I arrived in Dalian on an overnight sleeper train from Changchun at around 7am. I exited the station and having not eaten since breakfast the previous day, I was ravenous. Fortunately, the crowded forecourt of the station had plenty of stalls selling food, and I found a vendor selling hand made steamed pork buns. The ancient storeholder raised an eyebrow at the Westerner who approached his stall and pointed eagerly at a basket of buns. He shovelled the 10 small buns into a bag and I gave him a ¥20 note. He carefully counted out ¥13 in change and shuffled away.
My hotel booking had been made for me by someone else, but unfortunately they hadn’t given me the name of the hotel, only the address and told me that it was near the station. There were 3 large hotels in sight of the south exit of the station, but no street signs or numbers on the buildings. I pondered which hotel to try first, and decided on the closest. I entered the lobby of the Bohai Pearl Hotel; a fairly standard upmarket Chinese hotel lobby with couches, red plush pile carpet, fake leafy plants and tall free standing ash trays. On the wall behind the counter were boards displaying current room rates and a row of analogue clocks showing the times in capital cities around the world. I approached the marble counter and a nervous looking young clerk asked if she could help me in halting English. I confidently handed her my reservation number, not knowing if I was in the correct hotel. After consulting her computer, she smiled and asked for my passport; I had guessed correctly!
Although it wasn’t yet 8am, my room was ready, so I went up and had a very welcome hot shower. Feeling refreshed, I left the hotel to explore Dalian’s trams. Dalian has 2 tram routes (201 & 202) with a combined length of 23.4km. Route 201 (which runs past Dalian railway station) uses a combination of DL3000 Witt type vintage trams (dating back to the 1930s) and modern DL6WA low floor articulated vehicles manufactured by Tram Factory of Dalian Public Transport Group. Although they are not affiliated in any way, the low floor trams bear a striking resemblance to Siemens Combino trams. Route 202 uses only the DL6WA vehicles.
I started walking east along route 201, which provided plenty of tram traffic (both DL3000 and DL6WA models) for me to photograph. I found a coffee shop with free (but patchy) WiFi and drinkable coffee, and sat slowly catching up on my email whilst watching the trams rumble by.
After about an hour as the only customer in the coffee shop, I caught a vintage DL3000 tram to the western terminus of route 201 at Zhengong St, travelling past the railway station and through low-rise, low rent residential areas. Tram route 201 is divided up into 2 fare sectors; all stops west of Dalian Railway Station and all stops east of Dalian Railway Station. On boarding the tram at any stop, a flat fare of ¥1 is charged (about A$0.20). The tram makes two stops at Dalian station (the first stop for disembarking and the second for boarding). As the tram departs the disembarking stop, the conductor collects another ¥1 from all passengers remaining on the tram.
At the western terminus (the corner of Changjiang Rd and Xi’an Rd) the route map showed that route 202 connects with route 201. I watched the route 201 trams shunting for a while, but didn’t see any route 202 services, although there were tracks leading past the terminus and around a corner. I left the tram stop and walked through the street market on Xi’an Rd. I discovered the reason why I had seen no route 202 trams on Changjiang Rd; the 2 lines do not intersect, but terminate 1 stop short of each other (despite being linked by through tracks). The route 202 trams were terminating at the Xinggong St stop outside a large shopping centre.
The traffic flow design of Xi’an Rd is poor, and there were 3 route 202 trams within 200m of each other; inching forward in the heavy traffic outside the shopping centre. Huge queues of passengers were waiting to board outbound trams at an island platform in the middle of the road that required intending passengers to cross the 2 lane road with no traffic lights. I continued walking through the packed street market, which sold everything from electronic goods to clothes and freshly made food.
I decided to board the tram at the second stop and avoid the queues at Xinggong St. On foot, I easily overtook a tram stuck in the horrendous traffic, and waited for it to inch its way towards me at the Jinhui Department Store stop. The tram arrived, completely packed with Saturday afternoon shoppers. I squished my way on, and paid the ¥2 fare to the conductor. The tram made it’s way sedately along Xi’an Rd for the first few stops, mixing with the gridlocked cars, trucks, buses and motorised tricycles, until we finally entered reserved track and started speeding along at up to 70 km/h. The tram quickly emptied out as we stopped frequently in recently built residential areas, half finished roads and well designed apartment complexes with grounds full of weeds and builders’ rubble.
Towards the end of the line, the tram ran on reserved track on the side of a 2 lane highway. The area was sparsely populated, with forested hills to one side and construction sites on the other. I had intended to exit the tram at the penultimate stop (Hekou), but the near empty tram didn’t stop. Moments later, we arrived at Xiaoping Island terminus (not actually an island, just a fancy name for yet another massive construction site). I took some photos of trams at the terminus, before walking the few hundred metres back to Hekou. Unfortunately, the 2 lane highway did not have a footpath, so I walked on the narrow strip of uneven dirt and broken bricks between the road and the tram line. This was a little precarious, with trucks and buses to one side, and trams to the other, but it did give the opportunity for some good photographs.
I arrived back at Hekou, where my map showed a subway station nearby. I looked around, but saw no sign of any transport interchange. In fact, I saw very little other than a mass of construction sites and dirt roads. I had learned in China not to rely on appearances, so I walked down a dirt road between 2 construction sites. The road became narrower and there was no sign of life, except for the odd truck rumbling down the dusty road. After walking for about 5 minutes, I decided that even the Chinese wouldn’t hide a subway station down such a dismal goat track, so I gave up and returned to the tram.
I travelled back to the inner terminus of route 202, where I wandered around the market, browsing the stalls and sampling the delicious and varied street food. After lunch, I caught another DL3000 tram on route 201 back to Dalian station, where I transferred to the Dalian Metro line. The train was a 4 car silver and red EMU set with a semi streamlined nose. Power was delivered by overhead wires and internal seating was longitudinal. Trains are able to reach a maximum speed of 100 km/h, however operational speed is 80 km/h. Lines 3 and 7 run from Dalian railway station to the north, with a combined length of 64km.
The train was packed on leaving Dalian station, and we headed out on an elevated track through an industrial area and past shipyards. The first stop was Xianglugao, and sitting very prominently next to the station was an Ikea store! Of all of the things I’d expected to see on my trip on the Dalian Metro, the blue and yellow box of an Ikea store was not one of them! The train ran on elevated track and through cuttings through the northern suburbs of Dalian. There were long gaps of several minutes between stations, and we sped through empty swathes of forested countryside, stopping in vast new residential areas, full of shiny new apartment blocks and empty streets.
The stations all looked the same, so I picked one at random and left the train at Jinmalu. Outside the elevated station was a small market selling street food and (randomly) socks. There was a small hill, which made a half decent place to photograph the Metro trains running along the viaduct, however the parapet on the edge of the tracks blocked part of the train. I stayed at Jinmalu for about an hour until the sunset (which was heavily filtered by the smoggy air) before catching a train back to Dalian.
Back at Dalian railway station, the roadway between the metro station and the main railway station was full of overnight buses, ready to depart for towns and villages around Liaoning province and beyond. There were dozens of buses in all colours, sizes and varying states of repair. They ranged from ancient, dented pieces of junk, to sleek buses with sleeping accommodation. No matter how nice the bus looked, I was glad I wasn’t spending the night aboard one! I caught the tram back to the market at the western terminus of route 201 and bought dinner at the street stalls, before returning to my hotel.
The next morning, my train was due to depart at 10:00, so I got up early and took advantage of the quiet Sunday morning streets to photograph the older trams as they trundled through the older sections of Dalian. The trams which were so crowded on a Saturday afternoon were near empty on the Sunday morning, and I was able take some decent recordings of the ancient traction motors in the Witt cars as they ground up the hills. All too soon it was time to go pick up my luggage and head for the station for my journey to Shenyang.