The International Steam Pages
Steam in Northern China, December 2000 - January 2001
Richard Hay reports:
This is a report on an independent visit by Richard Hay and George Shields covering Baotou, Chengde, Da'anbei and Jingpeng on the standard gauge and Yexi, Dahuichang, Weihe and Xilin for the narrow gauge.
The land arrangements were excellently organised by the well known Mr Zhang of Changchun (fax no. 0086 431 5645069) to what we thought was an excellent rate. We were guided at various points by the excellent Mr Zhou of CITS Baotou, Mrs Lou of CITS Changchun and Mr Zhang of CITS Tonghua.
26/27 Dec 2000
Flew out from London on Boxing Day using Air France via Paris, arriving on time in Beijing on the 27. Taxi into Beijing to the Dongfang hotel located south of Qianmen for 4 nights stay. Easy afternoon in BJ.
Richard hired a bicycle from the nearby Rainbow Hotel (40Y for day + 400Y deposit) and cycled to Fengtai in the hope of seeing the SY at the concrete factory. Unfortunately, the steam loco has recently been replaced by two small Bo-Bo diesel tractors, painted yellow and numbered 35 and 38. Apparently, the SY has been sold to a factory some 20km away although the exact location of it was never ascertained. The rest of the day was spent on the lineside near Fengtai station photographing the diesel activity. Despite all lines being wired, in several hours of observation only one electric was seen together with DF4s (most variants), DF7s, DF11s and the new NZJ2 double-deck diesel units, similar in concept to the British HST (ie a power car both ends) but in a livery similar to the German ICE.
Cultural day-the Great Wall in the morning followed by some other attractions near Changping in the early afternoon. We tried to find the Changping Chemical factory as listed in the 'pink-book' but were incorrectly directed to Changpingbei station. Of course we could find no trace of a chemical plant and as we were told that Changping only had one station we returned to BJ. Subsequent study of the Quail map showed that Changping has at least two stations and even marks the one with the chemical works. A slight balls-up really!
Richard spent the morning on an unofficial visit to Capital Iron and Steel, hoping to see some V1003 . There were quite a few of these locos in evidence and no steam was seen but as the plant is so large and I was on foot this is not surprising. However too much time was spent here as site security eventually caught-up with me, took me to the main gate and booted me out, not before confiscating my film! Not having had a film taken in this way before, I was too slow on the film-swapping trick but you live and learn I suppose. A second balls-up in two days-this trip is going well!! Back on the metro to BJ Main station and the adjacent Watchtower for a little observation of the movements, albeit hindered by the o/h wires.
Start of the bash proper. Met at the Dongfang by a local CITS representative and car to take us to the Yexi mineral railway. George and I however, amended the programme slightly by asking if we could visit Beijing Feb 7th Loco Works before heading to Yexi. The driver reluctantly agreed (on payment of 100Y) and took us right up to the main gate. Slight problem in that neither of us had permits but George's Railtrack pass was waved at the chappy on the gate and we were, amazingly, in! No steam was seen either at the loco side of the factory (apart from a steam crane which had just been overhauled) nor at what we thought to be the adjacent wagon works. BJ hydraulic 3001 was acting as works pilot and there was another in the paint shop as well as DF7s being constructed. Time ran out for the second time in two days for me, just as we were leaving through the back gate when security finally caught up with us. We were taken to the main office but quickly waved away and shown to the front gate. A luck escape-thank goodness it was Sunday!
On from the loco works to Yexi. The driver knew the way but even so Rob's directions to be found elsewhere on this website were still useful. However we arrived at the shed area to find a line of wagons and a steam loco locked away in it's shed! A walk up the 500m running line found nothing of interest but the line still looked in daily use. Eventually a member of staff arrived who, after some persuasion opened up the shed. The loco in light steam was the un-numbered C2 documented from earlier visits and judging by the pools of water lying around the yard had been in operation earlier in the day. Of the previously mentioned C2 305 there was no sign although one shed with bricked-up windows had track leading through a padlocked door. It could be in there. However this line, which has rather slipped into obscurity since the discovery of Dahuichang still seems to be going strong.
Back into BJ in time to catch K217 17:06 BJ Xi to Baotou. A good train journey, particularly after a meal in the dinning car when the crew started putting up decorations for some new year celebrations. We got involved as well and had an excellent couple of hours in their company. One or two of them spoke reasonable English, more than enough to translate that the cook had once been a fireman at Datong. He knew instantly what a QianJin was!!
1st Jan 2001
Arrived Baotou Dong at 06:28 to be met by our guide Mr Zhou. On hearing the unmistakable sound of an air pump of an adjacent loco we stopped to photograph JS 8005 on the 06:50 pass to Shiguai. A German gricer on the platform informed us that the suburbans he had seen were all diesel and so we didn't bother to observe them at all.
Dump bags in the Xinhua Hotel just down from Dong station followed by a dumpling breakfast before heading out to Houba. 09:35 pass from Houba produced JS 8005 before a very long and cold wait near Houba for an early afternoon freight at 14:35 which produced 8329. Just as the light failed around 17:30 8329 plodded up to Houba with 8004 as a banker to end out first gricing day. Car back into Baotou and the hotel.
2nd Jan Temperature at 15:55 -7°C
Early start from Baotou had us at Shabazi and the Singing Sands in plenty of time for the pass to Shenmu at 09:15. A reasonably regular procession of trains followed for the rest of the day until we were ready to brave the coal road and continue to Dongsheng. Our hotel in Dongsheng was the Tianjiao, a fairly reasonable establishment with hot water and overheated rooms.
09:15 pass to Shenmu
3rd Jan Temperature Daybreak -9°C, Noon -9°C
Down from Dongsheng to the Aobaogou area for the day. Clear skies all day with the sun up by 08:20. All uphill trains seem to need the use of 3 locos perhaps indicating all were loading upwards of 3000 tons (logical with this being mid-winter) or that management have decided to work each loco lighter and roster 3 locos as routine. Light engine movements have been ignored in the table below
08:10 6863 + 6193 SB freight
Dongsheng Shed 17:45-18:15 50Y entrance fee
6783, 1969, 6863 and 6193 in steam
Spent morning around Aobaogou before heading off back down the coal road to Baotou via the Singing Sands. Neither us nor driver wanted to brave the coal road in the dark as we had done two nights previously!! At the Singing Sands we decided to explore the area about 0.5-2km north of the bridge and sands themselves. This hunt revealed more about a curve, brickworks and small village we had seen from the Sands although getting good angles on the first two was tricky despite there being low hills of sand adjacent to the line. A nice shot can be obtained of SB trains near where the old Dongsheng road crosses the line, passing close to a village.
Back to the Xinhua hotel in Baotou, crossing the Huang He under a superbly orbing sun! Pity there was no train on the adjacent rail bridge.
07:55 6784 SB freight
13:30 6785 SB freight
Morning was spent around Houba on the Shiguai line. George's digital thermometer was registering -10°C in his camera bag whilst we waited for the 06:50 from Baotou but it was soon saying was +47°C after a few minutes of sitting on his tripod. Needless to say that we did not refer to it again during the trip!! Between the two passengers we photted at the donkey worked drift mine opposite Houba station. One donkey was at work whilst 2 more were stabled on shed!
We caught the early afternoon freight at a crossing not far out of Baotou before heading to the steelworks. The steelworks shed produced a few SYs being prepared for work as well as a JS which looked very oou and withdrawn. A line of withdrawn ET7 and XK tanks was also seen. A quick search of some of the rest of the site revealed more SYs on slag trains and a VERY clean YJ (possibly ex-works) on similar duties. We then caught the 17:23 to Shiguai at the junction between ring line and the mainline (really struggling for light however) before a meal and catching the 20:36 train to Beijing.
08:05 JS 8005 pass to Shiguai
SY: 0710, 0824, 0832, 1517,1518, 1521, 1631, 1677, 1723, 3012. All in steam around shed
Various diesels of GK0 and GK1F working around the site
17:25 JS 8005 on 17:23 Baotou-Shiguai pass
Workings around Baotou seemed to be as I expected. Certainly the area around the Singing Sands, whilst well known, really took the breath away-the bonus was that there was steam as well! Aobaogou was also very impressive-the clag went up, up and up staying there as a dark fug until long after the train had gone! Houba - good scenery, pity about lack of trains
However there are dark clouds on the horizon. On our plane journey back to the UK we met up with a Steam and Safaris party who had seen the Baotou-Shenmu passenger work down with steam on the 21st Jan 2001. The afternoon working came up in the hands of two back to back DF1 diesels, cabs filled with people under training. Apparently, they expressed surprise immediately to the line's management who confirmed that the Baotou-Shenmu passenger turn was to be diesel from now on. For the time being the Hohot-Dongsheng passenger remains steam. Only time will tell for how long.
Back to the Bash
Arrived at a snow covered Beijing Main 10:30 via the Nankou Pass and Changping. We saw a dead steam loco outside what could be, from the 'pink book's' description, the chemical works and no sign of any activity. Mrs Lou from Changchun was waiting to collect us off the train and we made our way through a snow-covered Beijing to Dahuichang where there was already a few cm of snow on the ground with more falling.
The unnumbered loco was soon trundling up the line light, shortly followed by 02 on empties. There then followed a long interruption to trains as there seemed to be problems with the loading mechanism at the top. Eventually, they decided to swop loaders which meant all trains had to push forward into the tunnel, reverse and change track before pushing back into the tunnel. A fairly complicated manoeuvre which reduced the number of trains we could see before heading off to Chengde.
This journey was interrupted in the suburbs of BJ as the guide had heard the road to Chengde was closed. In the end we had to catch the 23:40 train from BJ Main and suffer an interrupted nights sleep.
7th and 8th Jan
Arrived in Chengde 04:?? and quickly headed to the Huilong Hotel for a couple of extra hours in bed. The snow in BJ had reached Chengde and for the next two days we had complete cloud cover, the odd snow flurry and 1 foot of snow on the ground.
Operations on the branch seemed as usual (4 uphills on the 7th, 7 on the 8th between 07:00 and 17:00), the only item of real note being the signs forbidding photography around the banking station. These seemed quite clear to us, being in Chinese and English, showing the distances from each sign within which we could not photograph. Anyone who cannot comply with these instructions deserves to get gripped! The other blue signs erected around the town have no relevance to photography but warn people not to delay traffic by crossing the roads at places other than specified crossings!
We left Chengde on T2251 18:46 to Shenyang. We had the pleasure at Yebaishou of stopping next to a QJ preparing to take a freight out of the yard. After 5 minutes of sending a black column of clag into the night sky, she got the road and departed westwards without fuss-magic!! 2 other QJs were in the yard on freights, having just arrived or about to leave with a JS on shunting duties. I was asleep for much of the rest of the journey but I believe George saw some steam somewhere.
Arrived Shenyang 06:45 and transferred to T2509 for Harbin. Sadly, when passing Kai Yuan it looked as if the JSs have finished on the line to Anmintun as an orange diesel (DF7?) was seen on the depot with 3 or 4 JSs dumped behind it covered in snow. However this would need to be confirmed properly. Whilst standing in Changchun two light QJs passed through, possibly en route to the stabling point. At least one (3179) we saw again at Da'anbei a few days later. Arrived at Harbin Dong slightly late at 18:05 where a car was waiting to take us to Weihe. Once out of the city the expressway was clear of snow but we didn't arrive at the Forestry Lodge until 23:00
A pre breakfast visit to Keyunzhan shed only produced 053 outside and two others inside before we headed out, by car, to Xinli. This produced 034 on empties and 053 on the SB passenger in quick succession. Amazingly, we caught up with the pass again at Xiping where it had become a mixed train with the addition of several empty wagons! From here we decided to walk along the line to Pinglin getting a double headed loaded train (at 10:10) and soon after, a set of empties in the opposite direction. There was now a long break in the action until 14:00, with us just missing a set of empties as we returned to the summit cutting having been down to Pinglin for some information! A strong wind was now blowing and we stayed around the cutting and wood trying to avoid the worse of it. An hour later 030 headed south on some empties which then passed 053 on the NB passenger at Pinglin. Nothing else appeared before sunset and we decided to head back to Weihe, getting the SB passenger at Zhenzhu.
A slightly earlier breakfast than the day before enabled us to see the NB passenger at Zhenzhu around 07:25 before heading to Pinglin cutting again. Nothing appeared until the SB passenger at 09:10 although by this time the wind was again blowing hard which rather spoilt the shot of a doubled-headed loaded train climbing the bank at 10:00. My fingers were so cold they could hardly fire the camera shutter-a common problem in January in NE China!! It was back into the woods for some empties around 11:30 behind 053. We then decided to walk up the line the other side of Pinglin and within a few minutes got 034 on a loaded and another on some empties. It was then back to the opposite side of Pinglin for the NB passenger at 14:40. Calling it a day here we headed back towards Weihe until spying a smoke trail near Xinli. We chased it back to Xiping, getting 035 in a gorgeous sunset on departure. Pity that two of my three SLRs decided to pack up at this point leaving B+W as the only medium I could use!! On arrival back in Weihe, 030 was acting as pilot shunting the yard.
We headed straight to Pinglin cutting and were surprised to see the NB passenger climbing the bank, running best part of 90 minutes late! Some shuffling must have taken place at Xiping for the SB working appeared on time at 09:17 with three vehicles as is usual. SB empties also appeared at 09:50 before we decided to head down to Pinglin for information. 11:40 saw 033 leave Pinglin on a loaded train before we tried to get the car over the hill to Shaunfeng. This was unsuccessful and we instead walked along the track from Pinglin. At the summit by 13:45 we found 030 leaving the siding situated there with another loaded train followed an hour later by 054 on another Weihe bound log train. Empties came up just after 15:10 before the pass appeared, as we were heading back to Pinglin, at 15:45 towing the breakdown crane as well the coaches. 3 loaded trains in daylight made it a very successful day indeed.
Final half morning in Weihe involved me catching the pass from Weihe to Xiping behind 055. Oddly, we were all crammed into a single coach for the run to the second stop out of Weihe (possibly Zhanhe) where the inbound pass was crossed. Some shunting then took place which added another coach and van to our train as myself and a group of three Germans were upgraded to the soft class coach free of charge!! George had chased the pass to Xiping where I was picked up and we returned to Weihe, photographing 054 on a loaded train en route. I then spent the rest of the morning around Weihe, finding 030 on the Weihe shunt again, 031 receiving attention in Keyunzhan shed and 054 undergoing repairs to its superheaters outside. There was also time to see a couple of DF4s and DF8s on the adjacent mainline.
In the early afternoon we returned, by car, to Harbin in time to catch K601 19:58 to Xilin.
Xilin 14th /15th Jan
After a reasonable soft sleeper journey we arrived at Xilin, 55km north of Nancha, at 04:00 and we met outside the station by the manager of the Zhaun Yong Guibin complete with car. This hotel that we had been booked into was much better than that described by the webmaster of this site on his visit in 1995 (the toilets were actually INSIDE the building-although no doubt it cost a lot more!) and is sited only about 200m from the CNR station. At the end of the station approach road, turn left and it is on the opposite side of the road about 50m down. The beds even had electric blankets-bliss at 04:30 in the morning!!
After breakfast the hotel manager and car (Mr Zhang had hired him as our driver for the duration of our stay) drove us down to the narrow gauge depot. Again, it is relatively easy to find; from the hotel turn left and walk down the road for about 1-1.5km until a road joins from the right. This road takes you across the main CNR line to Nancha then shortly afterwards a standard gauge line leading to some sidings before winding up a hill passed some industrial buildings. The narrow gauge depot is at the top of this hill. (It all depends on whether you have a guide and/or know roughly where to look..... RD)
Three C2 0-8-0s (nos. 06, 07 and 10) were in steam/operation during our two day visit all of which seemed to be in a relatively poor condition with many steam leaks. Driving standards were also pretty poor, the locos being barely able to move without slipping vigorously. More locos were scattered about the site (as well as many crippled wagons and partially dismantled passenger coaches) with no. 28 under repair in the shed and other unidentified ones under cover. Interestingly, two roads of the warming sheds were also used to store dead locos-clearly the system had seen better times.
Anyhow on the 14th a double-headed loaded train arrived from the mine just after 09:00 and immediately proceeded to the unloading point. There were problems here with the unloading mechanism (which works in a similar way to that at Dahuichang by rotating each wagon through 360o) and it took over an hour before it was completed. 10 then headed off back to the mine with the same rake of wagons fairly quickly after and we followed it to the halfway loop and eventually the mine. The overhead electric system for the mine is still in operation and at the top two electrics had brought out two loaded wagons which were exchanged for those brought up by no.10.
This being Sunday, George and I were then invited to a meal by our driver and railway staff. The less said about this the better-too much rice wine was consumed by everyone bar the driver and the day quickly vanished into a haze!
However, we were both just about ready the following morning and headed off down the line towards the mine, intercepting a loaded train just down from the halfway loop. Back at Xilin, we saw 06 leaving on a rake of empties and followed it back to the halfway loop. On its approach, the sheer volume of clag being emitted by the loco was incredible, easy the match of anything seen on the standard gauge!! It finally arrived at the station below the mine just after 12:00 and after taking water headed up the final section of stiff climbing to the mine itself. After some lunch, we returned to Xilin and spent the rest of the afternoon photographing around the yard before 07 was made ready with the next train to the mine. This we caught just after the sun had gone down (at 15:30) near the halfway station. What happened to no. 06 is not known but it must have stayed up around the mine for the day. Once darkness had fallen we returned to Xilin for a meal before catching an early evening train (at 19:24) southwards to Changchun.
This system has been little reported in recent years but it was pleasing to see that it is still in operation in 2001. However, the general impression I had of it was one of decline. Many locos seemed stored whilst those in service were not in the best of health. World Steam in the early 1990s mentions service levels of 6-8 trains per day whilst the service level we saw (2 trips a day in limited winter daylight) would seem to be the most the line can sustain now. The road up to the mine would probably be capable of taking lorries carrying the lead ore currently produced; possibly the only thing stopping this would be the need for transhipment facilities at the mine rather than at Xilin as present. As ever in China, if you want to visit this system then don't delay too long.
Back to the Tour
We arrived in Changchun just after 05:00 and we taken to an adjacent hotel to wait for our onward connection to Da'anbei. This train (at 08:30) proved a nightmare with a great deal of overcrowding. We stood in the doorways until Mrs Lou found some seats for us in the dining car! At least, having meal was no problem! No steam was seen on the route until a single loco on a freight at Qianguo and a QJ at Da'an itself. Arrival at Da'anbei was at 13:30 from where we headed to the level crossing between yard and shed.
As someone too young to have seen any European working steam the next few hours were without parallel in my railway experience (including two previous Chinese trips). Every few minutes a QJ would either come off shed, go on shed, enter the yard on a freight or leave it heading north!! Simply amazing for someone who 99% of the time has to wait for hours on some remote hillside for a glimpse of a steam train which lasts only a few seconds. Da'anbei may have no scenery but it currently has a great deal of steam activity, possibly the last place in world like this. Also, at this time of year the sun sets in a perfect position for some superb glint, something which later in the year with the sun further round won't happen quite so easily.
Unfortunately, our schedule only allowed us an afternoon in Da'anbei before moving on to Tongliao at 01:10 the following morning and our request to stay an extra day was met with a charge of 1400 yuan!! This was slightly complicated by the need to change guides at Tongliao and typically the replacement for Mrs Lou was already there waiting for us.
Da'anbei movements 13:30-17:00 Excludes light engines to/from shed and yard and the diesel passenger workings. Only one diesel hauled freight from the north was observed.
North pilot: QJ3287
13:35 QJ ???? freight to Ranghulu
Once the light finally failed we retired to Da'an for a meal and a brief stay in a hotel room before returning to Da'anbei in time for T1344 to Tongliao at 01:10. Da'anbei station is in the process of being rebuilt and thus we found ourselves shepherded into a makeshift Chinese version of a portakabin reasonably heated by two huge coal stoves!
What followed when we boarded T1344 was the worse train journey I have ever had. Of course we were near to the New Year celebrations with a completely crowded train, full to standing. George, Mrs Lou and myself had to stand in the doorway for the 4 hours to Tongliao with icy drafts blasting in-between gaps between door and frame. Our bags were piled up against the doors and soon were covered in frost and the walls were covered with ice, which even the heat from the cigarettes of several chain smoking Chinese could not shift. We were basically in a freezer with the temperature setting at -30oC! Getting some sleep standing up was impossible and it was difficult to keep the feet moving due to the crush of people. Horrendous!!
Thankfully, we eventually reached Tongliao (not a moment too soon!) and retired to a hotel opposite the station (bizarrely, we were even driven across the station forecourt-getting the bags into the taxi took longer than the drive itself!!!). We tried to catch up on some sleep in a very underheated and noisy hotel before returning to the station to catch T6053 for Galadesitai at 10:40. The necessary guide swop between Mrs Lou and Mr Zhang of Tonghua took place before we were allowed onto the platform.
QJ6478 was in charge to Chabuga (passing eastbound freights at Jinjiadian(QJ7048), Kailu(QJ6349) and Snarinai(QJ7163)), QJ6981 from Chabuga to Daban and QJ7007 from Daban to Galadesitai where we arrived at 21:36 and transferred to the Post Office Hotel.
We spent the next 6.5 days between Reshui and Jingpeng (I refuse to call it the Idiot Hill!) with only one morning (containing a snowstorm) and an afternoon spoilt by cloudy weather. Temperatures were typically between -10 and -30 during the day, ignoring the wind although we did have several days which were cold but wind free. Snow was lying well around the summit and on the western side but had virtually disappeared from the Reshui area by the 22nd .
Contrary to what we expected, operation did not seem to be affected by the approaching New Year festivities (in fact George at one point commented that the east was similar to De Aar-Kimberley 'no sooner has one train gone by than there's a dark blip on horizon as the next one comes along'!!). Traffic during the time we were out (approx. 07:00 and 17:30 each day) were divided thus: 42 westbounds, 30 eastbounds. We seemed to be able to establish a slight pattern to the westbound workings where on alternate days they would dominate in the morning followed by a quiet afternoon with the reverse the following day. Eastbound traffic seemed to be more reliable day to day leading us to suspect most eastbound traffic crosses the pass overnight, explaining why observers tend to see fewer workings in this direction. No light engines were seen apart from a pair sent from Haoluku to assist a westbound failure between Galadesitai and Linxi. One loco took the failed engine back to Daban with the other coupling tender to tender with the original train loco and returning back over the pass.
24th /25th Jan
We used the usual 'escape-route' back to Beijing, leaving Reshui around 14:00 on the 24th, driving to Chifeng and catching T2560 to Beijing Nan at 20:40
Arrived Beijing 06:45 and shared a taxi with a Chinese businessman out to the airport. Air France flight AF129 departed at 10:50 for Paris (and chaos at Charles de Gaulle!).
All in all, we had a very good month in China (apart from the fact that Air France has somehow lost my luggage-thankfully all my film came with me as cabin baggage). Whilst it was physically demanding the worst either of us fell ill with was George's horrendous cough he picked up at Chengde.
We could possibly have been more adventurous at Weihe, exploring more to the south but in the end I went there to get shots of logging trains within woodland (strange I know but they are forestry lines!). The Pinglin area provided that well and I am pleased with it.
It was also good to visit a couple of systems from the past (Yexi and Xilin) and find them still in operation. The one real disappointment (which shows the disadvantage of a guided, pre-organised tour) was the shortage of time available at Da'anbei and our inability to change that. Had we realised just how few diesels were actually working there we would never have cut out a day from the original itinerary proposed way back in October. The glint may only happen at this time of year so a repeat will not be possible before the likely end in August or September.
Slightly ironically, Jingpeng turned out to be the most difficult section on the trip-both of us thought it might be a bit of a holiday! This was caused mainly by the unpredictable nature of the traffic and the weather which when it was nasty, was very nasty. No sooner had we sorted out a possible pattern to traffic then time was up and we had to leave!
One point to be noted though are the baggage x-ray machines to be found at every major station these days. On our travels the only station lacking one was, not surprisingly, Xilin. However, the maintenance of these scanners can not really be guaranteed and I would certainly recommend taking the time to have your film in a separate bag which you then keep hold of rather than leaving it in the suitcase/rucsac. A bit of a hassle perhaps but one which I think is worthwhile; simply put the film back into the main bag as soon as it is clear of the scanner.
(I have much simpler strategy for the scanners - I march straight past and ignore all protestations - it worked 100% on my recent trip. RD)