The International Steam Pages

Steam in China, November/December 2003

This is Derek Jenkins' report of a month in China. The first part was a private visit in the company of Lennox Macewan and latterly I joined up with Steam & Safaris for Ji Tong and Zhungeer. Thanks to Lu Yong from CITS Harbin for making the arrangements particularly the various Steelworks visits and to Lennox for keeping me sane.

12th November

Arrived Beijing via a very comfortable Air China flight and after visiting the new railway museum took Train 1643 from Beijing West which provides a direct service to Pingdingshan.

13th November

Woken at Tangyin by a vicious snatch as the train left the station. As I was peering into the darkness there was a JS at the head of a yard seemingly in steam so presumably steam still lives on the Local Railway here. Arrived Pingdinshan 07:53 and after checking into the Shen Ma Hotel took a North / East bound No. 34 bus from right outside the hotel. Eventually this runs under the Mine Railway and as it does so the building on the right is the shed / works. The bus turns right just after this and terminates. Carrying on on that road brought us to a level crossing and to the head of Tianshuang yard. Locos were just coming off shed and there was then the usual procession of trains out of the yard. We waited for the passenger train at 09:55 then walked further down to the coking plant where JMY 600 diesel DEL 1 was operating then walked back up to Shenxi yard. This was being completely remodelled and made walking around the place difficult. Traffic here was busy also and it made for an excellent first day

14th November

Visited the shed early and with the sun peering through a slight mist it made for some good shed shots. In works were J/S's 6225 and 8120 and QJ 6813. The staff said that they have 24 steam locos .We again watched the Tianshuang departures before heading to Shenxi and eventually up the right hand branch from the yard. This runs to First Mine. It's a steep climb with but few photo positions. This mine has 2 OHE NG systems. We eventually encoutered SY 0758 staggering up the bank as we walked back.

15th November

We made an early start in an effort to get out into the country for the incoming passenger train from 13th Mine. We took bus 34 to its terminus them Bus 2 to its terminus at Bakuang before hiring a motor tricycle and its somewhat incredulous owner for the rest of the journey. It took 40 minutes from Bakuang to a viaduct reached by turning off the main road at Qilidian. A 190 bus plies this road but I have no idea where it comes from - if from Bakuang it is better than the trike option- almost anything is better. We got to the bridge just before the train with SY 1687 in charge. It is at least a rural shot on this otherwise industrial line but I am not entirely sure it was worth the effort. From here to Bakuang the line is on an embankment through flat lands. The junction with the Yuzhou line is at Qilidian. We waited by the bridge for an incoming loaded train but without sucess then heard a train coming in on the Yuzhou line. We retraced our steps to Tianshuang and found that QJ 6690 had appeared. Whether this is a Yuzhou or PDS loco is not clear. It has previously been reported as PDS stock but it was not serviced at the shed and departed whence it came with some spoil tipplers not to be seen again. Action was now thin for the first time so we walked to the coking plant and watched the coke oven locos for a while before photographing the outbound passenger train. As we intended to travel the Wugang brach we set out on a long walk to trace Bailau platform. En route we encountered DF12 0036 on the branch with a long freight. Bailau is just South of where the branch and CNR converge. Passenger train times are posted at the station and incidentally show a number of trains running at the other end of the line. The DF12 reappeared before we staggered back to the hotel.

16th November

Today we hired a car and driver and set off initially to Xuchang narrow gauge. Fortunately the driver was enthusiastic and with only a few phrases translated into Chinese we easily found the NG station which is only 5 minutes drive from the CNR station. When we arrived there were only some wagons in the yard and we were about to look at some dumped locos opposite when a numberless JMY 380S appeared. We went a short distance down the line and found the shed the other side of a main road. The loco crews about were friendly and we were able to photograph or take details of all stock here before a surly official appeared and made it clear we were not welcome. All locos at the shed are in a 38xx series although with different body shapes. There is still a coaler here and it would have been interesting to look in the various sheds to see if there were any steam locos remaining. Back at the station the staff were completely happy for us to look at the dumped locos and we then watched 3805 shunting before it departed Westwards with coal empties. At the West end of the station it is easy, if there is a train, to get loco, semaphore signal and a pagoda in the shot. From here we drove to Xinzheng on the motor road and found the NG depot close to the motor road turn off. Staff here were very welcoming and were insistent we went in the shed. There were 22 locos here in 16xx and 38xx number series although some were single and some double ended and some bigger than others in the same number series. Also here were a dumped TH51 and 52 as well as a TH51 in works. Compared to the traffic that seemed to be on offer the line is overburdened with locos. The yard / station is a little to the west and on looking there we found 2 more locos then another appeared on coal empties from the East. Both these NG systems were well worth the visit albeit they are both dieselised.

We now set out to find the Xinmi Coal Railway with only scant information as to its whereabouts. We eventually found Songzhai station which it turned out is the exchange point. This is East of Xinmi and South of the main road . The CNR staff here denied any knowledge of steam and it took some time to discover that they were being devious. Eventually one of them waved his hand to the West and we found a road adjacent to the line on the other side from the station that took us to Lijiazi. As this road expired we saw a QJ in the distance. This turned out to be 2315 which was in steam. Sheep were grazing round it and it was crewless. We went to the shed where the staff were very friendly. Dead there was QJ3495. The staff said that the only other locos on the line were 2440 and 3494 both of which it seemed were some distance away.An easier way to find the shed from the Xinmi road is to take the left turn just before the Power Station , pass under the railway then turn right. With nothing else happening we returned to PDS having negotiated a monster and crazy traffic jam due to bridge works en route.

17th November

We again saw the usual Tianshuang departures including a QJ / JS double header before setting off to explore the left hand branch from Shenxi. This runs through the back of many houses and steeply up to Second Mine. There is a 600mm OHE system here. The line then divides again the right hand branch going to Fourth Mine and the left to a mine and then onwards to another. One of these is Sixth Mine. There are a number of photo spots on these branches but with every chance of being in the wrong place at the right time. Both branches are seriously steep.The No. 32 bus from PDS CNR runs to a terminal very close to where the two branches divide.

18th November

We set out for Bailau for the Wugang branch passenger. A 24 bus from PDS CNR passes Bailau platform. By the appointed departure time of 09:10 no train had even arrived (arrival is 08:50) but then we heard a braying in the distance and distressingly brand new GKD1 0021appeared with the train. A quick turn round saw us away 15 minutes late. Stations en route are : Jingshan, Yexian, Fentai, Unnamed (but memorable as on the platform was a man with 6 live goats tied to his bicycle with no part of any of the goats touching the floor), Unnamed, Batai (where the unused branch to Luohe Xi goes off), Tieshan (Shed), Unnamed, Unnamed stop by roadside. Eventually the train ended its run at a station we expected to be Wugang but is in fact Sipo (pronounced supper). It seems that Tieshan and Sipo are parts of Wugang. The line ran further South and the train loco disappeared with a number of locals clinging to it. We followed its path over a bridge and eventually into Wugang Steelworks yard where SY's 0337 and 0483 were in steam. The line carried on past the works and goes it seems to Yangzhuang which is probably the source of the lines other passenger trains.. Action in the Steelworks yard was slow to non existant so we made the long trek back to Tieshan. Here were GKD1 0020 and DF12 0035. The staff said that the 2 GKD1's came in June. Dead at the shed were SY's 380 (sic), 0548, 0779, 0780, 1059, 1417. 0779 and 1417 are servicable. With rain now falling Lennox found a beer shop and we sheltered under the station awning (the station of course being locked) drinking the beer until the return passenger appeared this time only 10 minutes late. Departure ex Sipo should be 15:40.

19th November

We spent the day on the branches from Shenxi yard but the weather was drizzly and decidedly cruddy. Traffic was reasonable but the light dire.

20th November

We again did the early departures from both yards before walking all the way to PDS Dong the idea being to see what trais actually ran on the mine line beyond here that rejoins at Bakuang. The line is well used but all traffic we saw took the other route from Bakuang to the coking plant. A noteable train on this line was topped and tailed SY and QJ. There is a lake just before Bakuang over which some pleasant pictures of the afternoon passenger are obtainable with a mountain background . This was our last day at PDS. Locos seen (in addition to those in works and 6690) were : SY 0758, 1002, 1209, 1687. JS 5644, 6252 (dumped), 6253 (ex works), 6429, 8030, 8031, 8057, 8062, 8065, 8068, 8122, 8338. QJ 2035, 6450, 6786, 7186. This adds up to the 24 locos the staff said they had but in the whole time we did not see JS 8054 and 8120 which were there on my previous visit. If SY 1010 (just scrapped) is added in it could mean that 6690, 6786 and 6450 are Yuzhou line stock.

21st November

We took Train 2506 at the ungodly hour of 00:38 from PDS arriving Handan 07:48. A formal visit arranged to the Steelworks was thwarted as officials there have now decided not to allow visitors due to numerous incursions by enthusiasts without permission. We were told that they would not take exception to our being by the bridge / level crossing but it is possible in future that anyone even found there will be gripped. SY seen here 0293 (stationary boiler), 702 (sic), 0557, 0800, 1081, 1139, 1154, 1203, 1298, 1393, 1535, 2007, 2009. There were also a number of diesels of various classes.With some time on our hands we went South to Matou where steam has been reported in the past but with no other details. Previously described as a mine / power station it is in fact a washery. The power station is not part of the complex. Here the staff were surprisingly willing to admit us despite our impromptu appearance. Sadly steam has finished the shunters now being a TH4 and a DFH5B. The staff said that the SY's here were 0643, 1167, 1295 although the first 2 have been reported previously at nearby Sunzhuang Colliery.

22nd November

Today we had an official visit to Xingtai Steelworks. Sadly another place where steam is all but gone . Only SY 1349 was in steam with the bulk of the work now in the hands of GK1E's. Dead here were SY 0011, 0736, 1265, 1641, 3009. Said to have been here but now scrapped : SY 0292/4, 1651. SY 0011 is interesting as it is from the 1960 prototype batch albeit that it has the more usual type tender and still has the old type Tangshan worksplate.

23rd November

Yet another Steelworks, this time Jingdian for an official visit apparently the first ever by westerners. Sadly steam is on the wane here too. This is a large complex and if seen when steam was full on would have been excellent. As it is most work is in the hands of GK1C's and E's numbered in the works own YS series. In steam here SY 1155 and 2002. Dead SY 1057, 1328/33, 1735, 2021.

24th November

The Handan City map contains no trace of the closed NG system but the map in the telephone directory did and 10 minutes after leaving the hotel our taxi crossed a narrow gauge line over a main road. Shortly after we were at the depot which remains intact. Outside was a C2 tender with the number 18 on but underneath 280x. The yard is packed with wagons and brake vans. Old passenger coaches have been converted to living accomodation. No one could find the key to the shed but scrambling up the wall and peering in revealed the extraordinary sight of C2's 50 and 2806 the latter in ex works condition. Also inside were a Class ZN120 diesel and a railbus.

From Handan we took Train T124 to Shenyang. The train was nearly 4 hours late leaving Handan and we were pleased to be able to upgrade to soft sleeper.

25th November

Woke up to find we were now 5 hours behind time but near Huladao the train took off on an entirely new line. At first we did not grasp what was happening, not until we missed out Jinxi altogether and stopped at Jinzhou Nan a vast new glass edifice in the middle of nowhere. From here the line runs largely on stilts across marshland for many Kms. After Nan the first station passed was Panjin Bei (again miles from anywhere), then Taian and Liaozhang. Looking at Nelles Map shows how far this line diverges from the old route. We saw no other traffic at all and were suddenly coming into Shenyang having picked up an hour of lateness. Jinzhou Nan appears for the first time in the October timetable so clearly the line has just opened. We came into Shenyang from the Huangutun direction and saw an SY in steam at the power station and one dead at the wagon works.

From Shenyang we set off for Fushun and to the New Steelworks. As far as I know no one has been able to obtain permission to enter this place but fortunately a public road crosses very close to the blast furnaces and we were able to watch the action with the locos all being driven vigorously. The following SY were in steam:0585, 0655, 0716, 0881, 0998, 1495, 1507. A worker indicated that 2 further locos are dead somehere inside the plant.

26th November

We spent the day watching activity on the Mine Railway. The EMU passenger service is still extensive running from about 06:30 to 09:30 then about 15:30 to 19:30. There are many tentacles to this service but all trains seem to pass through a central station that is about 15 minutes walk from Fushun CNR down a road opposite that station. Other activity on this system is harder to find. It was fairly astonishing that a number of trains we saw were still in the hands of Japenese electrics now approaching 70 years of age. The only SY's identifiable (others were lurking in the hole) were 1452 in steam at Pingsanjie depot and 0715 dead at a depot to the West of the hole. At both places are numerous stored electrics.

From here we made a road journey to Benxi

27th November

We spent the morning at Benxi steelworks. This remains steamy although there were more diesels in evidence than on previous visits. Fireless 5, PL2 50 and XK 28 have now been moved into a shed. SY seen here (all in steam unless indicated) Benxi Number series - 702 (OOU), 705, 711, 712, 713, 716, 717, 718, 720, 721, 722, 723, 729 (stationary boiler), 730, 733, 734, 735, 736. There was also plenty of electric action .

Here we met up with the S & S group for a road journey to Tongliao. We stopped off at Zhangwu en route. My last visit there was only 2 years before when the shed had plenty of QJ's on but no more. Astonishingly, however, when we arrived in the yard was Ji Tong QJ 7048 very much in steam albeit behind a DF4 and pointing South.

The road beyond Zhangwu is crossed by 3 NG sand railways at KM 481.5, 513 and 526. I suspect that there are other such lines in the vicinity.

And so to The Tongliao Hotel whose shop rejoices in the name of The Detriment Centre.

28th November - December 6th

Time was spent on the Ji Tong line progressing from Zhelimu in stages Westwards to Reshui. No sign was seen of the impending diesels although I understand that they have now appeared. At Zhelimu QJ 6576 was ready to go to works and at Daban 6735 had just returned from works. No real changes to report otherwise

7th December

Having taken the DMU we pitched up in Hohhot for a road journey to Zhungeer. About 50 Kms South of Hohhot is a large power station and here was a DF4 on coal wagons. The line to this power station is not shown on Quail and I have no idea whether it comes off the Zhungeer line or from Hohhot. We were at Zhungeer until 10th December and had a good opportunity to assess the current situation with the poles. Most of the line is now poled but ommissions are viaducts, difficult embankments and cuttings, some passing loops (where they are being extended) and 4/5 Kms in the vicinity of Fuxincheng. The latter was a blessing because the area is scenic and there are 4 eminently photographable viaducts there. Fuxincheng is a water stop half way up a bank so loaded trains work hard up to it and hard away from it. Easy to get at it isn't. There seems to be no decent road or perhaps none at all. We got at it by climbing down to the line at tunnel 2 and walking. The 2 viaducts at Haizita are pole free as is a short area around Shagedu (reasonable for empties) but most shots hereabouts are ruined by poles on the wrong side. The shed was visited just after dawn when snow had fallen and was excellent. Traffic was pretty busy. The pattern seemed to be empties out with an overlong train (too long for the loops) followed by 2 sets of light engines with more empties following and 4 in bound loaded trains. These seem to run at about hourly intervals but can be morning or afternoon. Clearly it's very much as and when. We saw no poling work going on and the team who were supposed to be working on extending Shagedu loop were not active. Officials indicated that they expect electrics to start running in October 2004. Everyone we met on this line was very friendly.

We saw all the lines QJ's in steam : 6555, 6563, 6565,6573, 6613, 6759, 6827, 6907, 6944, 6946, 6995, 7054, 7058, 7067.

10th December

After a morning at Zhungeer we drove to Baotou via Dongsheng. Too much to resist a look at Dongsheng shed. Here there have been many changes. No sign that steam ever existed.

11th December

Baotou Steelworks. Still as steamy as ever although the locos are not in as good as condition as previously. The stored tank engines are still present . The YJ's have ceased running. 232 was dead at the shed but 115 was in a scrap yard near the exchange sidings. JS 58001 was dumped at the shed and 58002 at the scrap yard. Many diesels are out of action here although there appeared to be a few more duties that were diesel that used to be steam. SY seen - all in steam unless indicated :264(sic), 0392, 0422(OOU), 0501, 0502, 0710, 0823, 0824, 1293, 1431, 1517, 1521, 1696 (works), 1697, 1719, 1723(works), 1727, 1731, 1743, 1748 (works), 2015.

We ventured out to the slag tipping area and were rewarded with a slag train. This area is now alive with the most basic of home made furnaces with slag being reduced again to make pig iron. It is all desperately dangerous and definitely out of the 18th century.

From Baoutou we took the overnight train to Beijing and eventually back to the UK.

Rob Dickinson