The International Steam Pages

Steam in Northern China, March 2002

Ameling Algra reports on his latest trip to Northern China from March 10th - 26th


We made our trip to northern China in my usual way: without the use of guides, without advance reservations, medium budget, using taxis where useful, with ample time on the chosen locations and avoiding too much travelling around.
We (Hans Duyfjes and Ameling Algra) visited Weihe, Tiefa, Fuxin and Chengde.
1.    Weihe was working excellently in its last season
2.    Tiefa was also doing fine. It is quite easy to avoid the police and its $45-fine
3.    Fuxin was very run down, the passenger service was limited and steam freight rare.
4.    Chengde was as usual, which means very good.
5.    China on your own is getting easier all the time. Even changing trains within (timetabled time) 21 minutes was no problem. Hans, who had been on organised tours on three previous trips, found the individual trip much more relaxing, with better food and better photo opportunities.
6.    It was interesting to note how out of date the standard phrasebooks are. Hans' Berlitz phrasebook (2001!) mentions that foreigners have to pay more than twice the Chinese price, a system abolished in 1995!! It also mentions soft and hard sleepers without giving the Chinese characters for it. My Mandarin phrasebook is better. It does state that buying your own train tickets is very difficult. But that is a fairy tale kept alive by tour operators.

March 10

Arrival in Beijing by KLM - as we did not have to change planes, we had no worries about the luggage. Plane was an hour early because of the strong winds. A few hours after we left, Schiphol airport was closed because of the storm. We went to the main railway station by bus and got soft sleeper tickets on the very comfortable K265 to Yabuli (and Mudanjiang)

March 11

Arrival in Yabuli after a comfortable night on the train, took a minibus to Weihe and booked ourselves into the forestry guesthouse. Luckily SandS were leaving the same days so the good rooms (@ Y 180 a single) were available again.

Went to the narrow gauge railway station, where we met Rob Dickinson and took pictures of shunting engines and passenger arriving and leaving.

March 12-16

Weihe. On the first day, we joined Rob in his taxi - he was going to Sanreban, we took a few pictures of a loaded train and of the morning passenger, then alighted in Chonghe, spent a few hours there and went back to Weihe by train. Our passenger train crossed four trains of empties.

The next days, we used Rob's excellent taxi driver. I don't have his name as I gave his business card to two Danish enthusiasts we met in Tiefa. A detailed report of what we saw seems unnecessary as it varied from day to day and as the line won't survive beyond this season. Our standard pattern was to go out to Zhenzu at 6.00 am, ask information there and then take pictures of the incoming passenger or sometimes of an arriving loaded train. And then on to Pinglin and beyond. We saw two to four loaded trains and some empties every day, and chased trains between Yulin and Weihe. The weather varied from reasonable to (mostly) excellent. Compared with my previous visit two years ago, I saw and filmed a lot more trains - though my previous visit had the advantage of sun and snow in the pictures.

March 16/17

Though it is possible to go from Weihe to Shenyang in one night, we preferred to split the journey in two. We left Weihe late afternoon, spent a night in the Tianzu hotel just outside Harbin station (Y 168) and went to Shenyang the next morning. In Shenyang we bought Hans' sleeper ticket for the journey to Beijing on March 19, and then went to Tieling where we took a taxi to Diaobinshang (Y30) which delivered us to the very friendly and helpful hotel outside the station (Y100 per room).

March 18/19

Tiefa: the police asking for $45 are in Diaobinshang station only. By not walking into the station with obvious cameras, and not going to the stabling point there, we avoided them and their ''fine''. Two trains in the 300 series around 9.00 am (arr and dep) are diesel - whether these go to Shenyang (or maybe Tieling) we did not find out.

The morning procession of trains to and from Diaobinshang was impressive and beautiful in the early sunlight. As was the number of freights at the point where the lines diverge and converge. Weather variable: sometimes very strong winds, making video almost impossible, and then about an hour later the wind was completely gone. Part of the second day was spent trying to (and at last succeeding in) rebooking Hans' airline ticket as he decided to leave not on March 21, but on March 26 with me. We met two Danes in Sanchazi who knew my name. My important contribution to the gricer's world seems to be the recommendation of the restaurant of the railway hotel in Reshui.

March 20, 21

From Tiefa to Fuxin: we read in Rob's report that he took buses and needed a full day for the journey. So we took the obvious route instead: the 5.21 train to Shenyang arr 8.09, and then the train to Fuxin leaving 8.30. On arrival in Shenyang (a little late at 8.20) we saw an orange diesel which might be a Yebaishou loco, so we decided to head for this train and try to get on board. Which worked perfectly, arrival in Fuxin 11.33.

In Fuxin, we booked into the Hai Zhou Hotel (Y 190), and went to the mine railway where we found that one of the pair of ''long distance'' passengers was cancelled, leaving one other on the long run to Minzu and beyond, and one on the shorter run. Trains were rather empty. The amount of freight was considerably less than three years ago - most engines we saw were either running purposeless without a train, or had a few other SY in tow which looked unused and unhealthy. A very rundown and depressing system, I don't think it will survive much longer. The very strong winds made the visit even more depressing - not even the ladies waiting for us in the lobby in the evening could cheer us up.

March 22

We took the passenger train 11.33 to Chengde and got into the ''semi-soft'' coach for the long train journey to Chengde arr 21.34. Saw a lot of dumped engines in Yebaishou shed, but no working steam (as expected). Went to the Huilong hotel where the price went down from Y480 to Y200 in a few minutes.

March 23-25

Chengde - operation as usual. On March 23, four trains in the morning shift and three in the afternoon. March 24: only two in the morning, three in the afternoon (till 6.00 pm). The lunch break seems to be rather late these days, between 13.30 and 14.30.

On March 25, we saw four trains in the morning again before we left on the ''luxury'' train to Beijing (soft seat for Y61). It is a pity this system seems to be going diesel, even if you have been there quite a lot of time (it was my thirteenth visit!!) the sound of the three engines working hard up the bank is still unbelievable.

March 25

Booked into the Hademen hotel where prices were more negotiable than in my ''standard'' hotel the Chongwenmen - the Chongwenmen stuck to the official rate of Y 520, the Hademen went down to Y400.

March 26

Back to Amsterdam by KLM - on time.

Rob Dickinson