through Ticket & ID Check to the waiting hall, now spread over two levels.

Tangshan North Railway Station Gate 1
Departure Gate 1 on Level 1 (Trains to northeastern China)

Gate 1 on Level 1, or the ground floor, serves trains on Platform 1, which include all trains to Qinhuangdao and beyond to northeastern China. Gate 2, upstairs on Level 2, serves trains on Platforms 2 and 3, with just about all headed further west to the Chinese capital, Beijing. Right by the escalators, there’s an info desk. On the wall, there are huge red characters as station slogans — seldom seen in such a modern railway station.

Tangshan North Railway Station Gate 2
Departure Gate 2 on Level 2 (Trains to Beijing)

The footbridge is designed in such a way that it appears as totally “blotted out” from the outside, but a decent amount (and yes, certainly decent amount) of sunlight makes its way on to the wide passageway over the tracks. Escalators, digital displays, platform car markers: It certainly looks like that the renovation and expansion works got the station what it needed in more modern times. The platform canopies have been raised and redone as well, although they kept it old school, like before the station refresh, and the support poles remain at the centre of the platform.

For those leaving the station, there’s now a fully separated exit, and to pick people up, you do need to head to the gigantic “mouth” or “tunnel”, as that leads to the arrival gates. (There are some rather steep stairs, though.) Be sure to locate your correct exit, as there are separate ones on the upper level for those leaving the main hall or ticket offices!

Outside the station, there’s a part David felt he liked a little (although it could be slightly larger): the station gardens, and by that, the buildings of nearby railway offices which have the Chinese railways logo slapped onto a red star. In these days of high speed screamers, these legends of years gone by certainly aren’t present too much any more…

David left on a sleeper… for a slightly more relaxed one-hour trip straight back to the Chinese capital. Enroute, he caught sight of Jizhou South (蓟州南) station, due to be re-opened soon, as they might say. When that’s done, he’ll be sure to be back for more… at Jizhou South…

Nanjing South: Jiangsu’s HSR Palace (Station 2)

Visited & filmed: 18 April 2017 (with some earlier footage)

China has a number of ancient capitals, and amongst them include Nanjing. Last officially the capital of the Republic of China in 1927, it is now the number one city, and provincial capital, of Jiangsu. With a city of this importance, you know they had to make the HSR station, Nanjing South (Nanjingnan) look good.

The arrival hall felt rather chilly and cool, but the immediacy of onward connections — no less than three Metro lines — made getting through this hub (especially those who need to make city-bound connections) very pleasant. There was also, of course, the Starbucks by the exit, in case you had a fair bit of time to kill.

Nanjing South does look like quite a palace, especially if seen from the station square. It had to be pretty grandiose, and you get to see that as you went up the escalators at the Departures Hall. There’s even an adornment of sorts of what David thinks is a mythological creature by the main entrance on the upper level. And in case you needed tickets, you’d be pleased to know that there are quite a number of backup ticket counters at the ticket hall (especially on Level 1), so if they all leapt into action, the queues would die in a moment (let’s hope!).

Service is key here, with both a Special Care centre, a general Info Desk, and even a medical centre for passengers who need this whilst they’re on the go. Passengers travelling on Business Class get their very own lounge on the upper level of the Departures Hall.

The Departures Hall has been fully used, so that the departure gates are right at the edge of the hall, thus yielding much more space for passengers in this very busy HSR hub. High speed trains on the Beijing-Shanghai and Shanghai-Wuhan-Chengdu routes serve the station, as well as some intercity HSR trains via Wuxi and Suzhou main stations to Shanghai, and trains to Anqing.

Next it was onto a very special line that celebrated on the day itself its tenth birthday — the express line between Nanjing and Hefei. Onwards, then, to Hefei South…

Beijing South and Train G1: Straight to Nanjing

Visited & filmed: 18 April 2017 (with some extra footage at other times)

It was a very early start at Beijing South, as we did the opening shot of Beijing South (Beijingnan) Railway Station, which was the largest such station in the Chinese capital.

This was a station David had been to many times before — easily close to a thousand, as he’d always travel on intercity trains between here and Tianjin. There wasn’t too much to introduce — it had already made an appearance during Chunyun 2017, so there was nothing too new.

On Platform 13, however, there’d be the 09:00 departure, Train G1, that would start this journey right. There’d be a few more shots at platform level, and a type CRH380CL train — an 16-car trainset with a localised “nose” — would be all that it took to start the trip right.

The trip would involve crossing two major rivers in China — the Yellow River, and the Yangtze. The Yellow River just north of Ji’nan, Shandong, was crossed at 10;26, and merely five minutes later, the train would zip through Ji’nan West. (Our train was just a handful of services to skip the station entirely.) Lunch was served at 11:08 (as David travelled in Business Class, where there’d always be a personal 220V power plug!). Merely 20 minutes later, at 11:29, the train would zip through Xuzhou East station, which is being expanded as we speak. Finally, at 12:32, the Yangtze would be crossed at Nanjing Dashengguan, and the station of Nanjing South would be reached within 8 minutes or so.

Train G1 was a train you had to ensure you got right, as once you were onboard, the train would zip through nonstop for over 1,000 km. (David’s mobile device clocked in 1,100 km or so.) At Nanjing, it pulled into the super-wide Platform 1, where the journey began for real.

Next Station: Social Media

We’re spreading ourselves out across social media, so to bring you a best-possible look at all of China’s 2,306 stations. Here’s what which content will go where…

  • Twitter: This will be a key network and will be where much of the interaction happens. Pictures, a few short clips, and retweets of livestreams will all be on the Twitter stream. @nextstnchina
  • Facebook: This is where slightly-longer videos may at times be put (although most of the motion will be on YouTube). The crown jewels on Facebook will be the VR shots. They’re coming for all stations on the Beijing-Shanghai, Beijing-Tianjin-Yujiapu, and Beijing-Zhangjiakou HSR lines. /NextStationChina
  • Instagram: This is where most of the more “special” pictures will be put (no filters, though! — apart from the occasional black and white pic). The crown jewels here include panorama photos which are swipeable! Also at times a few “pic specials”. @nextstationchina
  • YouTube: Yes, there will be an hour-long documentary in late 2021 and another one in spring 2022, but for the more frequent clips, check back on YouTube. Next Station: China channel
  • Periscope: Follow the #NextStationChina hashtag on Twitter and look for posts from either @nextstnchina or @DavidFeng to see when we go live. At all major stations across the entire network.
  • Weibo: The Chinese Sina Weibo platform allows us to update audiences based in China who don’t want to use the mostly English-language sites overseas. There will also be minimal commentary in Mandarin. @nextstnchina
  • WeChat: A Public Platform is being created for Next Station: China, and the goal is to have regular, weekly updates (up to three a week during slightly busier times). Creating one of these accounts takes a fair bit of red tape, but we aim to have this ready by 18 April 2017.

    Note: There might be slight delays or issues if you are directly accessing content on non-Weibo, non-WeChat sites from mainland China.

    We’ll see you online across the social Web!

Next Station: China

We’re living in some of the most “wow” moments of the world. Maybe the telly will tell you it’s for the worse, but at 300 km/h on a state-of-the-art CRH (or better, China Standard HSR trainset) rail service, you can’t but feel it really is for the better.

The fastest HSR train from Beijing to Kunming, a journey that used to take 48+ hours just 5 years back, is now being made faster by 2 hours so it’s just shy of 11 hours as of 16 April 2017. Two days later, on 18 April 2017, Next Station: China will be officially launched. This completely independent, shoot-and-tweet-as-we-go rolling Web documentary, told in the first person, will go to all stations in China where you can simply get a ticket and step on a train. Just on the Chinese mainland alone, if we froze time right now (in late March 2017), that’d be 2,306 of them. The vast expansion of the whole network, including the sprawling HSR system, will mean this figure is only going to grow more and more.

I’m David Feng, and together with what I’d like to call “my team”, we’re setting foot to the entire Chinese national railway network. My wife, Tracy, will pop in for a fair bit of the train trek. I’m also making it a “we” project as there’ll be plenty of friends in the rail communities helping along, and we can’t under any circumstances forget even the unsong heroes — train and station crew — who do anything and everything, even if it’s just holding a camera, or help double-check station info so that we can mix and match “wow” scenes with useful information you can make use of. This epic journey will be unprecedented; it will reach all four edges of China — the northwest, northeast, southwest, and the coastline along the southeast, and we’re calling at any and all stations open to the public.

I first came up with this idea in mid-2009, after I was more than sure I was sick to death of flying between Beijing and Shanghai. (This was before the Beijing-Shanghai HSR opened; since then, I’ve never flown again between these two cities or around much of the country.) We now have (right now) a 22,000+ km network, and an even bigger regular (slower trains) network, which means for me, all I have to do is to pick a train on my iPhone, pay directly by mobile payment (no need to reach for wallet!), pick up my ticket at any station, and just simply step on and go! The safe and highly efficient rail network will be what I’ll be focusing on for our epic journey.

There will be no such thing as a “comfort zone” any more. We’re headed to deserts, snowland, tropical islands, treacherously mountainous terrain, flatland, coastlines, megalopolises and terraced fields. The goal is to be in all 2,306+ stations from 18 April 2017 — 10 years to the day when CRH high speed services started across China — through to early February 2022 — right before the Beijing & Zhangjiakou 2022 Winter Olympics begin. We will actually visit in person every single station.

I invite you to join the journey — first from Twitter and Facebook — and very soon, across YouTube, Instagram, Weibo, and WeChat Public Platform. There will be tweets, pictures, videos, and at larger stations, livecasts, as well as a video at the very end, and it will all be in English, presented to you the way I, David Feng, see it. This will be a completely self-funded project, I’m doing all the shots and scripts (certainly with a little help from friends), and it will be fantastic to have you onboard throughout the entire journey.

All onboard now, ladies and gentlemen! Bon voyage!