The International Steam Pages
Steam in Northern China, March 2002
Michael Rhodes presents his latest trip report
6th March - BA039 to Beijing
A new departure for Vernon and I - we hired a Cherokee Jeep (courtesy of Li Weishu, the only guy to use for those who like a guide for those sticky moments with police, malcontents and the like, quite simply because he is a great companion, more than competent railway photographer and has looked after nearly 100 trips to China now which must make him the most experience guide there is!)
The Jeep picked us up and within 3 hours we were lineside in Chengde, just in time to catch 3 trains before sun down. There was a lot of carnage on the road on the way and I spotted two dead bodies from RTAs and one man writing around by his cart with blood pouring from his head (I suspect he would up the body count to 3 by tea time). We also had one dead dog and one crunched bicycle with no sign of its owner. 60mph travel and bicycles plus pedestrians and donkey carts do not mix!
Chengde - started at shed but within 10 mins the entire "JiTong Orient Express" participants numbering nearly 70 descended, so Vernon and I beat a retreat to the hillside for the morning. Traffic was buoyant with about one train per hour uphill and we migrated down to the town section at lunch time and ended with a lovely view from our hotel window over the bridge just out of Chengde station. The Yunshan Hotel must be one of the few in the world where steam can be "grandstanded" from the 10th floor.
Anyway for those who need to know we identified the following during our visit:-
SY1753, SY0532, SY1029, SY1765
There is no doubt that diesels are on their way to Chengde - there are 3 DF7 or similar due in April, but likely to arrive in June and these will be utilised on the single headed section through town to the banking station and then continue out of town, with steam bankers in the first instance. This is all because the town authorities are paranoid about pollution in town and the steam engine is a soft target!
Off in the jeep to Fuxin, passing through Yebaishou and reminiscing over the great locations around here, several of which we passed with DF4s trundling by - very depressing. In Fuxin we met up with another group which included Cyril Loftus amongst their number and swapped yarns over a coffee before heading out in early afternoon for the sheds on the colliery system.
Fuxin West shed was home to:-
Fuxin East shed housed:-
This was a great day for railways but not all steam. The colliery system at Fuxin is a shadow of its former self with just 5 mines left and only 2 rail connected. The passenger service is down to one line only to Xinqiu and this is only 3 coaches as compared to 7 when we last visited in 1998.
Be that as it may the deep opencast in Fuxin is awesome. The railway still has over 100 electrics of 4 types on its books and nominally 34 steam locos. The pit has six level of railway zig-zag to its based which is 240 metres deep! These are not single track but triple track and trains pass about once every 3 minutes on a given level. Looking up from the bottom of the pit there was the surreal site of 6 or 7 trains on different levels all moving.
I shan't list all the electrics we saw but the day was spent from 8-9 on the edge of the pit, then from 9-10 at the crossing just up from the pit during which time SY1395 was seen on the passenger but also there was a wonderful site of an electric hauled passenger with stock and motive power far older than the steam hauled train. SYs No.0989, 0076 and 0540 were also seen on trains at the crossing
From 10 until 1300 we spent in the pit. The following SYs were at work in the mine:- 0785, 0988, 1395.
In the afternoon we drove out to Xinqiu which had an active opencast mine in 1998 - now all derelict. The deep mine and the engine shed are similarly abandoned and all that survives is the local passenger and a small private mine served by lorry - this coalfield is definitely folding.
Anyway 16.00-17.30 we went to Fuxin West crossing and saw SY Nos.0540, 1320, 0849 and 1378
An excellent supper was had in the new Zhonglin Hotel which is 4 star and would put many a UK hotel to shame - I afraid I'm embarrassed to admit we stayed there having read Rob Hardman Dickinson's report on Shanhetun, but I'll get over it.
The system around Fuxin is down from 10 to five mines since 1998 and only 2 are rail served. The big pit in Fuxin is predicted to close in 2 years (according to Mr.Guo the local guide). There is graffiti around town saying "migrant workers out" and there is a lot of unemployment around Fuxin. When asked what he thought the tens of thousands of people employed by the mine would do when it closed, Mr Guo said quite simply "grow vegetables or migrate to Shanxi province where there are new mines" - China is a very brutal place!
Things really got too warm today with the temperature topping 22 degrees in Benxi - so much for winter steam, this was apparently the warmest winter on record for 50 years. Anyway we drove from Fuxin to Benxi to visit the steel works.
Benxi steam shed
We then visited the electric depot but I will spare steam enthusiasts the details of all the engines seen there. The yard adjacent to this depot contained SY716, 714 and 722 shunting
We then found our way to the south end of the rat run under the blast furnaces and identified another bunch of SYs as follows:- 728, 724, 734, 725, 721, 731, 710, 705, 713, 723, 729 - sadly they all face due south with tenders first and the dust and grime in the air make shots looking south to capture the north facing boilers well nigh impossible. This location does not have great photographic potential - it is another steel works that still has steam and we got access to every area, that said Vernon gave it a serious thumbs down, although I found the electric action quite interesting.
We then drove on to Changchun, where we de-dusted ourselves in a nice hotel.
(Temperatures for today were Harbin -1 degree and Beijing 21 degrees)
Saw 31 shunting the log yard and 30 arriving at 15.20 on the passenger.
Then Zhenzhu 30 on passenger at 16.43 and 054 on logs crossing it.
-6 at dawn, but steam had disappeared by 09.00
explored Dongfeng loading point which is on a 1.5 km spur off the mainline which is further away than I had thought, usual stationary engines for dragging and lifting logs with pulleys secured to battered old tree stumps.
054 empties at Dongfeng at 13.30
Had a potter round the shed in Weihe first thing and got interviewed by Zhejiang Television on the nature of railway enthusiasm - their chief reporter was himself a Chinese railway enthusiast and photographer of 3 years standing. Then pottered round Dongfeng and Chonghe for the rest of the day before driving over the hills to Shanhetun, which took just 2 hours. At 16.00 the shed at Shanhetun contained 05, 506, 603, B031031 and 67 shunting (without any numbers).
I shall not try to add to the marvellous detail in Rob's report on Shanhetun, suffice it to say that today was just excellent as we caught loads arriving at Shanhetun at 06.30 and 08.00 and then another set of loads about 30km out from Shanhetun where the line winds round a river bend, at 10.30. All trains were running about 6 hours late and we were delighted.
We went on to Shahezi and caught an empties there at 15.00 and also the passenger with horses loaded on the first carriage as described by Rob in his report.
Dawned very dull, arrived at Shanhetun yard to find all the loads were in so decided to drive to Changchun for lunch with Li's family before flying off to Beijing where we met up with the JiTong Orient Express guys and drank until the small hours before boarding BA 038 on 17th.
1. The week of 10th March the electrified section from Shenyang to Dalian was handed over to China Rail by the project engineers - this can only mean another host of spare DF4s and makes one worry about JiTong lasting even 12 months.
2. Weihe is said to definitely have another season in it but it has almost become a tourist railway with so many visitors
3. Shanhetun is more difficult to call. We had conversations with nearly a dozen employees up to junior management and there will certainly be several of the branches closing at the end of this season. It seems logging may continue next season on the Dongshen line and there is even the prospect of the railway bidding for works traffic needed to build the new dam reported by Rob - wait and see I suppose.
4. Tiefa - traffic is vibrant, but the head of transportation reports that the system will be electrified in 2 years time with the line out of Daqing being doubled - maybe a home for all the Skodas retired from Fuxin!!!
5. The first week in March saw the final withdrawal of steam at Dongsheng with the last of the DF4s entering service - end of a great system.
6. Shuangyashan was supposed to dieselise this June, but Derek Phillips and his tour saw 5 steam locos having their connecting rods removed and coal off loaded from the tenders to be carted away by road. Their final day on the system in mid-March saw all diesel hauled trains. The death of my favourite colliery railway I'm afraid.
That may all sound a bit gloomy, but it entirely possible that even JiTong may be dieselised by this time next year - lets wait and see, but if you haven't been to China yet this is definitely the last 12 months for many of the best steam lines.