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October 12, 2009

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Luxury upgrade for Moscow train

CHINA may upgrade its international train service from Beijing to Moscow to offer luxury travel to tourists, according to a senior rail official.
"The move will help the train compete with airlines and cater to a changing structure of passengers," said Gao Jun, head of the international train brigade at Beijing Railway Station.
Gao, who used to work on the international route, said the coldest record for the train trip across Siberia was minus 62 degrees Celsius, while temperatures between minus 30 and 40 were normal.
Gao said he used to buy overcoats, hats, electric shavers and telescopes in Russian shops, but now Russians are buying Chinese garments, porcelains, building materials and decorations in Beijing.
Train attendant Liu Zhong said he will never forget his maiden trip on the Beijing to Moscow run.
"Never talk to foreign passengers without official permission" was one of the rules learned by the attendants in their training for newcomers, recalled Liu, who celebrates his 60th birthday this year along with the People's Republic of China.
The 7,865-kilometer service from China to the Soviet Union across Mongolia began in May 1960, when train workers were selected for their strength to feed coal boilers in subzero Siberian temperatures.
"When the train arrived at its first foreign station, it was heavily guarded by police to separate local residents from us and stop any passenger who attempted to take pictures," Liu said. "And we were also fearful of having pictures taken with passengers to avoid making political mistakes, and we brought no magazines and newspapers except the People's Daily."
Liu was proud of his working experience on the train, saying that all those chosen to join the crew had to be "ideologically strong with a favorable family background."
Like a thermometer of bilateral relations, the number of passengers on the train fell to dozens during the 1980s, when Sino-Soviet relations were difficult, but rebounded in the 1990s.
The journey used to be cheap, but recent price rises have seen one-way costs rise to US$545 for a hard sleeper, US$805 for a soft sleeper and US$882 for a luxury sleeper.


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