The International Steam Pages
The Weihe Forestry Railway, January 2000
My initial plans had been to go first to JingPeng to see in New Year 2000, but eventually hoped-for companions for the second half of the trip evaporated and at Ameling Algra's suggestion we decided to go instead to Weihe for the festivities and I would then work my way round to Inner Mongolia after he went home. We were extremely grateful for previous reports from John Raby and Duncan Cotterill which got us off to a flying start here. Overall, this system is simply one of the best I have ever seen anywhere and the accessibility of its operation should make it an absolutely essential element of the future itinerary of any visitor to China looking for high quality steam. But do allow enough time as operation varies enormously in intensity - I spent 13 happy days here chasing steam when it ran and the sun shone and earning a living the rest of the time. After Weihe, I visited other steam lines, click here for the Tiefa Coal Mining Administration or Fuxin area steam. I have visited Weihe on three other occasions - click here for reports from January 2001, March 2002 and February 2003.
Owing to space limitations on my server, the images from this report have been removed (15th June 2004).
Trevor Mexted reports on his visit to Weihe with Mark Lanham (28th February to 3rd March 2000).
"The following is what occurred during our stay. Apart from the first and last days (both of which were affected by heavy snow and then rapid thaw respectively) all days saw 3-4 loaded trains during daylight. The passenger train ran 100% and all locos that you saw were in traffic, though 053 was only put back into service on our last day. At the depot is a six wheel tender body, could this be the tender from the missing 032? Also present was the cab ends of an old railcar being used to protect machinery. On one occasion we noted a school railcar service, 0615 (approx.) XinLi to Weihe, staff said this service ran M-F only. On four days during our stay the morning northbound pass passed outbound empties at XinLi at 0655, and this is a super little area for phots. At Chonghe the staff stated that most loaded trains from that end of the line ran in mid-winter and indeed the train log showed very few workings to that area-it seems most were originating at Dongsheng and north thereof. The weather during our stay was a bit of a problem with too much snow to start with and then too warm with a thaw by the Thursday creating a lot of mist in the valley. Sunrise was 0625, sunset 1655. A very interesting system though we both thought it a tad over rated and needs a lot of time to secure good shots (we both thought you did exceedingly well on your visit)."
Geography - with grateful acknowledgement to Duncan Cotterill and John Raby
The stations along the line are:
Day by Day Report
I arrived in China on December 30th, Ameling had arrived in Bejing a day earlier which allowed him time to buy two hard class sleeper tickets on train 465 which left Beijing at 16.20 and deposited us at Weihe station at 13.30 on New Year's Eve. We were in two three-wheelers before the train left and arrived at the hotel a few minutes later. Checking in is much easier with the new style Visas! 'The Guest House of Weihe District Forestry Department' passed Ameling's acceptability test - it had western style toilets which so impressed him that he used ours five times in the first 12 hours and also broke his 24 hour fast. It also passed mine because it cost just Y136 a night for a room (half the price we were forced to pay in Yabuli four years ago), the restaurants in town had sensible prices and I thought the beer to be of first class quality. The rooms were good if a little underheated, the hot water came at 20.00 (plus time to warm the pipes) and the staff were keen, enthusiastic and friendly.
We were at Keyunzhan station just after 14.00, ominously quiet but the tracks were well used. The shed produced just 054 in steam inside, of the rest of the fleet there was no sign. We had heard stories of the passenger train being diesel in the summer and there was a rake of coaches in the yard....
We wandered down to Weihe station where we found small tendered 031 shunting (I suspect this was the unnumbered loco Duncan Cotterill saw). The staff told us that a log train was on the way and almost immediately 034 arrived at 15.00 just as the light was fading. Shortly afterwards 033 rolled in at 15.30 with the well loaded passenger train (made up of three coaches and a van). I took my last (short) steam ride of the millennium back to Keyunzhan station and anticipation was high for the following day. The train register showed the following southbound trains since 18.00 the previous day:
Not quite as straightforward as it seems, 033 has two entries, from what I saw later, the southbound register includes trips to the log yard/wood factory to collect empties for the station departure sidings. The second entry will have been the passenger train. I have not included the northbound details as loco numbers are not included in this register. Hence there were eight locos active here some of which carry local plates SW - 210xx where xx represents the last 2 digits. Southbound trains are given odd numbers in the register, northbound even. The daytime passenger trains are 201/202, the overnight ones 211/212. A wide variety of other numbers are used, I guess these relate to the destinations although I think the 7xx series is reserved for the railbus and other such vehicles.
January 1st 2000
The passenger train timetable on the wall in the station office at Weihe shows the following times for the ends of the line and corresponding times for the major intermediate stations:
We soon discovered that only the Weihe times were of any value. 033 arrived at the Weihe station just after 07.30 before the sun had risen over the hills on what was possibly the first real steam narrow gauge passenger train of the millennium (this is getting boring, I must stop or I will lose my readers). I rode down to Keyunzhan station where 031 was ready to back on to the stock. There was time for the obligatory glint shots before I boarded the train and set off for Liushan. Custom was brisk, the fare all the way was a startling Y4.50 (U$0.60). We passed a northbound log train at Xiping - I failed to record the number as I was heading for the loco to ride on the cab over the hill to the brief water stop at Pinglin. By 08.45 we were at Shuangfeng, where 034 was in the loop. 031 cut off its train and we had just enough time to scramble back up the track before the the two locos took off up the hill in clouds of steam.
031 rejoined its train and from here on the published schedule became more and more fictional, despite very smart operation which included forbidding me to get out to take photographs at the smaller stations with short stops. More water was taken at Dongfeng (where a paper cow performed a run past) and the line then started to swing east (there were soon two branches west, one just a short line to a log yard). By the time we got to Quingshan, the valley was wider, most of the passengers were leaving the train and there was a good road again. It followed us to Chonghe, with another road cutting north (to Dongfeng as we discovered later). After Chonghe (another brief water stop) there seemed to be a road south which went to another rail served log yard (from which steam was seen rising). After this there were only tracks and three brief halts before Yulin (69km - all the other stones were buried in the snow) which had another branch at the east end and a large triangle at the west end. I lost Ameling here (duff gen about the length of stay), as I reboarded for the last 2-3km to the small village of Liushan where we finally arrived at 11.50. On the way up, there were 2 further branches north and south. On arrival, the loco rapidly ran around the train and immediately headed back for Yulin where it reversed by running around the triangle. The return journey passed in similar style - we had transferred to the coach nearest the loco and were surcharged Y1.00 each for soft class covers and superior heating! We saw another loco on the triangle at Chonghe which also led to a log yard and another on one of the spurs near Dongfeng. We saw 055 on empties at Shuangfeng at 13.45 (it had left Weihe at 11.40) and 035 similarly at Xiping at 14.30 (it had left Weihe at 12.25). The schedule finally caught up with us as we again rolled into Weihe on time where 034 was shunting the log yard. One of the locos we had seen in the distance would have been 033 which had left Weihe on empties just after us at 08.25. One other issue - from the train we saw no trace of the reported Xinan branch at Zhenzhu.
Clearly this system was bursting with activity, but it was by no means apparent how we could make the best of photographic opportunities.... At least we had plenty of time to try! If you visit, try to make time for riding the passenger train, not particularly rewarding photographically but probably an experience without parallel elsewhere in the world today (contradictions gratefully received), you will also be able to check out potential photospots.
January 2nd 2000
We had planned to take a bus to Pinglin for the photospots around there. However, overnight the temperature rose more than 10º as a brisk south-east breeze struck up which brought total cloud cover and more than a hint of snow. We got only half way to Weihe station before I decided it was a day to earn some money working; the most important thing we discovered was that there were early morning buses south. Ameling spent part of the day at the station, in addition to the steam passenger, there was a railbus working (almost certainly only for the railway staff as it returned attached to the back of the passenger train). Ameling noted empties out at 08.30 and 10.00 and a fulls arrival at 09.30. The workings to and from the log yard were quite photogenic. In the afternoon, the steam passenger did not return at the usual time, the next day the train register showed it was an hour late. It may well have been suffering from its Y2K bug, all the paper tickets being preprinted with a date element which included "199_" which were being manually overwritten by train staff.
January 3rd 2000
A day made in heaven. Overnight the snow had cleared leaving a covering which was deep and crisp and (as I discovered later) distinctly uneven and, more importantly, a clear sky. By 06.45 we had finished breakfast (pot noodle as usual for me of course) and by 07.00 we were on a bus heading south. We had to get off at Zhenzhu as the bus was actually going south-east to Xinan. Ameling was delighted as it allowed him to video the arrival and departure of 055 on the northbound passenger train although it was too early for serious still photography. A few minutes later another bus appeared. With a minor diversion off the main road via Xiping station we got out north of Pinglin at 08.00 and headed for the line. Almost immediately there was a whistle as 031 arrived below in the station. After the railbus went south, the train stormed up the bank unassisted - a magnificent spectacle. Ameling took himself off towards the station while I headed into the birch woods. At 09.20, 055 came through on the passenger and I was able to ease myself out of the tree in which I spent the previous half hour. I waited in vain for a possible southbound empties which had run immediately after for the previous two days, but eventually returned to a position on the northbound climb. Just after 11.00, I heard a whistle from the station and almost immediately afterwards, 033 rolled past on some empties from behind me. I expected it to be used for banking, but in the event 054 came up on its own at 11.20 with ten fulls, not surprisingly speed was not high!
Prospects for immediate further action were not good, so I walked north over the hill, confirming that there were very few good photo positions on the climb from Xiping. I paused for a picnic lunch and enjoyed a beer which was cold even by Australian standards - I had difficulty getting the last of it out of the bottle. The station staff there made me welcome in their warm office and it was easy to walk down the line for a departure shot at 13.00 when 031 came through with more empties. Northbound trains here are unphotographable in the early afternoon so I jumped on a passing bus and headed back to Weihe. 054 was down at Weihe station collecting empties, and when it returned I walked down the track to photograph it from the bypass bridge as it left at 14.20.
So concluded one of the best days I have yet to spend on the Chinese narrow gauge. Ameling followed a slightly different path and saw a loaded train and a further set of empties at Zhenzhu at about 15.30 - the system was short of cabooses so the empties pinched the one off the loaded train!
I am not at all sure that having a taxi would have produced more or better photos; apart from the initial section near Weihe, road and railway are not close enough for chasing and the intensity of the operation is just right for walking from one photo spot to another. As we were later to discover though, a taxi is essential to explore the southern part of the system.
January 4th 2000
Once again the morning dawned cloudless and we headed south. At Weihe we saw 055 on a single wagon with sleepers and rails and another loco shunting. At Zhenzhu 033 appeared on the passenger and waited for 055 on its way south. My plan was to explore the area south of Pinglin, particularly to see the loading point north of Shuangfeng and photograph trains near there. I got off the bus north of Pinglin, I could see a loco (or more correctly its vapour) in the station, but it turned out it was going south. I walked to the station and on south to the summit and the loading point which took just over an hour. The climb would have been useless for photography but, as Duncan said, the summit cutting around midday would have been photogenic for southbound workings. It was too early so I chose the loading point to photograph the passenger train. It never showed up and instead I watched sleds of logs arriving pulled by horses and oxen and also the inevitable 3-wheeler in action. Actual loading involved a winch and spar as used in the main log yards - in my four hours here they filled three wagons. I saw a lot more loading than I had intended as there was just one train of empties with 035 at 11.20 during my stay here. At 14.00 I gave up so as to be sure of getting back to base and had to dive for the snow bank 500m before Pinglin station when 030 appeared on fulls. There was just enough time to photograph it in the station before jumping aboard the loco for the ride back to Weihe. Again we had 10 wagons on and the climb was no problem. We ran non-stop through all the intermediate stations before dropping off 2 wagons at the wood factory south of Weihe. By now the loco was not in the best of shape, the injectors required heavy treatment and there was an ominous knock from the front end. At Weihe, we saw only 033 leaving on the afternoon passenger. Ameling was told at Zhenzhu that there had been a collision/derailment which had disrupted operation. Fortunately there was sufficient recovery time in our schedule to cope with this and it was not a totally wasted day as I had some nice shots of the loading. By now the staff at the Guest House had become accustomed to our antics.
January 5th 2000
Today's plan was to hire a small microbus to follow the passenger train south beyond Dongfeng. In the event, the passenger train was cancelled again, but by then Ameling had arranged a microbus from outside the station at Zhenzhu for Y150. The driver was excellent (L30818), he even stopped to find a lady who could translate for us - unfortunately her second language was Russian! The road over the hill from Pinglin which had caused Duncan's party problems in March was now no better or no worse than any other snow covered road in China and after passing Dongfeng we soon reached Chonghe - we were less under threat from the road conditions than the microbus's electricals which burst into fire at one stage. Here we found 053 on a set of fulls and I just had time to make it across the bridge at the west end of the station to grab a shot of it leaving at 10.20. The station staff had clearly seen gricers before and directed us towards Yulin where we found 035 on the way in with another train. We turfed out two hitchikers and turned the microbus but could not catch the train again. The track was poor, there were odd horse carts and we had to stop to clear two logs which had dropped off the train blocking our way. Now we did have time to compose the leaving shot (11.30). We made no attempt to chase but returned over the hill to Dongfeng where 053 was nearly ready to depart. It left at 12.30, I photographed it with sky high exhaust in the open area north-east of the station. The station shop supplied beer of a more normal temperature to go with my lunch before 035 rolled in. It left at 14.00, just after 033 arrived from the north with a caboose to clear the excess loaded wagons which had been decanted into the siding here. 035 proved rather less sure footed than 053 making for interesting sound effects on Ameling's video. The light now failed as the sun sank into the mist so we headed for home, knowing also that the microbus no longer had any lights.... The microbus driver declined to take up our offer of another day's hire.
January 6th 2000
Perhaps he had seen the weather forecast. Suffice to say it snowed again, this time with sufficient force to disrupt not just photography but the operation of the railway too. The previous day's overnight passenger train did not operate, but the daytime passenger did. When the snow stopped in the afternoon I went down to Weihe station where the register showed that several trains of empties had left but only one full train had returned. 053 was shunting the yard and eventually 054 left at 15.00 with more empties and (ominously) the breakdown crane and sets of replacement bogies. I went down to the loco shed to have a better look around. 031 was under minor repair but all the other locos were out. I talked to the staff who confirmed that the total roster was the eight locomotives seen and and also said that Yabuli was finished. I could see no sign of the remains of any other steam locomotives on site, although there were two small sheds which were locked and inaccessible, one of which I suspect normally housed the breakdown crane as one track had recently been used. After a week in residence, some of the hotel staff now had sufficient confidence to talk to us in English.
January 7th 2000
Although the sky cleared during the night, by morning it was windy with a thin cloud cover with no more than a milky sun visible all day. Neither passenger train ran (what does this say about its future prospects?) and again I spent the day working. Ameling left to return to Beijing.
January 8th 2000
I had confidently predicted an improvement in the weather now Ameling had gone, but it started grey and windy and so I got down to work. By 07.30 there were ever increasing patches of blue sky, so I hastily shut down the computer and headed for the station. The passenger train was again cancelled, but a train of empties was due out shortly. Although the windy conditions had kept much traffic off the road and no doubt had made sections dangerous with snow drifts, I soon got a bus to Zhenzhu and waited for the train at the bridge before the station. It took longer than anticipated, but 033 and 031 together made a fine sight at 10.15 - the wind was blowing straight down the track fortunately. At Zhenzhu, I warmed up in the station until another train was approaching. This time I caught 054 just south of there at 11.05. I decided to walk back to Weihe to check out the possibilities en route. Just after the oil terminal I spotted 055 shunting empties at the wood factory and almost immediately 053 arrived on a loaded train which the wind made unphotographable. I rode back on one of 055's wagons and then I was able to watch 055 shunt the fulls of the previous train in two parts to either end of the log yard. It then appeared about to depart south on empties so I grabbed another bus back to the oil terminal. Suffice to say I was rather cold by the time it finally appeared at 14.20 but it did look good. I walked back to Weihe to warm up and I had mixed feelings when I was told a loaded train was approaching. 034 arrived at 15.20 in the last rays of the day's sun and by now 030 had turned up to act as pilot. I had seen seven out of eight locos at work and the system seemed to be getting back to full operational state again.
January 9th 2000
Ameling was well away by now, so it dawned sunny, the wind had dropped and best of all the passenger train was running (but now with just two coaches and a van). I went to Zhenzhu where the station staff fixed a microbus for me. Road conditions were said to be poor, Yulin and Liushan could not be reached and the cost was now Y200. I took it back towards Weihe and photographed the passenger train with 054 near the oil terminal at 08.20 and again as it left Zhenzhu. Almost immediately we ran into the day's main problem, an area of drifted snow in an open area which had become rutted leaving a high, hard ridge of compacted snow. A VW car was grounded blocking the road, we passed over our spade but not for long as I spotted a double headed log train approaching! We flew back to Zhenzhu where the train was stopped suggesting a crossing. Sure enough, 035 brought out some empties before 033 and 055 proceeded. I definitely didn't get this right, by the time they reached the open area, they were up to line speed and coasting. Heading south again, we soon saw the risks of road travel when a bus in front misjudged a crossing manoeuvre and ploughed into a snow filled ditch. At the third snow drift we had amassed so much snow beneath us that we ground to a halt. Pushing didn't help and we were towed out by a truck. It was soon clear that our front end was in trouble and at Xiping examination showed that the vehicle's tracking was way out. That would normally have been the end of the day, but my pet hate the mobile telephone was put to good use and by 11.20 another microbus had appeared.
By now the passenger train was far out of reach, the question was when could I intercept the return working? The hills were no problem but there were another couple of large snowdrifts which required much digging and pushing. There was also the small matter of 1000 eggs to deliver too and when we eventually got to Chonghe at 12.40, the return passenger was in the station ready to depart. At least this meant I could photograph the departure on the bridge nearby - despite the railings, the hills behind make this probably the most attractive spot on the southern section. Getting back into the microbus, I grabbed a couple more shots en route to Qingshan, but local reports of giant snowdrifts eventually made us turn back. We shot over the hill to Dongfeng where 034 rolled in on empties before the passenger left at 14.00. I grabbed another shot at the level crossing near Shuangfeng, but I doubt anyone will ever see it as the camera was covered in snow after I went head first scrambling out of the microbus. I saw the train again at Pinglin, before joining it at Zhenzhu for the last stage of its journey. The station log there showed no less than six trains of empties since 08.00.... There were a couple of Japanese enthusiasts out today as well, they were in a 4wD Beijing Jeep. They certainly didn't have the problems I did, but I am not sure the few extra pictures they would have got would have justified the expense for me on my own. Fortunately our choice of photospot neither coincided nor conflicted but I guess I knew the line better than they did.
Our regular dinner spot was in a small restaurant on the right 50 yards down the road towards the narrow gauge passenger station - now I was on my own I would go into the kitchen, point and they would produce two (medium sized) dishes which with a bottle of beer would cost an extortionate Y10. The large restaurant in the main street produced food of similar quality but charged about 50% more.
January 10th 2000
There was a dusting of snow overnight but the day dawned clear and the passenger train was running again. I had specific photographic targets in mind and caught a bus to the climb out of Pinglin where I arrived just after 08.00. Again there was no early morning loaded train, so I walked to the summit and photographed 054 on the passenger train at 09.10. I wanted to photograph a southbound train in the summit cutting (even though I knew it is actually south of the summit and trains would be coasting). In midwinter, there is a narrow window of opportunity to do this between 10.30 and about 12.00. At 10.15 there was much whistling in Pinglin and then 035 appeared at the front of no less than 14 fulls, banked by 034. (Where this had come from I do not know, I suspect it had banked the train all the way from Dongfeng.) Even after 10 days on the line I was impressed. The spectacle was as good as you can get on a logging line in China. 034 dropped off the train at the summit and ran back down to Pinglin. I waded through the snow and camped out at the summit cutting until 055 came through with empties at 11.30.
By now the slight haze was giving way to thin cloud and the wind was picking up. I hitched a lift on a timber truck back to Zhenzhu where things were so busy that one of the station staff was asleep across the top of the train register. Eventually, a 14.00 loaded train was announced and I started off down the road towards Weihe to get into position. However, the light now was well down and when my previous day's driver stopped to offer me a lift to town, I had no hesitation in returning to base and parking my cameras. I had achieved my day's targets.
January 11th 2000
It was another beautiful day and the passenger train was running (sorry Ameling!). For my last full day here, I chartered the same minibus at Zhenzhu that I had used on January 9th (L31157 - the family live in the shop opposite the Xinan turning). I photographed 033 on the passenger on the bridge just outside Zhenzhu and headed on to Xiping. Here it crossed 053 on fulls. After 033 had left, 053 added the eight fulls parked in the siding to its own eight and then headed out with the heaviest train I had seen on the line. Even though it is downhill virtually all of the way to Weihe, the departure was another splendid sight.
053 leaves Xiping, 11th January 2000
I now wanted to head straight for Qingshan. The road conditions were almost back to 'normal', but we lost more than twenty minutes when a broken down bus blocked the single track road. As a result we had to go straight to Chonghe instead to locate 033; in fact we would have been able to intercept it as had not yet arrived but was on its way. Instead we headed towards Yulin where I found the track in better condition than I had expected and we waited for the passenger. With 3 stops between Chonghe and Yulin, I had hoped for several photos, but in fact the train ran almost as fast as we did and we were frustrated by a couple of places where road traffic was temporarily using the railway track - as I have frequently done on the Java sugar lines - and we had to wait to let the train go first! So no turkey shoot, but I got a nice shot passing one of the log yards and we were into Yulin in time to get the departure for Liushan, the train was running about 20 minutes later than when we rode it on January 1st.
The return to Chonghe is downhill all the way and the departure shots from stops difficult, so I contented myself with a single anonymous spot. We then headed towards Qingshan, where in the short time available I found the most pleasant spot to be coming through the birch woods towards the level crossing. The road on was now pronounced passable and we headed for Qingshan station. It is relatively inaccessible in the north west corner of the village off the main road and I expected 033 to have left. In fact, it was waiting for 035 with some empties so I had plenty of time to get into position for both trains. Any thought I might have of chasing 035 was removed when it left at great speed. By now it was well after 14.00 and we were over an hour from Zhenzhu. The tricky driving conditions were underlined by the sight of a Beijing Jeep upside down in a ditch and our next sighting of the passenger train was after leaving Xiping. I took the train back to town, reasonably satisfied with eleven shots, nine of them in locations I had not used before.
January 12th 2000
It was time to move on and I had planned to spend the morning on the lineside in the Weihe area. In the event, after four very sunny days, the sun struggled to break through some low cloud and I spent the day working. During a break, I wandered down to Keyunzhan to take a few shots of the infrastructure there. The passenger train had not run again, significantly both 030 and 033 were in the shed receiving attention and no doubt there was no power available. I caught train 452 at 19.03 south to Tieling near Shenyang for the Daqing Coal Company at Tiefa, I had thought that because it was not going to Beijing it would be relatively uncrowded. I was wrong....