Changing wheels on the Trans Siberian railway

Sebastien Chaneac

The train from Mongolia's capital city, Ulan Bator, to Beijing in China was the final leg of our Trans Siberian adventures.

Bye bye Mongolia selfie
Bye bye Mongolia selfie

The journey took around 30 hours and involved a stop over at the border to literally change the bogies (wheels) on each carriage.

Changing wheels: smaller Chinese train tracks

The railway track gauges in China are smaller then the ones used in Central Asia.

Therefore, the wheels have to be replaced to fit the Chinese tracks.

Changing wheels: Mongolian wheels removed and smaller Chinese wheels inserted
Changing wheels: Mongolian wheels removed and smaller Chinese wheels inserted

We arrived at 1am at the border and after practising our first “ni hao”s (Chinese for “hello”) with the polite Chinese boarder control police, our trains went into a nearby train shed.

The boarder control and even the train female attendants (“The Provodnitsas”) all left the carriages to help outside with the changing of the wheels:

Changing wheels: even The Provodnitsas help with the changing of the wheels
Changing wheels: even The Provodnitsas help with the changing of the wheels

All the passengers remain locked inside their carriage. This meant that the air conditioning was switched off and the toilets all locked shut for the duration of the wheel changing performance outside.

The train was then separated into two, one half going one side of the train shed, the other half next to it:

Changing wheels: the train was separated into 2 parts in the train shed
Changing wheels: the train was separated into 2 parts in the train shed

Each carriage was then separated, lifted up one by one, and the Mongolian wheels removed:

 

Then, the smaller Chinese wheels were inserted:

Changing wheels: inserting the smaller Chinese wheels onto the train
Changing wheels: inserting the smaller Chinese wheels onto the train
Changing wheels: inserting the smaller Chinese wheels onto the train
Changing wheels: inserting the smaller Chinese wheels onto the train

The carriages were then placed back down and reconnected with one another, with a loud thump:

 

The whole process took around 3 hours.

At the end, we were allowed out of our carriages for a quick break at the Chinese border before the journey to Beijing continued.

Stefan on the platform at the Chinese border
Stefan on the platform at the Chinese border

Happy travels are safe travels

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Sebastien Chaneac

Sebastien is the co-founder, editor and author of nomadicboys.com. He is a tech geek, a total travel nerd and a food enthusiast. He spends the majority of his time planning Nomadic Boys' travels meticulously right down to the minute details. Sebastien has travelled to over 80 countries with his partner in crime and the love of his life, Stefan. He regularly shares his expertise of what it’s like travelling as a gay couple both on Nomadic Boys and on prominent publications ranging from Pink News, Matador, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Guardian and many more. Originally from France, Sebastien moved to London in the early 2000s where he pursued a career as a computer programmer for Thompson Reuters and Bloomberg. He subsequently left it all to explore his passion for travelling around the world with Stefan to hand, and thus Nomadic Boys was born. Find out more about Nomadic Boys.

8 thoughts on “Changing wheels on the Trans Siberian railway”

    • Hahaha that was my concern too! I have the smallest bladder on the planet 🙂 You have plenty of time to go before, and it didn’t take too long.

  1. wow! i have never known that before!!
    i thought the wheels were welded to the carriages !
    what if…………., *0*

    BTW i like you T-shirt,Stefan 🙂

    • Thanks Leox! One of the problems of backpacking long term is that the same clothes start to appear many many times in the photos. I now wish I bought my “I Love BJ” top in Beijing to spicen photos up a bit.

      • it’s quite understandable ~ and i don’t pay much attention to your clothes sometimes, because your smile is too shining and too eyes-catching (is this a word?) lol 🙂

        and the “I ♥ BJ“ top will be quite confusing when you wear it in some eng-speaking countries :p

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