The International Steam Pages
Steam in Guangxi, South China, April 2001
Johs. Damsgaard Hansen continues his Asian travels:
Owing to space limitations on my server, the images from this report have been removed (15th June 2004).
Rice paddies, karst rocks and steam - Guangxi in April 2001
Off the beaten track from the usual gricer circuit, the Guangxi province in SW China has never made the headlines in the railway press. The discoveries made by old travel mates Bernd Seiler and Klaus Wesser in January 1999 really took me by surprise. An excellent report including maps is available on this web-site. Having been to Guangxi twice over the years I can only agree with the saying "Go to Guangxi - it's marvellous".
Late April is not a good time to visit upper Guangxi if you prefer sunshine. Autumn (October to December) has to be the best. I had sun only a couple of hours during my seven days here. On the other hand the spectacular scenery was supplied with lots of activities in the rice paddies as the sowing had just started. Mist in the morning and occasional drizzle can have its charm.
Steam service has ended. Apart from the dual gauge part of the station and the very impressive line to the Vietnamese border at the Friendship Pass where a few freights may appear in daytime there is not much positive to say. A Chinese "Wild West" border town like Ruili on the Burma-road.
One of the very few things it's worth mentioning is that travel by train from Nanning to Hanoi is easily done in one day. You only have to organize your own transportation from Pingxiang to Dong Dang.
No steam at the depot just opposite the main station. The depot at the enormous freight yard in Nanning Xi boasts dozens of withdrawn steam locomotives (JS & QJ). More of them still loaded to the top with coal. Perhaps some kind of a strategic reserve? However, I saw no working steam at all, but in other a diesel hauled freight arriving from the Beihai branch. Has the once steamy Quinzhou area gone diesel too?
Jingchengjiang (also known as Hechi)
The branch to the north is 100 % JS and the timetable for both freight and mixed trains given in Bernd Seiler's report is still valid, although nowadays all train numbers consist of four digits. Bear in mind that freights often are plus or minus several hours. My four days here were spent almost only along the first 18 km to the north (where the road to Puluo crosses the railway). Some may ask why not any further, but the answer is easy. It's just so good. and the traffic level is higher than north of Puluo where the line splits. The impressive karst rock formations are close to the line. Forget all about car hire here. The fast running trains are difficult to chase or to spot from the road in this mountainous area. Save your money and use the frequent minibuses running every ten minutes or so. A short distance ticket is a flat yuan.
The first day (a bit stoned following only three hours of sleep after a nonstop journey from Vietnam) I started out by minibus from Jingchengjiang to where the railway first is seen from the road. It's some five km to the north of town where two valleys meet each other. I reached the line at 9.15 just to late for the northbound freight 45307. Then a three km walk towards Weiping, which is the first station, located in km 13. Southbound mixed 9598 hauled by JS 8375 left Weiping 10.30. At 12.10 JS 8290 with freight 45325 turned up followed by freight 45328 with JS 8284 spotted at 12.55. Not a bad start.
The stationmaster in Weiping is friendly and also very informative if your speak just a little Chinese. A hint may be to hang around here and then just wait for the phone to ring. You have at least 20 minutes to get into position. Being told that no trains were expected before the northbound mixed 9597 I decided to go north by minibus from the village (app. one km from the station). I went to the crossing (km 18) where JS 8376 with the mixed passed at high speed at 14.50. To explore further north I continued to Pohua - the next station - but this was a disappointment. The valley becomes wider and the scenery turns standard. No more trains that day.
Next morning a rather early start to the crossing at km 18. With not even a phone at the gate the steam whistle is the signal for the crossing keeper to start working. Heading south from the crossing the scenery is superb. After some two km between the rice paddies with karst rock formations around you the line has to find its way through the mountains. Now comes a one-km long and narrow gorge/valley (formed like an S curve) dotted with huge bamboo's. In the gorge is the light signal to Weiping station. Very helpful as the major problem is where to stay in the curve when action is on. Spotted north of the gorge was JS 8376 with freight 45307 at 9.20 followed by JS 6284 with the southbound mixed at 10.05. Already at 11.10 freight 45506 with JS 8290 turned up in the curve and only 10 minutes later (crossing in Weiping) JS 8375 with freight 45311 appeared.
In the afternoon it was time to have a look at the first section out from Jingchengjiang. A briefing at Weiping station and then by minibus back to where the road and the line separates in two valleys. No trains were missed and at 14.05 JS 6284 with freight 45325 came into sight. Another crossing took place in Weiping so within a few minutes freight 45328 hauled by JS 8283 turned up. But what about the mixed? This day some delay occurred. I did a three km long walk to km 4 (rather close to the north station) before 9597 with JS 8290 in front finally turned up at 15.55. Km 4 is a very OK place in a curve with rice paddies, but several of the karst mountains have more or less been blown away. Sound recording may even includes explosions here.
Almost too tired to walk further I finally reached Jingchengjiang Bei (the north station) at 16.30 just as a southbound freight with JS 8376 arrived. At the depot the dead JS 8287 and JS 8373 were parked together with JS 8283 while JS 5706 (facing south) acted as pilot. There is no platform located, so the north station has to be a freight yard only. The location is amazing with karst rock formations on both sides. Unfortunately the light had disappeared. It became just darker and darker. The following day was terrible. I did only one shot: Mixed 9597 with JS 8283 near km 4 at 14.35 on 125/2.0 (100 ASA).
The last day turned out with a rather low activity. I arrived near the crossing at km18 at 8 AM. Six hours of line siding here resulted in:
8.40 JS 8290 Freight Northbound
The price level in Jingchengjiang is very moderate. It seems that the construction boom has resulted in many more hotels than needed. I stayed just next door to the Garden Hotel (the finest hotel in town) at a clean place for 28 Yuan a day. Heading into the countryside you reach the "Jiao-Zone". At the market in Weiping I bought a handful of bananas for no more than three Jiao! Even the rare Fen-notes are still common here. For the shoestring gricer touring for months this is an area not to be missed. Also, the gourmet minded rail buff may use the place to experiment. The going rate in Jingchengjiang for the very popular dog hot pot seems to be 25 Yuan. This is only a few Yuan more than a (tasty?) roasted rat meal!
East of Jingchengjiang and only one hour away by bus I checked out Yizhou which according to reports boasts a plant with a YJ. The staff at the station denied the existence of steam, so I did not use further time for investigation. Yizhou is a good base to explore the branch line from Sancha to Dongmen (Loucheng) as there is no road between these two towns. I stayed at Hongshengdu Hotel where a bargain ended up with a suite at 80 Yuan! Kindly people too - two waitresses offered to guide me (for free) to Dongmen on a grice the following day!
Dongmen (also known as Loucheng)
Situated 1½ hour from Yizhou by minibus (very frequent service) on a road being upgraded these months is the town of Dongmen. The road meets the railway in a huge valley near Siba station. Now the road climbs the mountain to the west leaving the railway below in the eastern part of the valley. The road continues to Siba town located on the other side of the mountain and later crosses the railway some five km before Dongmen. Hotels should be available in Dongmen.
With my Chinese (and non-English speaking) "guide" I left the minibus in Dongmen when the depot was spotted from the road at 9 AM. With the very limited service it took me by surprise to find JS 8285 in steam at the depot - recently returned from a trip to the mines north of town. We were told that the mixed from Sancha arrives in Dongmen at 12 o'clock. As no other action was expected for the coming hours we went back to the mountain between Siba station and Siba town.
At 11.30 black smoke was spotted far away by Siba station. What a train, what a view, what a spectacle. An unknown JS with a lot of freight cars and two passengers at the rear turned up in the valley. Flooded rice paddies, water buffaloes at work, the karst rock formations in the background and the train seen for miles while crawling up the hills just gave me a kick. However, with the female Chinese company complaining about headache and pain in their feet your gentle reporter suggested a strategic retreat to Yizhou. A pity I had only one day here.
Laibin - Heshan
This branch southwest of Liuzhou has the following passenger service:
Except of 693 and 694 (steam hauled) all trains consist of two railcars with a passenger in between.
I started out from Heshan which is located on the trunk road to Nanning and therefore easy to reach. Upon arrival at the railway station around 8.30 AM two locomotives in steam met me. JS 8354 was about to leave with a freight to Laibin while JS 8353 did some shunting before going to the shed. When JS 8354 left with its freight I headed back to the center of Heshan and found a minibus bound for Heli which is roughly half the way to Laibin.
Heli is located just where the karst rock formations start. Nearer to the river (Hongshui He) and Heshan you reach the plains. Some 5 km before Heli the line meets the road from Heshan and here are nice positions, especially on the last part into Heli. To change position a shorter ride with a minibus is 0,8 Yuan. Again you are in the "Jiao-Zone". However, five hours of waiting resulted in no steam train! I gave up and from Heli - here are more tracks to a big loading point for coal - I continued by rail car to Laibin expecting two steam locomotives. But the one with the morning mixed (694) had disappeared. Only JS 8354 with its train by the platform was to be found. Some kind of a mystery, but no time for further investigation.
Not my kind of place. However, for those in a hurry its worth to mention that Liuzhou is connected by air to more Chinese cities. I ended up here with a short time to kill before continuing to Hong Kong. A bus ride with route 18 to the northern suburbs in search for the power plant drove me right to the depot with several SYs. It's on your left when coming from the center.