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Tea Leaves

In praise of Southeast Asia's old railways

As high speed rail projects proliferate new uses must be found for older lines

An old stream train makes a rare departute from Hua Lamphong Station in Bangkok. (Photo by David Sutton)

Early morning at Bangkok's Hua Lamphong Station is a busy time as overnight trains discharge sleepy passengers into the cacophony of the city via the station's enormous arched main hall. A huge portrait of King Chulalongkorn, the architect of modern Thailand, gazes down on travelers filled with the excitement of journeys yet to come.

Four times a year, I visit this station to watch the departure of a train hauled by two beautifully preserved Japanese-built steam locomotives. At 8 a.m. the whistle blows and steam billows from the engines as the train begins its run. A bright orange phuang malai (flower garland) hangs on the front, and 10 spotless burgundy-and-cream coaches are lined up behind.

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