The International Steam Pages
Steam in Northern China, December 2001/January 2002
Adrian Freeman reports on his trip to Huanan, Shuangyashan, Hegang, Weihe and Tiefa. Ronald Olsen has added a mid-January comment on Shuangyashan.
The objective of this trip was to visit the locations visited on a similar trip last year and secure some reasonable photos - last year's crop were almost entirely consigned to the bin due to camera problems. The high point was to spend a week at and north of Hunjiang, but following comments by two different Japanese gricers that Hunjiang was now diesel, Hegang was substituted. The weather this time was ridiculously warm, and it was cloudier, windier and less snowy than at the same time last year.
The trip was made with Gordon Edgar and David Fletcher, with John Tickner putting in a part-time appearance. Thanks to all of them for their good company.
Wed 26th Dec 2001
Fly Leeds - Amsterdam and on to Beijing with KLM.
Thur 27th Dec 2001
We all arrived in Beijing punctually; but not so David's rucksack (although his tripod did), so the first challenge was to find some clothes large enough in the shops at the airport. Fortunately KLM's reputation for losing luggage was known to David, so the essential gloves, hat, scarf were packed in the hand luggage. Then we took the 1300 flight to Harbin, taxi to the main station and purchased hard sleeper tickets for K603/605 to Jiamusi. We had some time to kill since departure time was 2027, so visited the ice lantern festival by the river - impressive but not yet completed.
Fri 28th Dec 2001 - Huanan narrow gauge
Arrived in Jiamusi 0421 after an uneventful journey, then switched to K600, 0526 to Huanan. This is a new fast train to Mudanjiang, and very convenient it was too - first stop out of Jiamusi is Huanan at 0643. Turned left out of the station, took the first right (a dual carriageway) to a small binguan, approx. 100 metres down the road on the left, just beyond a factory gate. Triple room cost 16 Yuan per person - fairly basic, but clean with comfortable beds. There is a more up-market place a little further along the road on the same side. Then took a taxi to the narrow gauge, which is located to the east of the main line, a couple of kilometres distant. We had been here on 3rd January last year, but the line was finishing activity for the Spring Festival, so decided to start here first to increase the chances of finding freights running.
Loco no. 11 was in steam by the watering point, but there was little other activity, so took the railbus (dep. 0800) as far as Lixin, towards the end of the line. The first bona fide station, Xiahuacha, was reached at 0840 where we waited for a coal train hauled by No. 41 to cross. This was duly photted before departing at 0910. Lixin was reached at 0940.
Out of Huanan, the line heads due east through flat agricultural landscape until reaching Dajingang. The geography then changes dramatically and the line then twists and winds through wooded hills and traverses a horseshoe as it climbs to a summit, before descending for 4 - 5 km to Lixin station. This section of the line is very dramatic, but could be difficult photographically due to the number of trees. Beyond Lixin, the line continues to fall, but the scenery is less dramatic. At Lixin there is a triangle, on which the locos and railbus turn before proceeding to the terminus at Hongguang, hence the loco works tender first on empties from here. At one end of the triangle, the line carries on a few hundred metres to a log loading point, which was generating approx. three wagonloads per day; these are attached to a loaded coal train and taken to Huanan.
At Lixin, No. 168 arrived at 1040 on coal. It watered, then proceeded no further. The railbus returned at 1230 and waited for an hour for No. 11 to appear on empties. Arrival back at Huanan was at 1440. Here, No. 41 was shunting around, but not due to take a train out until 1700, well after dark, so after finding out train details for tomorrow, we retired for the day.
As can be seen, the timings for freights (100 series) are incredibly slow for a 46km journey.
Sat 29th Dec 2001
Overcast all day and snowing by the afternoon. At Huanan, No. 168 departed with a train of empties at 0745. We caught the railbus again, and overtook No. 168 at Lixin on the way to the terminus at Hongguang. As mentioned, the railbus is turned at Lixin, and the driver must look over his shoulder for the rest of the journey. How he can see anything when the vehicle is full of passengers and the rear window is covered in frost is anybody's guess, but it didn't seem to slow him down. At Hongguang, the coal loading point is approx 1km short of the terminus. There is no mine here, simply a siding into a coal yard, the latter being fed by blue lorries and loaded onto the wagons by a mechanical shovel, which is also used to coal the engine. A second, shorter coal loading siding is approx. 0.5km back towards Huanan. No. 168 arrived with its train at 1050, proving that, contrary to the timetable, it doesn't always take six hours to cover 46km. After picking up the loaded wagons and shunting empties into both sidings, it was ready to go by 1130. However, the railbus with us on it departed first, and without being delayed by crossing any trains, we got back to Huanan at 1340. Immediately after our arrival, No. 43 departed on train 105. The staff confirmed that the timetable for tomorrow would be the same as that of today.
Although there is a turntable which must be used by the railcar to access the shed that it's kept in overnight, the engines turn on a triangle at the Huanan end of the yard.
Sun 30th Dec 2001
Cold, clear and snowy today. No. 168 arrived on train 102 at 0620. We took the railcar again, disembarking at Lixin. No. 41 was waiting on a loaded train (104), so we took up position for its departure. When this didn't happen, we realised that some empties must be due, so made a brisk 40 minute walk towards the summit and beyond to catch it. No. 168 turned up at 1100, totally masked by the smoke blowing in front of it as it crawled up the gradient. We then took up position on the other side of the summit for the loaded train, which appeared at 1125, banked by No. 168. We then cadged a lift on 168 back to Lixin and headed back on the railbus, whose progress today was slowed by No. 41 and train in front. It appeared that No. 11, which was in steam at Huanan, had problems, so 41 took out train 105, at 1545 - just after sunset (but still phottable against an orange sky).
After some decent grub at a restaurant 100 metres down the road to the right of the station, we travelled by K599 (the return 'fast') to Jiamusi at 1936. Whilst waiting at Huanan station, chuffing was heard and steam seen, in the direction of a factory to the south-west of the station. Was it a QJ? Three years ago, a QJ, believed to be industrial, was seen here. At Jiamusi, we stayed in a hotel on the opposite side of the square, to the left. A three bed room costing 60 Yuan per person was roasting hot and stinking of mould, but at least it had a shower and hot water.
Mon 31st Dec 2001 - Fri 4th Jan 2002 - Shuangyashan
Refer also to the report by Florian Menius & Thorge Bockholt, dated Oct 2001.
We caught train K691, 0549 to Shuangyashan, arriving 0741, then checked into the Xin Long hotel on the left side of the square outside the station. The place was flooded with female staff - nine attending to our check-in. Twin and single rooms cost 50 Yuan per person - very smart, but despite etched glass in the internal windows, ornate coving and pseudo wooden flooring, the shower arrangement was very bizarre. The hotel is not plumbed for hot water, so in the shower an electric hot water boiler is mounted on the wall. The unit is not hard wired, however, so to heat the water, the dangling plug must be stuck into an adjacent waist-level socket, with broken cover. Of course, this all gets drenched when the shower is switched on - a perfect recipe for electrocution. If you survive this, the minute towel provided - no they haven't got any larger ones - will ensure that you stay wet afterwards.
We spent five days on this system. There was no sign of the DF1s reported earlier, and with the exception of a DF7, which put in an appearance on two days, operation was entirely steam. (I have had an email from Ron Olsen who was here later in January to the same effect. RD.)
Rationalisation took place with effect from 1st January. Departure times from Zhongxin are now as follows:
As before, 'main line' passenger trains (to Shuangxing/Xin'an) have eleven coaches, and with the spare set available since the service reductions, trains 73 and 74 are also eleven coach sets (previously nine). All were QJ-hauled during our visit.
All passenger services to Lindong have been withdrawn (trains 11,12,13 & 14).
Times on the branch from Dianchang to Shuangyang have also been adjusted:
Journey time to/from Shuangyang 10 minutes. The only passenger train seen on this line was SY-hauled.
Copied from the signalbox at Qixing, the following is a summary of daylight trains (only) on the main line:
Not all freights start or finish at Shuangyashan CR exchange yard. One or two trains a day are tripped to the power station between Zhongxin and SYS, and Zhongxin itself has three coal reception points, serviced by at least one train daily. Timings and numbers of freights departing the exchange yard were variable, but typically three departures were seen in the morning, and a similar number is estimated for the afternoon in 'daylight' - i.e. 0730 - 1600 in early Jan. Other than shunting and short trips, all freight was handled by QJ.
A popular photographic location is Dongjing on the Fushan branch for train 73. The train works hard on the steep gradient approaching the station and must continue to do so until it comes to a stop. The departure is also a climb for approx. 1.5km until the summit is reached. During our stay, a tender first downhill usually followed the passenger, then an uphill freight showed up between 1530 and 1600. On 4th Jan this freight was unexpectedly hauled by SY 1102 and it made heavy weather of the ascending the grade, not helped by a light covering of snow on the rails. Bus no. 14 goes to Dongjing from the bus station outside Shuangyashan station via Zhongxin.
On 3rd Jan we took train 81 to Dianchang, junction for the Shuangyang branch. This area is photographically uninteresting with a large modern power station on the northern side of the station, and flat landscape, se we headed back to Qixing on train 82. This is far better with the line running through a colliery to the west of the station. Not long after our arrival, QJs 7030 and 6808 (tender first) doubleheaded a westbound freight departure (736). We were invited into the signalbox - most welcome as it was very windy and dusty outside, where we optimistically waited for freight 717 (due 1311) to turn up, but were told initially that it was slightly late, then cancelled. Passenger 83 appeared at 1400, but no freight appeared until 1600, after the sun had set. We returned to Zhongxin on passenger 84, with QJ 3598 at the helm.
Engines in use at Shuangyashan
QJ: 3135, 3594, 3598, 6805, 6806, 6808, 6897, 6917, 7017, 7018, 7019, 7029, 7030
SY: 0597, 0632, 1045, 1102
QJ 3135 (no deflectors) was in use as a 'stationary' boiler at Changan, but wasn't very stationary - it was seen on two occasions visiting the servicing area at Shuangyashan. Last January, QJ 3594 was the stationary boiler there; this time it was hauling trains.
QJ's 7029 & 7030 were seen in the Dianchang area but never near Shuangyashan.
QJ 3593 (decorated smokebox), QJ 7020 (seen last January fresh from overhaul, spotless and smelling of paint) and SY 1486 were seen tatty and out of use by the loco servicing area at Shuangyashan.
The bad news is that three different sources advised that the system would be dieselised in May/June.
On 4th January, we left Shuangyashan on K692, 1916 to Jiamusi and checked into the same hotel in the square. In the meantime, we had teamed up with John Tickner, so we took two twin rooms. No difference - still overheated and stinking of mould, but bliss - full sized towels, and a relatively sensible shower.
There is an internet cafe, open 24 hours adjacent to the Xin Long Bin Guan (the word for internet is "wang ba" and/or "yin ter wan" ). Facing the hotel, it's 50 m to the right, in a basement. The railway hauls 1.2 million tons of coal per year. The coal is deeply buried, 1000 metres or so, and elevators are used. The seams average about 8 metres thick. 7000 people work for the coal industry directly. Of these, roughly 30% work down in the mines. They operate 24 hours a day. The workers work a five-day week, and receive Y1000 per month, about average for China in general, but hard and hazardous working conditions for your money.
The timetable posted by Adrian Freeman is accurate! There is a large timetable posted on the wall at Zhongxinzhan station (Central) but all the shopkeepers will tell you it has been changed, just ask them when trains run! I got a timetable from a switchman and it agrees with what I've observed. Print one out beforehand if you come. In three days have not seen any doubleheaders but have seen QJ + QJ and QJ + SY top and tail, rare though. The bridge below Changan is a very good place to hang out, especially underneath if it is snowing like today. Also, if you flag down a taxi just before the passenger is due and have it wait a few minutes, you can beat the train to Dongjing without much trouble, photo it at the crossing, and again starting!
Taxis are abundant and they are honest here, I no longer worry if no flagfall. Flagfall is Y5, SYS to Donjing is 9-10 Reminbi. I have only seen ONE #8 bus here. Take #16 if going to Dongjing, frequent. QJ 3135 has to be the most decrepit loco I have ever seen. It drifted down past me minus headlight and mounts, numberboard, cylinder lagging, just JUNK!
I half expected no pony wheels and missing motion, but they were there (on my side at least). I thought that it was a ferry move to some convenient place to scrap it, but it steamed up again later under its own power. It probably just needed coaling and watering for its stationary boiler service.
There are two DF7's, but they don't do much serious work. I have seen them working singly and in multiple, but they are really in the background. They actually add some nice color, look like orange Illinios Central Gulf GP9's .Shuangyashan is really a great place, give yourself some time here!
Sat 5th - Tues 8th Jan 2002 - Hegang
Refer to Rob Dickinson's Jan 2001 report for passenger timetable and map of this system.
We took train K687 to Hegang, arriving at 0742. Walked across the square and checked in at an old and slightly down-at-heel hotel costing 26 Yuan per person for a suite of two twin rooms and bathroom. The bath, western toilet and basin were all faulty, but there were squats just around the corner and an excellent shower room on the next floor.
Hegang is one of those frustrating places where lines radiate in all directions, so just about wherever you are, most of the activity is elsewhere. Under these circumstances, the best thing seemed to be to work around the passenger trains and regard the freights as a bonus. This still only gives a 50% hit rate with the engines not being turned. With one exception, we found everyone in the Hegang area extremely friendly. The exception was the stationmaster at Fu Li station, who was absolutely insistent that we could not take photos there. (What did you do to offend him last year, Rob?) As mentioned in previous reports, Hegang is a cosmopolitan city, but the areas near the railway are somewhat more downmarket. With no snow covering for most of our visit, it was surprisingly evident just how much human waste there was along the trackside.
We started off by checking the passenger train times at Ji Pei station (close to Hegang CR station). The display appears not to have been altered for some time, and although there were a small number of variations, I am inclined to believe the times quoted in Rob Dickinson's report more than those displayed. Most of the daytime trains are the same anyway. The station shown only as ? in Rob's report is Shanzhuang.
Approx. 1 km south of Ji Pei station there is a coal washery (on Rob's map it is located between the junctions for the two lines branching off, swinging east and then north). Lines run either side of it, which means that trains from either south line may go either way round it. We successfully missed every passenger train in this area by being on the wrong side when they appeared. They changed side from day to day!
On 5th January, we saw two inbound empty spoil trains come round the curve by the washery from the easternmost branch at 1045 (SY 0498) and 1100 (SY 0632). In the afternoon we headed for Fu Li, but having been banished from the station (and consequently failing to secure shots of SY 1498 on outbound pass 5, and an inbound freight, which crossed it), we had a look at the electric narrow gauge north of the station, then set up for passenger trains 43 and 6 (SY 0799 & SY 1498) north of Fu Li station, both of which glinted rather nicely. We departed, long after sunset without seeing any further trains.
On Sunday 6th Jan, we set up by the first mine south of Ji Pei station (between Nan Shan and Da Lu stations), thinking this would be a relatively busy stretch of line. Between 0700 and 0915 we only saw the three passenger workings - 2, 3 (both SY 1498) and 43 (SY 1030), and a couple of light electric movements. Then SY 3013 appeared, backed onto a train of spoil at the mine, and departed north at 0935. We then headed north to Xing Shan and the big opencast pit. Peering in from the northern end, very little appeared to be happening, so after photting a train of pit props on the nearby electric narrow gauge, and with the sky clouding over, we headed south. Back at the mine north of Da Lu, SY 3013 was sat on another train of spoil, and after this departed, we walked south to the flyover where the mine railway crosses over China Rail. In the encroaching gloom we saw the three afternoon passenger trains (5, 43 & 6), before heading back to our hotel. Perhaps Sundays normally see only low levels of freight activity.
It snowed all day on Monday, and after failing to secure any photos of the morning passenger trains by the washery, we headed out to Xing Shan. The electric narrow gauge links two mines, although it only seems to serve one now. Spoil is taken from the mine and pit props and other materials delivered. Again, gloomy conditions limited the scope for photography so we took train 26, the 1540 from Xing Shan back to Ji Pei. Electric haulage was expected, but the motive power was SY 0799. The journey cost 5 Jiao! The train was full by departure, but emptied at Cheng Jiang Suo, giving rise to 'Lowryesque' scenes of scores of people radiating from the train and trudging home through the snow.
Half of our group had had enough of Hegang by now and moved on, but Gordon and I stuck it out for another day. We had hoped that after the snow we would get sunny weather, but in the event, it remained mostly cloudy and mild. We took shots of the morning passengers (2, 3 & 42) around the flyover south of Da Lu and then went back to the washery. The curse of the washery remained, however and we saw the steam trails of three southbound trains whilst on the wrong side, so we jumped into a taxi and headed south to find them. One - SY 0905 - was picking up a load of spoil at the mine between Nan Shan and Da Lu. We jumped out of the taxi when we saw the steam and just made it there to catch it leaving north. We then took another taxi south and spotted steam at Da Lu station. Again, we just got there in time to find SY 1030 departing north on freight at 1110. Then in the space of half an hour at Da Lu, three further northbound workings were seen - SY 1498 on freight, SY 0498 light, and SY3023 on a single van. Walking south, we got to the mine by the flyover and climbed up the adjacent spoil heap to assess the view. Guess what, there is a battery electric narrow gauge line on the top. The mine below also has a narrow gauge (overhead electric) associated with it. Whilst up there, electric 2302 brought in a train of empties and took loadeds away, and SY 0498 trundled south through the mine with a train of spoil, to deposit it at a point approx. 1 km distant. The afternoon's activity was confined to the three afternoon passengers (5, 43 & 6) and SY 0498 on the empty spoil wagons heading north.
Engines seen at Hegang
SY: 0472, 0498, 0555, 0632, 0635, 0683, 0799, 0905, 1030, 1370, 1498, 3013, 3023
Electrics: 1412, 1423, 1431, 1502, 1504 - 6, 1801, 2301, 2302, 2305 - 8, 2310
For a group of four, it was not significantly more expensive to travel by taxi than by bus. Most of the taxis at Hegang are minibuses; all are fitted with meters, which are used. Fares are 5 Yuan for the first 3 km then 1.3 Yuan per km thereafter. There are loads of them around - we never had to wait.
On most evenings, we dined at a restaurant of the Power Hotel, in the main square (with giant wire mesh ball in the middle) at Hegang. Although it looked rather like a fast food chain restaurant, fortunately the food was not remotely similar, but very good.
We departed on K606/604 hard sleeper to Harbin (95 Yuan), and noticed as we walked across the road from the hotel to the station that the stars were out.
Wed 9th - Fri 11th Jan 2002 - Weihe
Arrival in Harbin was at 0512 and we wanted to catch K265 to Yabuli, which departed at 0549. A bit concerned that time may be tight, we accepted the offer of porters to carry our baggage and showed them which train we wanted. They took us to the correct platform without the need to go out of the station, and we were able to purchase onward tickets from a member of staff there. A rather steep 40 Yuan was demanded by the porters, but at least we got the train with a minimum of hassle. Avoiding the ski reps at Yabuli, we jumped into a taxi and headed for Weihe. Unfortunately for the taxi driver, his paperwork was evidently not in order, and he was nabbed by the police upon arrival in Weihe. After he had deposited us at the forestry hotel, his vehicle was confiscated.
Weihe seemed to be operating without problems during our visit. Too efficiently, in fact, as all the loaded log trains arrived back before daybreak, and the shed area was swarming with engines each morning. On the morning of our arrival, three loaded trains arrived during the morning, probably delayed by the previous day's snowfall, but by the time we were 'lineside', we had missed them. Empties departed Weihe at approx. 1000, 1100, 1200 and 1330. The passenger ran punctually each day.
Engines seen in steam: 30, 33, 34, 35, 53, 54, 55.
Also seen, but cold were 32 and 31. 31 was tarted up with tyres and other details picked out in white paint, but had some motion missing.
Despite the railway appearing is good shape, we heard the sad but not unexpected news that the line would shut completely in June, when all logging will finish.
In town, the restaurant just round the corner from the hotel appears to have undergone a complete revamp. It may even be a completely new building - it certainly appears so from the inside. We were directed to one of the smart rooms upstairs to dine. Will they ever recover the investment?
Mild conditions meant that the hotel was sufficiently warm during our stay, but hot water was still difficult to come by, and on our last evening, there wasn't any water at all.
We took hard sleepers on train 2018, the 2256 departure from Weihe to Shenyang Bei on Friday night.
Sat 12th Jan 2002 - Tiefa
Our original plan had been to travel from Hunjiang to Shenyang today, then take an overnight sleeper to Beijing. Knowing how difficult it is to get sleeper tickets from Shenyang to Beijing, we had arranged these in advance. With the change of plan, we now found ourselves with time to kill in Shenyang, our arrival being at 0940. A minibus was organised, with the remit of finding working steam. In the event, the mystery tour took us to Tiefa, approx. 2 hours drive north and which was unexpectedly good. On my previous visit to this system, we were taken to the stabling point, but this time we were told that visits there are no longer permitted, so were deposited at the lineside near Sanjiazi station. Sanjiazi is the main junction for lines north, south, east and west. Initially, it didn't look at all promising - flat, unexciting terrain and no sign of any activity - but after a peaceful hour, things improved. We walked to Da Long station on the south branch, where there is a mine by the station. There is a triangle with the main east - west line here. Da Long is a busy place! All freights turned east to the exchange yard, and passenger trains west to Sanjiazi station and on to Tiefa. At Da Long between 1300 and 1600, we saw three northbound freights, two southbound, a passenger each way, and a fair bit of shunting at the mine. Also seen, but not phottable from our location, on the east - west line were a couple of freights and a passenger train each way. All in all, a good finish to the trip. All trains were SY hauled, and in common with Hegang, the locos are not turned so can face either direction.
Engines seen working: SY: 0393, 0860, 1147, 1183, 1255, 1683, 1767, 1772
We then headed back to Shenyang and after dining, took train K54 from Shenyang Bei, 2125 to Beijing. The soft sleeper carriage on this train was by far the smartest I've ever seen on China Rail. Hot and cold running water in the washroom and travel kits of toothbrush, toothpaste, comb, etc. provided. Also in the compartment, we were given bottled water, fruit juice, apple and custard cakes. Unfortunately however, the heater could not be reduced from its maximum roast setting, so a rather sweaty night was spent in the top bunk.
Sun 13th Jan 2002
Whilst spending a somewhat restless night on the upper shelf in the oven, I noticed that the train, which according to the timetable is not scheduled to stop anywhere, seemed to spend most of the night stationary, so I was surprised when we arrived in Beijing on time. From there the journey back was straightforward, on KL898 to Amsterdam then on to Leeds.
I was somewhat frustrated following our return to read reports that there is still some steam in the Songshuzhen area, north of Hunjiang. This is exactly where we had planned to go - Songshuzhen is a wonderful place. If anyone can make it there before it is too late, I would strongly recommend it.