The International Steam Pages
Steam in Northern China January 2001
Here is a report of Jörg Scheerer's trip to northern China in January 2001. For the German language version see http://www.railhoo.de/reports/index.html
When I am talking of us in this Report I mean Roland Erdmann (who runs Railhoo.de), Volker Böhm, and me, Jörg Scheerer. China two weeks before the Chinese New Years Day can be really hard. Crowded trains, no tickets, less traffic on some lines sometimes frustrating. We expected some trouble for the last few days, but had it all the time. Another unexpected point was, that the CNR timetable has been changed completely. Not only times have changed but all train numbers, in one word everything! So get yourself an actual timetable as soon as possible. (We paid 10Y right in front of Beijing main station).
The most interesting places we have been to were Da'an and Weihe. Da'an simply bursts with activity and Weihe is simply a class of its own.
We took TAROM flight RO051/052 from DUS to Beijing because it was the cheapest and recommended by another report on this site. The Planes (B737 and A310) and the flight were OK, but there are two major disadvatages: The first one is the long time you have to spend in Bucarest (more than three hours on the way to China and more than six (from 3 to 9 am!) on the way back to Germany), the second and worse one is the late arrival in Beijing (13:30). Check out was crowded, so we arrived at the station by taxi (100Y) at 4 pm and could not get a ticket for a night train to Changchun. So we took train T545 from Beijing (19:50) to Tianjin (21:09), where we got a connection to Changchun (1416/1417 dep. 23:08)
We arrived in Changchun two hours late, so we bought tickets for the train K955 to Da'an Bei. (dep. 20:30 arr. 0:09) We had some time left, so we visited the Tramway in Changchun. We where surprised to find the line reopened completely, not (as expected by Florian Menius' report) only partly. We stayed in the Da'an Shi Binguan in Da'an (double was 164Y, Taxi from Da'an Bei Station to the hotel 10-15Y).
Bus line No. 5 took us from the Hotel to Da'an Bei sation (fare is 1Y each). We took pictures around Da'an Bei station and shed the whole day. Weather was cold (-25 to -30°C) and sunny. A really wonderful day, except of the fact that commerce has become familiar to the depot staff. Some tie-wearing guy wanted us to pay 600Y for taking photos in the depot "unallowed." We refused to pay, because he had a warm office and was clearly not an offical. Other chinese joined our "party" and two hours and 300Y later we were allowed to take photos anywhere we wanted. Especially the evening shots in the station are great! (You will find some of them in www.railhoo.de soon) In the evening we found an internet shop close to the hotel and sent some mails round the world. If you want to go there and you are in the binguan, just cross the street, turn right an you will find it between the other shops about 50m away from the crossroads.
We took train 2209 (7:27) to Tai Yang Sheng (8:22) and spent the day on the line north and south of the station. Traffic was remarkable: 10 trains during daylight, no freight hauled by diesel. Back to Da'an Bei (dep. 17:03, arr 18:04) we got on the night train 2157/2156 to Harbin (dep. 23:39, arr. 5:25), and from here with T409 (dep. 8:00 from Harbin main station) to Yabuli. (arr. 10:51) The "T"- trains to Mudanjian are all modern TGV- style diesel. Ours was build in 2000 and could move on its own (unlike all others, which where DF4-hauled ).
The rest of the day was spent on searching for the rigtht bus connection to Weihe for the next morning. In fact it is better to look for a hotel in Weihe, for there is no forestry- railway in Yabuli any more. But we had not heard about one except of the guest house of the forestry company and where unsure if we would find it. Weihe is a bigger town than Yabuli, so there should not be any problem in finding a hotel. (double room in Yabuli was 140Y). (Actually the lodge in Weihe is effectively a hotel as most people have found out. And Yabuli is actually much bigger than Weihe. RD)
We go to Weihe by bus (fare is 10Y each) and idiotically managed to miss the train in Weihe. The passenger starts with one hardseater in Weihe and collects the rest of the train two stops later. There was almost no traffic in Weihe the whole day.
Taxi to Weihe (60Y), where we met Richard Hay - see his report - and got on the Train to Pinglin. The line is climbing from Pinglin to both directions, so this is an ideal place to spend a day. We took pictures around Pinglin of two single headed and one banked train. Back to Weihe by taxi (30Y) and on to Yabuli by train 1451 (dep. 17:02).
Because we have seen the traffic in Da'an we decided to change our plans: Yebaishhou and Jing-Peng Pass are cancelled and replaced by some more days in Da'an and a visit to Tonghua. So we took T412 (8:58) to Harbin (11:56), T423 from Harbin (14:33) to Ranghulu (16:41) and finally 6006 from Ranghulu (17:20) to Da'an Bei (21:00) We stayed in the Da'an Shi binguan again.
Two more days of best steam in Da'an. Steam was seen on the line to Ranghulu (freights were 100% steam again!) and Chengde (2 - 3 Trains). Again the evenings were really great! We have done some very good glint shots. The sunset in Da'an Bei in January must be unique in the whole world! This atmosphere compares a lot of the really not very interesting landscape around here.
We moved to Tonghua to see what is up there.
We travelled about 16km in northern direction on Train 6853 (dep. 7:26) and took some pictures around there. In total we had 5 steam hauled freights and one passenger train till the afternoon. We took a Bus back to Dongtonghua and got some pictures in the station. There was a SY and a diesel from the steel works shunting in the station.
No sun today, so motivation was down. Same was steam. We went to Dongtonghua by Taxi and walked along the track to the bridge. Only three freights were steam hauled, the rest was diesel. We finished about 3 pm and got back to Tonghua for an extended dinner. Some bottles of Pijou helped us getting over the day. Finally we entered the night train K674 (dep. 19:41) to Shengyang (arr. 2:21)
Now the shit started boiling! Arriving in Shenyang there were no more tickets to Chengde for the next two days. The only thing we were offered was a train to Beijing in the evening. Without having slept a lot that night and in a station that looks more like the house of horror than a place to start a journey, nerves can get really thin. The only thing we could do was to take the next train to Jinzhou (a town which we could have reached just by staying in the train that took us to Shenyang!) More than five hours later we arrived in Jinzhou at 10 am and got tickets for the night train to Chengde. Because there were no tickets for a sleeper we got to the lüdian next to the station and fell asleep in a bed we normally would have not even touched. The night train 2112/2113 (dep. 21:16) was crowded and damned cold. Now it became clear why we could not get a ticker for a sleeper car: this night train had none. A female staff member offerd us seats in the only softseater, which was not that crowded and we had a nice conversation with a Chinese woman who spoke a real good German. Passing Yebaishou we saw that there is still steam there.
We arrived in Chengde at 7:48, got us a room in a hotel and moved up to the "steam collosseum" by bus line No. 5. After three uphill moving trains seemed to be a break in traffic and so we went to the depot. We took some nice pictures in the evening light there and went back to the track (again by bus line No. 5) just when a train started towards Chengde. The train back came long after sunset, so we did not get another picture there.
We arrived in the banking station at about 10 am and there was no sign of movement. The staff told us there would be no traffic today, so we went to the summer-palace total disappointed. At about 2 pm we heard the sound of a whistle which made us hurry up to the track immediately. Just the same minute the sun disappeared behind the mountains the train arrived. In the evening we heard a steamer in the station again.
We started to Beijing south on train 2190 (dep. 9:13, arr. 14:43) At the airport we found out, that our flight had been cancelled due to less passengers. We got tickets for a Lufthansa flight for the next day and were brought to a high class hotel near the airport. So we watched the fireworks from the hotel room (a beer would have been fine, but expensive).
Finally we got our boarding-passes and got back to DUS via Frankfurt. Of course not without a delay of one hour due to a damaged engine on the plane
All in all it was a trip of the harder ones I did. But only two weeks at home and with that photos in my hands I guess next year we will get there again.