The International Steam Pages

Steam in China, February 2004

These notes relate to Roy Laverick's visit between 15th February and 4th March 2004.

International travel was by Lufthansa, who are probably the cheapest reputable carrier at the moment. Other steam enthusiasts were present on our flight in both directions, a measure of how important the rail enthusiast market must currently be to the Chinese tourist industry.

On arrival in Beijing we immediately caught a flight northwards to Shenyang and thence travelled by chartered bus to Daobingshan, arriving late afternoon.

The Tiefa System

We spent two days here and enjoyed our visit. Nowadays it seems to be fashionable to knock this location at the expense of Nanpiao, but in defence of the former I would draw attention to:

  • The total absence of diesels
  • The clean locos
  • The scope for dawn shots during the busy spell at Daobingshan station
  • The hilly landscape of the Faku line (do most visitors make it to the hill-top coal production monument, which provides an unusual scenic backdrop?)
  • The succession of lunchtime passenger and freight trains working up the bank into Daobingshan Station, when the sun is in just the right position.
  • The scope for dusk shots at the Daqing servicing point.

JiTong Line, eastern end 

From Daobingshan we undertook the half-day drive to Tongliao and thence Lindong for two nights (18th, 19th February). 

The Jing Peng Pass

We spent five days at the Post Office Hotel, Reshui (20th-24th February). I was amazed at the welter of building activity in the village, including three large hotels, built closer to the railway line than the Post Office, and partially blocking the view from the latter. One of these hotels is now completed and we would probably have opted to stay there had we realised the current situation when preparing the trip. 

Whilst at Reshui we were informed that it had not proved possible to obtain our expected tickets for the overnight diesel train to Hohhot, and that we would have to proceed via Chifeng, Beijing and Datong, effectively wasting a day.

The Zhu Dong Coal Railway

Our visit to the Zhu Dong line was limited to a single day (27th February) because of the problem detailed above. Our guide, however, knew the unbelievably devious route by road to the Fuxincheng water halt, so we were able to hit the ground running. There was plenty of traffic, with trains each way every 90 minutes or so, although in the southbound direction these often proved to be light engines. Around Fuxincheng there are several good photo locations and no sign of posts or wires, although we did not see any trains working really hard, and a spell of warm weather meant that steam effects were virtually absent.


Tongchuan was visited for 2 ½ days, arriving on 29th February 2004.

The following JFs were observed:

Number; Status; Comments
2113 In steam and working; Freshly painted.
2182 In steam and working; Present at stabling point on 1st, but not seen anywhere on the following day. Possibly it had been employed to tow 2365 to Meijiaping.
2361 In steam and working; This loco has not been referred to in previous reports.
2365 Out of use; Extraordinarily, this OOU loco, which features in innumerable reports, was present on the 1st but had disappeared by the morning of the following day!
2368 In steam and working 
2369 In light steam 

All locos were facing northwards (at Tongchuan Nan).

We were told by several staff that steam is now only employed on Wangshiwa colliery traffic. A visit to Hongtou pit revealed no steam, and a DF7 shunting wagons. We were also told that there are usually about four return workings per 24-hour period to Wangshiwa, although essentially everything is run on an “as required” basis. DF7 diesels are used in preference to steam (even on trips to Wangshiwa), so steam workings are infrequent and unpredictable.
Notwithstanding the unexpectedly large number of locos in steam, we found that Tongchuan was a frustrating location. The line is photogenic (having both urban and rustic photographic locations), and the light was good in the mornings, although there was an increasing build up of industrial clag as the day wore on.

On both days the morning pattern of working was three DF7-hauled trains of empties up the hill at about 45-minute intervals from 09.30 onwards. These were followed by JF 2113, looking immaculate in its new coat of paint. The big snag was that on both days it was running light engine!

There then followed a further succession of DF7 trains in both directions, and 2113 returned from Wangshiwa with wagons (tender first, and downhill) at about 14.00. On both days, hardly had 2113 returned to Tongchuan Nan, than 2368 set off for Wangshiwa with a train of empty wagons. A filthy loco, and poor light conditions, but I suppose we were thankful for small mercies: I understand that one recent group spent three days here and did not see any uphill, steam trains conveying wagons. 

From the ancient JFs we moved on to the even older terra cotta warriors at Xian, and then caught T232 back to Beijing in readiness for our Lufthansa return flight. T232 proved to be well over an hour late, involving us in a nail-biting taxi journey across the city in the middle of the rush hour. Chinese driving triumphed, however, and we duly caught our flight.

Rob Dickinson