By Graham K. Rogers
Every few months I like to take a ride on the trains that run behind the apartment complex I live in. The trains run along a single track on the line from Wongwianyai Station to Mahachai, sometimes called little Burma because of the large numbers from Myanmar who work in the fishing industry there. The line owes its existence to fish as it was originally built as a way to carry fresh merchandise from the province into Bangkok.
That industrial use has long been ended, but it remains a well-used passenger line, run by the State Railway Company, but not connected in any way to the main lines. Another line runs from Ban Laem, across the river from Mahachai in Samut Sakhon, to a another market at Maeklong in Samut Songkram. This is famous for the way the stall-holders here take over the lines when there are no trains, but clear the way when the (now) three trains a day come and go. The line out of Wongwianyai has 17 trains each way every day.
Each time I go down to Mahachai, I look at a set of old coaches in a siding. These were the very first passenger multiple units to run in Thailand I was informed by a member of the railway management. I have taken photographs from moving trains on several occasions, but never taken the time to go any closer.
A few weeks ago, I rode the train down there intending to rectify that, but as I arrived, unseasonal rain was just starting, so I cancelled my plans and headed home. It was just as well as the rain was so heavy on the way that I would have been drenched. I still managed a few photographs however.
With three rolls of exposed film in the fridge waiting to be developed and another in the camera waiting to be finished, I cut short my shopping this Saturday and arrived home at 15:00. I knew that an outbound train was due at 15:25, so I put the shopping in the fridge, grabbed a couple of unexposed rolls just in case and headed out: film and digital (and iPhone) at the ready.
I walked the few hundred metres to Thaladphlu station and was in plenty of time, so took a few photographs of the area round the station: a quite interesting area, off the tourist beat. When the train arrived, it was quite full, but I did find a seat near the back.
At Mahachai, I left the station and waited while a Bangkok-bound train departed before crossing to the road I thought would take me out. As the train cleared, there was a rush as several stall-holders set up on the tracks.
As I walked along, the road became narrower and narrower until it just stopped at a factory gate. On the way, several children and a few adults were highly amused by the unusual sight of a westerner walking along their street. I realised I had gone the wrong way, but also knew I was close to the railway line. I just did not know how to reach it.
As I can speak Thai, I asked some of the locals, to their surprise. They were most helpful and pointed me in the direction of an alley that led through some housing. My arrival was a source of more amusement but I just smiled and greeted the locals, asking about the railway.
One woman took me along to the end of the alleyway where there was a canal. She walked me across one of the concrete beams and pointed to a dim, narrow gap between houses. I could see the railway right away. I thanked her and walked through.
Where I came out was only a few hundred metres from the siding I was headed for and I could see two rail track maintenance and track laying machines. Looking at the track beside me, I was surprised to see the uneven wear, totally unlike what I remember of the shiny top of lines in the UK. Near the maintenance machines were a number of houses for railway personnel; but there was also the remains of an old bar, with two odd figurines outside.
By the rail machines and off the line were a couple of small rail trucks used for carrying sleepers. A little further on were the old coaches I had come to see.
It looked as if this was all that was left of a single 3-car multiple unit. There were drivers' cabs at both ends, but none of the instruments or other machinery remained.
All the glass was gone from the coaches, but the colours still remained, albeit faded and showing the effects of rust. The cars were much overgrown. There was also a small amount of graffiti.
I finished the roll of film and changed the cartridge (I had one ready loaded with film) in case there were any more shots I wanted to take. Most, however, were shot with the Nikon D7000 which is my usual DSLR, but I did take a few with the iPhone, particularly when I went back to Mahachai station.
Having finished this part of the day's project, I found a motorcycle taxi and headed back. I made the mistake of asking him to take me to a 7/11 as I wanted water. He took me to a street at the back of the railway, but pointed out a gap beside a market. For the second time that day I made my way through a dark alleyway. This time I came out between the station and the maintenance sheds.
I checked the time of the next train and bought a ticket. With the 15 minutes I had, I wandered towards the sheds and saw a crew replacing the old track: laying down new sleepers. I went over and chatted while I took a few pictures.
I still had enough time to sit on a bench on the platform while waiting for the train to arrive. I took a couple more pictures there. I heard the train before I saw it, and the station staff blew whistles as well, so that the stall-holders would clear the tracks.
The carriage I sat in was far less busy than the train coming down had been and I was able to relax on the journey home as the light began to fade.
Graham K. Rogers teaches at the Faculty of Engineering, Mahidol University in Thailand where he is also Assistant Dean. He wrote in the Bangkok Post, Database supplement on IT subjects. For the last seven years of Database he wrote a column on Apple and Macs. He is now continuing that in the Bangkok Post supplement, Life.