Under Steam Power

Going back in time to Saturday morning, before I came down with this lung infection:

Three times a year the State Railways of Thailand pulls out a pair of their old steam engines, fires them up and operates a round-trip from Hua Lamphong Station in Krungthep to the former capital of ancient Siam, Ayutthaya.  The three dates are the birthday of His Majesty the King (December 5), the anniversary of the opening of the first railroad service in Thailand (March 26) and the anniversary of the death of King Rama V (Chulalongkorn Day, October 23), under whose guidance this first railroad service was introduced. 

Setting out about 7:15 on a cool Saturday morning, I made Hua Lamphong Station my bike ride destination.  I arrived there twenty minutes later and, it being a holiday, found the station pretty busy with people traveling to and from the provinces.  Rail travel is heavily subsidized (State Railways has never turned a profit) and so the masses travel its more than 4,300 kilometers of tracks to get to and from their homes in the provinces to their work in Krungthep.


The station itself has a graceful, European style and the exterior is done in Thai Art Deco.  While railway operations in Thailand started in 1897, this new station didn’t open until 1916. 


There were lots of excited passengers waiting for the ride, taking pictures and looking on with fascination.  Families were climbing onto the front of the engine to pose as people took their pictures.  The railway officials seemed largely unconcerned with the people on the tracks.  The train on the right in this picture actually arrived and departed while I was standing there and it just moved very slowly and honked its horn a few times.  Nobody was injured.


Shooting a black steam locomotive is tough.  Trying to set exposures is challenging.  I also noticed afterwards that the pictures almost uniformly look better in black and white than in color.  There’s so much texture.


At eight a.m. the national anthem played as everyone stood at attention.  Then, a moment later, the signal man blew a whistle, waved his green flag, and the train slowly pulled out of the station.  Had I not been on bicycle, I would have ridden it to one of the stations at the north end of town which connects with the subway.  That would have given me twenty minutes or so of a ride without committing to an entire day out of town.



Maybe in March I can coordinate better and take the ride.