Church on track, hospital on wheels: 4 surprising trains from around the world

Cambodians taking the bamboo rail from one village to another.
Cambodians taking the bamboo rail from one village to another.ST PHOTO: CAROLINE CHIA

China has unveiled its first public suspension railway, powered by lithium batteries, in a trial run in the city of Chengdu.

The media has dubbed the railway, which is suspended about 8m above the ground, the "sky train". Plans are underway to build two more sky train lines.

Elsewhere around the world, unusual trains have been chugging along, keeping people's body and soul on track. Here is a look at four others.


The Lifeline Express hospital train, painted in vibrant colours, stationed at the Vidisha railway station in Madhya Pradesh. PHOTO: IANS

Since 1991, the Lifeline Express - the world's first hospital train - has trundled through rural India providing pro bono medical services for those in need.

It is a partnership between Indian Railways and non-governmental organisation Impact India Foundation.

The Lifeline Express has travelled through more than a dozen states, offering basic healthcare services, treatment of polio and epilepsy, and even surgery for cataracts, clubbed feet and cleft palates. It recently expanded to include cancer screenings and family planning services.

Similar hospital trains have since been set up in China and Zimbabwe.


The Doctor Voino-Yasenetsky Saint Luka train transports well-qualified medical personnel and equipment to assist about 200 patients a day. PHOTO: REUTERS

Russian Orthodox residents in remote Siberia can have their spiritual and physical needs taken care of in a one-stop shop aboard the Doctor Voino-Yasenetsky Saint Luka train.

The train travels from the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk to the federated Russian territories of the Khakasiya republic and Krasnoyarsk Krai.

It houses a mobile church staffed by Orthodox clergymen, as well as a travelling clinic that can treat up to 200 patients daily at no cost.

The train is named after the late Dr Valentin Voino-Yasenetsky, a surgeon, bishop, Soviet-era political prisoner and Russian Orthodox saint. Russia has deployed Orthodox churches on railways since 1896.


The makeshift bamboo train rail transporting firewood in Cambodia. ST PHOTO: CAROLINE CHIA

In the region around Cambodia's Battambang city, locals have creatively repurposed the dilapidated railway tracks left over from the French colonial period.

Makeshift train carts made of lightweight bamboo planks are powered by diesel engines. The "bamboo trains", known in the Khmer language as "norry", carry people and goods at speeds of up to 40kmh along the 7km route between the towns of O Dambong and O Sra Lav.

The signature quirk of the norry - a form of transport that adapted to the lack of well maintained infrastructure under the Khmer Rouge regime - is that there is only one track in operation.

Whenever two bamboo trains head towards each other from opposite directions, passengers on the lighter-laden vehicle quickly hop off and disassemble their train cart.



Japan's Seibu Railways announced in April that renowned architect Kazuyo Sejima would be redesigning the iconic yellow Seibu trains.

Sejima is a founding partner of the architectural firm Sanaa, which is responsible for buildings such as New York's New Museum of Contemporary Art and the Christian Dior Building in Tokyo.

She is known for her use of reflection and light, and for her belief that designs should exist in relation to their surroundings.

True to type, her design for the new Seibu train, which is scheduled to be launched in 2018, involves turning the exterior of train carriages into camouflage-like mirrors that make the train blend into the landscape.