The International Steam Pages

Steam in Northern China, January 2001

I have been back in China again with Peter Nash, bashing the minor lines which have had increasing attention from mainstream (="QJ/JS rule, OK") enthusiasts. For Weihe, I was 'on holiday' and I made no attempt to record loco numbers and have provided only an outline report, see my January 2000 report for full information including maps. For Shuangyashan we owe a debt of gratitude to Ted Talbot and Nicholas Pertwee for their pioneering trip in November 1999. Click here for the continuation of this report which covers the Hegang Mining Railway. I have visited Weihe on three other occasions - click here for reports from January 2000, March 2002 and February 2003.

Owing to space limitations on my server, the images from this report have been removed (15th June 2004). 

Weihe (December 30th 2000 to January 5th 2001)

I arrived in Beijing punctually unlike Peter Nash who suffered from Air France's computer failure. There were no seats available on the daily direct Mudanjiang train, so I had to sit up all night to Harbin and then take the new 08.00 T 409 "high speed train" to Yabuli. "Weihe" I said to the bus conductress who pushed me on board and then took me to Yabuli's ski resort. (24 hours later Peter suffered the same fate - he also discovered that there is a 0 star hotel in Weihe, but we rescued him in time.) It didn't take too long to put right with a couple more buses and I checked into the Forestry Lodge where the 'en suite' facilities had been block booked by the Japanese and the hot water was totally committed for heating as opposed to washing. It was snowing, but a quick visit to the shed showed only 21-033 under repair and all other locos out on the line. Two days later 21-033 was back in action. We were not alone, there were variously five other British visitors, two Australians, four Swiss and up to a dozen Japanese. We saw only seven locos, 21-033/34/35/53/54/55 and one unnumbered with a short tender which was probably 21-031 on the basis of last year's observations. Compared to then, operation was very smart, although the locos seemed to be less so, with the daytime passenger running every day except one. Several double headers were seen, it seemed that empties tended to go out during the day with fulls returning from the early afternoon, spilling into the next morning. Ominously, a Chinese guide I spoke to said that the system was having trouble paying the wages of the workers (railway and logging) - the future here does not look good. Get here soon!

December 31st

A day of rather mediocre weather with the sun threatening to break through occasionally. Full trains arrived in Weihe at 08.00, 09.00 and 17.00 (the second was double headed). Empties went out at about 10.00 and 12.00 (the latter double headed). The daytime passenger was cancelled as the incoming working did not arrive until 10.00. It was cold, a lunchtime bottle of beer taken to the lineside was frozen before it was finished.

January 1st

The weather promised much with a clear sky and temperature which must have been of the order of -40C (or F they are the same). A double headed (tender to tender) log train pulled in Zhenzhu at 08.00. Here it crossed a one-coach passenger train which was run out to Xinli to connect with the incoming train - the locos then exchanged stock (this has been reported before). We photographed it at Xiping and again between Qinshan and Chonghe - the roads were simply too dangerous to chase conventionally. We adjourned for a full lunch of kebabs and dumplings at Chonghe, the highlight of which was Tim Murray ordering what turned to be chicken heads... A train of empties arrived while we were eating and the sun vanished. The loco turned and serviced the log yard and was then ready to take the rest of the empties further east. We photographed the passenger leaving and found it again at Dongfeng. The light had now failed completely and I rode it back. We passed three sets of empties on the way at Shuangfeng, Pinglin and Xiping. Disappointing for a day which had started so well.

January 2nd

It was a sunny day, but with a very slight haze and a wind which rose to biting level by early afternoon. We saw the passenger train coming in from Zhenzhu at 07.15 (a good sign) and headed straight on south. As Pinglin station came into view we could see two plumes of steam. Just a few minutes later, we were treated to the magnificent sight of a full train charging up the bank in early morning sunshine (the other plume was empties going south). We walked down to the station and, in what seemed like no time at all, the passenger arrived, followed closely by a set of empties. Unfortunately, that was followed by a long break in activity. We planned to go south to Dongfeng, but we were frustrated by a lorry which had failed on the extremely icy hill. We turned around and caught a set of empties at Xiping at 13.30. After a delayed lunch we headed back to Zhenzhu where our arrival at 15.00 coincided with the next set of empties going out - Peter got two shots as the train stopped just beyond him to unload a desk. The passenger apparently returned on time and one of of the Swiss was very grateful for my donation of a secondhand pair of inner gloves. 

January 3rd

Once again, the weather promised much but delivered little, a bright start turned overcast and despite a brief clearance around 10.30, it finished gloomy. Again, an early morning train of empties was found at Pinglin around 08.00 but this time there were a number of fulls left in the loops. So when a full train arrived shortly after, it was made up to 14 fulls with caboose and a push and pull convoy went up the bank just after 09.00. Spectacular, but hardly photogenic as the combination of low temperatures and steam leaks made it almost impossible to see either locomotive. After the passenger train went through around 09.30, we defrosted in the station and went over the hill to Dongfeng. The loco off the empties was shunting the log yard to the south, and a further set of 12 fulls arrived around 12.30. Meanwhile more empties came in at about 12.15. The full train was too long for the climb so part of it was decanted. Departure was at about 13.30, delayed by a further train of empties. By this point the light was dire so we went back to Weihe.

January 4th

At long last we had a beautifully sunny day which matched those I had experienced for half my stay in 2000. The railway was operating normally, which meant that the last overnight fulls were into Weihe by 07.30. We waited at Xiping for the passenger which arrived on time behind 21-055, looking quite nice as it passed by the wooden road bridge before the station. We shot over the hills to Dongfeng where we found a train of 14 fulls with 21-034 + 21-054 ready to depart but waiting for the passenger. After the crossing it set off at 11.00 up the climb and 'photogenic' does not do justice to the sight, it was simply superb and, alas, none of us was using video to record the sound. Unfortunately, both locos sprung leaks later and the approach to Shuangfeng was wreathed in steam. Here, 21-034 was moved to the back to bank the final ascent and afterwards it returned to Dongfeng where it took another load of fulls out at 12.30. An hour later, the passenger returned and 21-035 rolled in with empties. It turned on the triangle and took empties down to the log yard a couple of kilometres west (easily accessible by road) - this must be the best place in China to see a steam loco in such an environment. By now it was 15.00, so we had to leave for Weihe to get over the hills before dark. 

January 5th

It was another beautiful day, but there were operational problems. There was a derailment on the southern section overnight which delayed the passenger train which did not arrive until 09.00 - the daytime passenger was cancelled. Then there was a collision between a train and a truck in Weihe. Consequently, empties went out at 08.30 and then not again until 14.30. Fulls came in at 07.30, 12.00 and 14.00. It was time to move on....

Shuangyashan (January 6th to 8th 2001)

We met two groups on the lineside at Weihe who had just come from here - they found it very busy and attractive. However, they reported one of the diesels was at work - but the railway could not really afford to buy fuel for it. We took tourist train 410 to Harbin from Yabuli and had no trouble getting a hard sleeper on with train T437. We stayed initially in the overpriced and overheated main hotel and moved to the good value hotel (68Y each with full facilities) next to the bus station in front of the CNR station. We saw mainly QJs at work and very little of the reported SYs, most of which we did not even get to see. 

January 6th

In fair morning light, there were 4 QJs (3598, 6808, 7020, 7029) and 1 SY (1045) in steam at the CNR station and a further SY (1046) dumped in a yard behind at 09.30. We took a bus out to beyond Changan and saw QJ 3135 + ?? arrive on a coal train from Fushan at 11.30. There were coal empties towards Baoshan at 12.00 (3598) and 12.30 (7029) followed by the 12.40 passenger (QJ 6897 - not previously recorded). Almost immediately a freight went up the Fushan line (QJ ??) and we then photographed the 13.40 passenger at Dongjing (QJ 6805). We were frozen in the biting wind and the light was failing so we got a bus back to town. 7020 was reported 'ex-works' by visitors a week earlier and facing inwards to Shuangyashan - it had now been turned to face the same way as the other locos.

January 7th

The light was mediocre and we finally got a note from a British group who had left just before we arrived stating they had spent two days in such conditions and had given up and left for Baotou. We resolved to ride the passenger train to Shuangxing. This left us with an hour or two to kill so we rode 6806 light engine between the two stations. Our ride with 6897 again (4Y each, single) at 12.40 showed up a few minor changes to the map which has been amended. In particular the line rose to a summit at Tudingshan where there appeared to be a good photo position approaching the station and generally fell thereafter through rather plain countryside with a minor summit at Liujing. Possible further photo positions seemed scarce although approaching Dongbaowei and Qixing had possibilities. En route we passed four loaded coal trains, only one of which was double headed and also saw previously unreported QJ 7030. Seeing anything through the dirty, frozen windows was not easy but at Bafengchang we saw SY 0568 on the short branch train from Shuangyang. The 11 coach train was packed initially but was nearly empty at the end of its journey - there were many fewer passengers for the return. It was just like the 'good old days' on board, decrepit stock, ankle deep in waste, smokers everywhere and 'gob of the month' spitting competitions much in evidence. The other passengers found us a source of much (friendly) amusement.

January 8th

It was another dull morning in town, but we hoped for better things up the hill. We took a bus to Sifangtai and then caught the 10.09 passenger (6805) back to Tudingshan. We just had time to sprint back down the station to catch 7020 going east on a short freight in excellent light. After the 10.52 passenger (3135) we made the mistake of going for a beer and turning our back on the sun because it vanished. By 11.30, as DF7 3046 came uphill on an empties it was snowing gently. We walked down a track for 5 minutes to the main road (actually it would be easy to find as it is near the summit opposite a small coal mine) and took a bus back to town. The lunch we had was better than the day's gricing by some considerable measure. 

Shuangyashan map

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January 9th - Hegang

We had planned at least one more day in Shuangyashan but when we woke up it was snowing, so we caught train 4136 at 11.52 to Jiamusi. It was late but it didn't matter as we had a two hour connection for train 6547 at 15.51 which took us to Hegang. Click here for the continuation of this report (January 10th - 12th).

January 13th - Suiling

We travelled hard sleeper on train 606/604 from Hegang to Sui Ha and transferred to 4053 for the short run to Suiling. The latter was the worst ride I have had in some time in China, the train was dirty and unheated and even the locals were marching up and down to keep warm. At Suiling we took a taxi to the Hotel (Forestry Lodge?) and then went to find the forestry railway. It was a long trek north from the CNR through a large log yard to the depot. To cut a long story short, we found four steam locos derelict in a shed, three more similar outside and another with 023 on the tender with some decrepit passenger coaches 'preserved' in a park next door. We saw four large orange BB diesels numbered 99801/2/4/7 (one of which arrived on a train of fulls) and two small ZN120 diesels. For the first time in China for many years, the local police here took a great interest in us and spent an hour with our passports. We were quite glad to cut short our stay and head for Harbin on the afternoon train. 

January 14th - Harbin

We made no attempt to move on immediately as the spare day we now had could only have been used for gricing with some stupid travelling. All hard sleepers for Beijing were long gone the previous evening and even seats were rare. We got two seats on T48 and I spent the day working while Peter caught up on his sleep and plotted future trips.

January 15th - Beijing/Dahuichang

In the end, we got on the train and immediately upgraded to a hard sleeper as they were less than 75% occupied - CNR might find it difficult to explain this. The restaurant car staff seemed to feel that they were only there to cook for the coach attendants but eventually produced a quite acceptable meal. We had a very comfortable night and the only point of interest on the journey was the sighting of immaculate (ex-works?) SY 0208 on coaching stock at the west end of the last station before Beijing main (possibly Beijing Dong). I didn't have my IRS book with me so can't comment further.

The Chong Weng Men Hotel didn't take long to convince that last year's Y288 was a fair rate and we found an internet cafe nearby to catch up on news. After noodles, we took the metro and a 385 to Dahuichang. We were late but it made no difference, the light engine working was at 14.40 and the first train of empties went up at 15.00. 02 and an unnumbered loco were at work. After that several workers shinned up an electricity line to attend to a transformer and nothing else happened before 16.15 when we left on the bus again.

January 16th - Beijing/Yexi

The weather was uninspiring and I had promised Peter to find Yexi again. We went to the far west end of line 1 on the metro, emerged and jumped in a taxi. It was five years since my last (and only) visit but we only made one wrong turning before a much bemused taxi driver dropped us off at the entrance with the meter showing Y24. It was the lunch half-hour and the crew were in the mess-room although the loco was left on the train. One of them spoke quite good English and informed us with a smile that 'the management did not allow photography' - no chance of that in the ruling light in my case, but Peter took a few record shots. They did not know of any other ng systems in the area apart from Dahuichang. We saw the first run of the afternoon, then returned to Beijing. We took a 929 bus followed by a 959 bus and then the metro. Full access details are in the Yexi narrow gauge steam page

As Peter had an early flight we went to the airport to stay in the Capital Airport Hotel as recommended by 'chicken head' - it was closed for renovation, but we negotiated a fair rate of Y288 at the nearby Airport Garden Hotel (the same discount as we had at the Chong Wen Men Hotel in town). Overall a very satisfactory bash and we resolved to return later in the year. I was off to Sabah for Borneo steam (albeit plastic).

Rob Dickinson