The International Steam Pages
Steam in China, December 2002/January 2003
David Longman reports on his solo trip to Pingdingshan, Handan, Tiefa, Fuxin and Beitai
This report is intended to be of particular help to those who may be contemplating travelling in China without the aid of a guide and therefore contains more detail about travel arrangements, hotels and finding locations than might normally be included in a standard trip report. Often these reports give useful information but without the detail that is sometimes essential when travelling in a country where the language is virtually impenetrable and finding an English speaker to answer questions or give information is often impossible. In many cases it builds upon and expands information provided by others whose help and guidance is acknowledged at the end of the report.
Beijing (December 20th)
The cheapest way to get from the airport to the centre of Beijing is by bus. These leave from the front of the airport terminal and cost a flat rate 16Y. The journey time to the main railway station is about 45 minutes although longer in heavy traffic. The bus stops at a number of places en route but the station is fairly obvious being a large building with a huge square in front of it in fact it looks just like a large railway station! At first sight all appears to be very chaotic! A second look reveals that indeed it is very chaotic and a little intimidating. There are ticket offices on both sides of the main entrance with every window besieged by hordes of Chinese to whom the whole concept of an orderly queue is incomprehensible! However there is no need to panic as there is a special 'Foreigners Ticket Office' which is virtually deserted as no foreigner would be stupid enough to consider travelling alone on a train without a guide (would they?)
I used Duncan Peattie's translation of the Chinese Railway timetable to identify appropriate trains to get me from Beijing to Baofeng (for Pingdingshan) and decided to use either Train T9 or Train 1389 departing from Beijing Xi station. No seats or sleepers were available on Train T9 but a hard sleeper was available on Train 1389 priced at 189Y. Having obtained my ticket, the plan had been to visit the Dahuichang Limestone Railway in Beijing but a steady snowfall suggested that, at least from a photographic viewpoint, this would be a waste of time so I camped out in the soft class waiting room in Beijing West Station for the next six hours. Despite only holding a hard class ticket no-one felt the need to check my right to be there and as it was warm and comfortable it was as good a place to be as any. Of course once the Beijing Railway Museum opens (now expected to be June) there will be a decent alternative to Dahuichang!
Pingdingshan (December 21 - 24th)Arrived at Baofeng just after 9.00am and took a taxi from Baofeng to Pingdingshan (cost 90Y). It was snowing steadily on arrival and the roads were wet and the light miserable. Followed advice given by Tim Murray and stayed at the Jinxiu Hotel (148Y per night for a standard twin room) as taxi drivers also dont speak English this is the Chinese character set for this hotel. In the lobby I met Ameling Algra and Hans Duyfjes from Holland who offered me hot coffee, interesting snippets of information and depressing news about the previous four days weather!
On the first morning I took the Number 38 bus from the hotel in the totally wrong direction and finished up at Pingdingshan CNR station! A taxi eventually managed to deliver me to Xhongxiu station just in time to see JS6429 depart on the 13.30 train to the Baofeng and the west, followed shortly afterwards by JS8338 on the 13.40 departure to 13th Mine. In view of the awful weather gave the rest of the day a miss and aided by Ameling and Hans I managed to catch the correct bus back to the hotel!
On the second day the weather showed no sign of improvement. My navigation however did and I caught Bus 34 into town and then Bus 37 to the yard at Zonku. The map above gives a rough idea of bus routes and landmarks to help find the correct alighting points. Being thoroughly organised I had left my pen at the hotel so had no way of recording loco numbers but saw the JS hauled passenger train returning from 13th mine and then JS8062 on a long train of gondolas being banked by QJ7162 on the line up to Mine 1 &2. After watching several other departures I walked through Shenxi station to the loco depot where I found several JSs in steam plus two QJs one without deflectors and an SY apparently out of use. Inside the depot were a QJ, a JS and the boiler from an SY. From the depot I caught the Number 34 bus back to the hotel. En route we crossed the power station line with a JS in the power station yard which means that it must be possible to get a shot of trains crossing the main street of Pingdingshan but not in that weather. In the afternoon I caught the 13.30 from Xhongxiu hauled by JS6429 to the western end of the line and back at a cost of 4½Y seeing SY1687 on wagons at Baofeng and JS8065 on loaded wagons at Dazhuang. On the return from Baofeng I enquired of locals on the train as to the whereabouts of an internet café (wang ba) and was directed to one about halfway down the street from Xhongxiu station on the right hand side of the road.
On the third day the weather had improved with blue sky visible but the sun refused to put in more than a fleeting appearance. I spent the day in the crossing keepers hut at Zongku which provided advance warning of approaching trains and where I was offered a pleasant lunch of noodles and vegetables. Trains were as follows:
09.15 until 11.10
This gives a pretty clear idea of traffic levels at the time but a notable absence of SYs. Also there were never more than 2 or 3 engines in the yard at any time certainly no five engines all on trains line ups. Given the level of activity this system is certainly a must. I quizzed the hotel manager regarding weather at Pingdingshan and he highlighted June and October as the best two months for sunshine perhaps underlined by Duncan Cotterils successes.
The following day (December 24) was forecast on television and the internet to be sunny and clear and at 7.30am it was snowing heavier than ever! Caught the Number 38 as far as Bailui to see the morning SY departure and then retreated to the hotel to pack my bag! Caught Train K206 from Pindingshan Dong at 13.13 to Zhengzhou (19Y) where I stayed overnight in the Tian Quan Hotel (turn right from the station exit and walk along the front of the station) at 233Y. Had my bag carried to the room by Father Christmas no I wasnt drunk at he time! An internet café can be found on the second floor of the station ticket office.
Handan Steelworks (December 25 and 26)
My original plan was to catch Train 58 to Anying and then a taxi to Tangyin to see if anything was working on the local line to Puyang. To be in the safe side I bought a ticket through to Handan (41Y hard seat) in case I changed my mind. Passing through Tangyin, on a beautiful, cold, sunny morning revealed no signs of any steam whatsoever and so instead of chasing shadows I carried on to Handan. As Handan is a closed industrial site I had booked a guide for December 26th from C.I.T.S. (Handan) by way of the China Travel And Information Centre in London at a cost of £35 so had a day to spare. I booked into a (police?) hotel to the immediate left of the station at 100Y which was very good in terms of facilities but noisy at night due to the proximity of the railway. A better bet is the Hangang Hotel in Fuxing Road (owned by the Handan Iron And Steel Company) which is on the way to the steelworks and about 1 mile from the station. Rooms here cost 198Y but a 10% discount is available (and probably more!)Once established I caught a cab to the steelworks. Turn left out of the station and then take the first main road to the left. This goes under the railway and carries straight on for about 1½ miles to the main North Gate. To reach the South Gate take the left turn at the major crossroads which are about half way along the road (traffic lights) and then a diagonal right after about half a mile.
Anyway the taxi took me to the North Gate and dropped me right next to the security guard a move I needed like a hole in the head. However when I showed him a picture of an SY at Benxi steelworks and gesticulated Are there any here? he pointed at the nearby railway tracks and indicated that I should follow them! Such invitations are not required twice! Once inside I had free run of the site and no-one asked any further questions as to why or how I managed to be inside the plant! I came across SY0702 shunting cauldron wagons into one of the blast furnaces and then walked to the south end of the sight. Truly this is a stunning industrial location and I am amazed that it appears to have been so little visited or reported upon. The site has 20SYs according to the loco crews (I personally saw 18 of them one in use as a stationary boiler and one dumped) and three YJs (one in use as a stationary boiler and two dumped)
There is a constant procession of trains leaving the seven blast furnaces those on the left carrying molten iron and those on the right carrying molten slag. Often three or four trains were moving down to the yard and all face south thus providing perfect photographic potential. Trains then reverse with the locos propelling molten iron trains taking the left hand track to Number 3 Steelworks and slag trains taking the right hand track to the slag tipping plant where the slag is tipped into water. These then return boiler first providing more photo opportunities. There is also a two road depot and workshop and a variety of other lines leading off to various parts of the site. On December 25 there were 14 SYs at work in and around the blast furnace area together with four diesels. The map below is somewhat generalised and incomplete but I have yet to see any other map of this site.
Having visited the steelworks at Anshan, Baotou, Beitai, Benxi and Chengde, I would put this works at the top of my list in terms of action and photographic potential although Beitai (see below) must come a very close second.
A repeat visit was made (with Mr Wang who had only been to the steelworks once before but who could interpret questions and answers) the following day. There was slightly less activity on the 26th but still much to see and enjoy. The loco crews said that there were no longer steam locomotives at Anying Steelworks.
Locos seen on 25 and 26 December:
SY 0537, 0557, 0702, 0800, 1081, 1154, 1203, 1208, 1393, 1535, 1658, 2002, 2009
A wang ba (internet café) can be found by crossing the road in front of the main station forecourt and taking the alleyway which runs down the right hand side of the large building. About 150 yards down this street, on the left-hand side, is a blue sign advertising the presence of an Internet Café (in English)
Tiefa (December 27 29th)
Caught the overnight sleeper Train T124 from Handan to Tieling. Had to purchase a hard seat and then upgrade on the train as Handan had no allocation of sleepers (total cost 297Y). This train was over 4 hours late leaving Handan and thus didnt arrive at Tieling until 12.25. Little to add to previous reports of this system except to comment on the hotel which is the red building to the immediate right of Tiefa (Diabaoshan) station. At 100Y per night this proved to be particularly good value for money. Although the shower in the room didnt work I was directed to the second floor where there is a communal shower room, sauna, hot baths and massage all included in the room price. Sadly the massage was given by male attendants rather than one of the host of attractive girls who inhabit this hotel so I declined that particular invitation!Left on 29th December by Train 6688 from Daqing station to Shenyang and changed to Train K645 to Fuxin departing Shenyang at 18.54 and arriving at 21.56.
On arrival in Fuxin I headed for the Hai Zhu hotel much recommended by Rob Dickinson (198Y per night)
Fuxin (December 30 and 31st)
On both days walked from Tieping to Wulong. On the first morning I met Ron Lingley, and we spent the two days together. The traffic levels on both 30 and 31st were very low not at all like my Easter visit - and the main yard was almost devoid of loaded wagons except those being taken into the power station. Most activity took place around the North stabling point, with track laying trains heading to the big pit, with little going on at the other end of the system. At lunchtime on 31st December the following locos were all in steam on the South stabling point with nothing to do SY 0126, 0391, 0540, 1210, 1319, 1396, 1397 and 1460. Whether this is temporary or a feature of current economic times for the pit is unclear although Bill Alborough also commented on low traffic levels in October.
On both days Ron and I took a taxi (15Y) to Minzu to photograph the afternoon passenger train as it passed the Catholic church. This shot alone almost makes this system worth visiting.
Other active locos seen: SY 0076, 0112, 0785, 0939, 0941, 0988, 0941, 1320, 1378, 1395
I left Fuxin on Train 2065 (dep.17.11) and arriving in Shenyang at 20.23. I stayed in the Jun Jian Hotel once again (150Y) take the South Exit and turn immediately left outside the station building. Go past the cycle store until you reach a large building avoid the hotel that faces you and keep to the right of the building. The hotel is straight ahead past the restaurant.
Beitai (January 1 and 2nd)
Met Mrs Deng from Mrs Suns outfit at Shenyang Bei and caught Train K671 to Benxi. Although we left Shenyang in clear, sunny conditions the closer we got to Benxi the worse conditions became. The pollution in Benxi had reduced the sun to little more than a glimmer and this disappeared altogether as we passed the steelworks in the city. In fact there seemed little chance that there would be any photographic weather at this stage but as we approached Beitai so conditions improved although were never actually clear due to continuous pollution.
Mrs Deng immediately took me to the area, which is on the left of the Louis Cerny map at the other end of the site to the footbridge and loco depot. In fact the Cerny map is wrong to describe this site as a steelworks at all since it only produces iron. The steelworks itself is about 1½ - 2 miles south of this site. She claims that I was only the third European she has taken to this location (the first two being Hans and Ameling the previous day!) Certainly it is an amazing location and sees non-stop action. Cauldron trains come from out of the blast furnace areas on a regular 15 20 minute basis often with two trains running one behind the other on parallel tracks or even side by side! They frequently joined a third or even fourth train in the yard!
Added to this is a slag dumping area where hot molten slag is tipped into a small depression in the ground. Again trains appear here at about hourly intervals or less. After cooling it is bulldozed and then crushed into small lumps for roadbuilding, cement making etc. It is possible to stand as close as 30 feet from the pouring if a little inadvisable although I saw no evidence of splashing the slag poured onto the ground and was followed by the solid material from each wagon which broke up on contact with the ground to leave a fiery mass of rock.
Further locomotives work coal wagons to and from the steelworks usually propelled or tender first whilst others are used to take iron billets to the steelworks.
Often there were five or six locomotives in view and hardly a moment when at least one locomotive wasnt in sight. All this against a stunning mountainside backdrop which was covered in snow on the two days of my visit! It really is hard for me to decide whether Beitai or Handan top my list of industrial locations but both ought to be on the list for visitors to China.
On the second day it was cloudy and dull and so there was time to ask questions and try to find out a little more about the location. I spent part of the day in one of the three computerised control rooms, which govern all locomotive movements on the whole site (including the steelworks). From the staff the following information was obtained:
Locomotives seen active: SY 0322, 0448, 0792, 0825, 0864, 0930, 1005, 1054, 1114, 1131, 1514, 1560, 1561, 1577, 1648 and 2019
In addition two electric locomotives are used within the site these run on a short length of track alongside the coking plant and use three conductors to pick up current from three long rails affixed to the side of the building. There was no evidence of manufacturer.
On both days we caught Train 6635 from Beitai (dep. 15.50) to Benxi. The dumpling shop next to the station in Beitai is highly recommended, serving first class steamed dumpling for about 3Y although it may be worth mentioning that the dumplings are filled with donkey meat!
On the first night I stayed at the Tian Yi Hotel (138Y) which is on the extreme right of the station building as you exit from the platform, and on the second day we returned to Shenyang by bus not an option that I would recommend as it does not pass either of the two stations although, no doubt co-incidentally, it did stop very close to my guides apartment where we parted company.
Benxi also has internet facilities from the station take the second exit (anticlockwise) from the roundabout and then the second road on the right. After about 25 yards take the road off to the left and the wang ba is on the right hand side of the road about 30 yards from the junction.
And So Home
Caught Train K54 from Shenyang arriving at Beijing at 07.10 (191Y) leaving a comfortable amount of time to reach the airport to catch the Lufthansa flight back to London via Frankfurt.
My thanks to all who have provided help and information either directly or by publishing reports on the internet. In particular thanks to Peter ODell, Duncan Cotterill and Tim Murray for information on Pingdingshan on which I based the bus map and Roy Bowden for information about Handan. Also to Bernd Seiler for the wang ba GIF which proved invaluable in helping me find internet cafes thus allowing me to keep up-to-date and in touch throughout the trip. Finally to Duncan Peattie whose translation of the Chinese Railway timetable made the whole trip possible.