The International Steam Pages

Steam in China, 2001

This page contains five reports from Stenersen Roar, Hideki.Sakurai, John Raby, Roy Laverick, Gary 'Tex' Houston and Bill Darnaby

Shanhetun, Ganhe, Zanhe and Weihe, and the mine railway and steel works in Xilin.


(ca. 200 km. SE of Harbin): Steam (10 * C2) in all timber trains. Very old fashioned diesel motor cars (in a state of near scrap) in the passenger trains. Railway, locomotive and workshop standards pitiful. Main line to Liujiuatun (53 km) with passenger traffic. Whole network 110 km long. Not too difficult to reach from roads. The railway passes through many villages, which gives nice photo possibilities. To be shut down after 2002 season.


(ca 220 km. E of Harbin): Passenger and freight trains. 8 steam engines, steam only. Many passages through villages. Main line 80 km. Hard inclines both ways of Pinglin. The top point of the railway is between Pinglin and Shuangfeng, hard upslope for loaded trains from Dongfeng until here. Easily accessible from roads, at least during frost periods. (If no frost, the roads turn into a morass. Everything in better shape than at Shanetun. To be shut down after 2002 season.


(Inner Mongolia between Jagdaqui and Yitulihe): Fine network in good shape. Steam in passenger trains and freights. Main line ca. 70 km. Here, long trees were transported on bogies without any special coupling in between (the trees connect them). 9 locomotives.   Local police was a nuisance. They were scared of people taking pictures of the railway. The daily passenger train functions as a rolling market.


(ca. 60 km. N of Bei'an): 5 diesel and 10 steam engines. Whole network 176 km. Main line is 138 km. Railway standard bad, locomotive standard OK. Diesel motor car was chartered by the group. Near km 108 the terrain is a lot up and down and there are some nice stone bridges. Very active police, they don't like photography, probably because Zanhe is looking like a garbage dump. (Thus, it is more photography of non-railway motives that scares them).


(ca 50 km SE og Yichun) : Ca 15 km. long mine railway with 8 steam locomotives. No passenger trains, but OK to sit on the loaded freight cars. In the mine in Shi Gan Li there is electric traffic far above the town. From outside the mine the steam engines take over. Through a reversde, they collect 6 car trains and pull them to Xilin. 5 trains each way the day we were there. Railway and locomotives in bad shape. Loaded trains have an upslope against them the last 3 km into Xilin. In Xilin is a steel work with 5 SY. One of them, nicely decorated, was in use.

Hideki.Sakurai tells me

1. A friend told him that NHK (Japanese national TV station) sent their crew to JiTong and Weihe. A program of Chinese steams could be broadcast in late April. He saw them in Weihe in last week.

2. Additionally Japanese 'Playboy' magazine(!!) covers Chinese steam including Weihe.

3. As of last week, he confirmed that Weihe Forestry Bureau would maintain their forestry operation until next season. However a senior added no one estimated the following one. We really worry about a tripod jam (more Nips will make) in the next season.

Additionally I heard that Huanan stop their steam engines until May.

b. Ganhe line, that is famous for their sleeping car, and another line near Jagdaqi shut out foreigners at moment. A Japanese visitor returned from there without taking any photos. Surveillance seems to be enforced.

This is John Raby's summary report of a March visit: 


Gricers come to Tiefa for intensive SY action around Sanjiazi and the double track line towards Daqing. However, without sunshine and snow this area is bleak, the track is normally higher than the surrounding countryside and very unphotogenic. Early morning at Sanjiazi (6 am in March) in the right light can be magic. The moment you leave Tiefa/Diaobingshan on the line towards Faku (it only gets to the north west edge of town) and Dongmangton, things get much better. Duncan's map shows a tunnel (short) and a lake (frozen) and there is a bad but passable dirt road that follows the line. Shots either side of the tunnel especially trains coming through the s-bend from the west will be good. The monument before the village is a great viewpoint but trains are downhill from both directions but a good shot is possible from the hillside as the train climbs to the halt, stops briefly and accelerates away over a bridge. The track rejoins the Tiefa - Faku main road just before the only railway level crossing on the Tiefa - Faku road. There are opportunities off the main road, at the station on the outskirts of Faku and along the road to Dongmangton. There is a good straight section with a final curve just opposite the ornamental Chinese gates at the top of the hill on the edge of town but wires are a problem. Locos on loaded coal trains have to work hard here approaching from the south and can be seen for many kms off with binoculars working away from the coalmine. Anyone wanting a close up view of the slag tipping (narrow gauge/cable hauled) can get this at the coalmine. There is also a side road to a river bridge just after the first level crossing. This should be good for the many tender first workings. Locos work randomly tender first (it seems), movements around Sangiazi can turn a loco in the course of a day, so all you can do is check which locos are which way from Tiefa to Dongmangton, they seem to work back in the same order they went out not turned. The exception in sequence is passenger 405 which does a shuttle run 408/409 before returning as 412. Otherwise, the other 'flat' lines offer possibilities for 'African/style' coalmine, tips and train photos.

2. Weihe

Traffic levels are down on 1999 and many trains run through stations without crossing. The 4 passenger trains can be photted in daylight in March but tend to run a bit late and have odd changes from 2-4 carriages or v.v. This is more apparent as there are now 2 browny-red and cream coaches. Is there an additional all nocturnal return working? There was a Chinese TV film crew around while we were there which further disrupted the passenger service. They wanted a long, traditional passenger and 4 green coaches was the maximum that could be mustered. Banking occurs at Pinglin and Shuangfeng on some loaded trains and the crossing passenger or empty train loco is often borrowed for this. This contributes to late running of passenger train. The first log loading yard is between Shuangfeng and Dongfeng. This is not marked on any of the WS or web-page maps. It may not be visible from the road but was located by walking the line. The final decision on the future of the line will be made in Harbin Regional Office. The line may or may not operate next year. Questions: Why repaint two carriages? Why are the film crew featuring this line and can this affect its survival? Eventually, a logging museum is planned, could Weihe and the railway be a suitable base for this?


Assuming you are into chimney first workings, the passenger and empty coal wagon trains out from SYS Central Station are the only ones worth photting. A pity, as the inbound banked full coal trains would be better but they are all tender first. Go for locations based on the passenger train times. A freight before or after will be a bonus. There are more inbound fulls in daylight than outbound empties. Traffic is based on train loads to/from individual mines so traffic drops off as you get further from SYS. After Dongbouwei, traffic must be sparse. At Tudingshan in March 2001, one rather than two outbound trains per hour would be normal, hence the need to go for times when passenger trains are due. Phot spots are few and many places are well poled and wired. SY occur incidentally, mainly banking and light engine and their duties are clearly shunts at the larger mines and stations and not normally line work.

4. Zhanhe

Road follows line to Xinfu but goes away for a while between Erdaohe and ???. The section from Erdaohe to Kundeqi is all scenic-to Xinfu best done by road. After Xinfu, a railcar is needed unless you want to walk the line. There are 4 major bridges; the first between Maolan and Wulugan plus a gorge section primarily uphill for loaded trains, the twin bridges (uphill for empty trains) and another single bridge between Zanbai and Kundeqi. At the junction Lingding, neither of the lines; to Wusimeng and Beiying are as good as the middle section and although Wusimeng has possibilities traffic is sparse.

A parallel departure of two empty trains of 2 empty trains from Lingding on both lines would be good but would only be by special arrangement. The ideal trip would be Mid-Dec to early Feb avoiding CNY (for better weather and more trains) and would have several days car chasing to Xinfu, concentrating on the section after Erdaohe and railbus in to Kundeqi with several days walking the line back to Maolan or Xinfu. As well as Kundeqi, basic accommodation is probably available at Zanbai, Maolan and Xinfu. Of these, the village at Zanbai is about 1-2 km closer to Zanhe than the station and is unexplored. Maolan is also a small depopulated village and accommodation would be very basic.

4a Xilin

Xilin Mineral Line also known as Kuang Shan Tielu (mine mountain railway). 6,8,9 (with tender of 10) working, 7 under repair, no number loco derelict, 8 badges on cab and tender, 6 scruffy tender, 9 red ladder and new coal board, 10 tender no badges

Xun Chang Zhan 0 km, Bagongli 8 km, Fire cleaning point 14 km?, Shiqigongli 17 km turning Y, Shibagongli 18 km (reversal and name of village).

ng rail connection to Xilin woodyard and sg station from Xun Chang Zhan pulled up 7 years ago and is now a footpath/dirt road. Loop at fire cleaning point removed about 10 years ago Kuang Shan is also name of mine/end of line area Line carries lead ore with bottom discharging wagons using 3 C2 locos. Locos run chimney-first both both ways but propel and run chimney and tender first from the Y at Shiqigongli to the mine. (2km)

The line is around 20km long. Scenery is good. Mine (with 762 mm) electrics oh electrics (shrbaijian), Reversal station station (shrchijian) with Y and water fire cleaning point (former loop removed) crossing station (bagungli) terminus, engine shed, Y, drying sheds, connection to SG?, tipper on spur load are exchanged for fulls at the mine, up to six can be taken to/from reversal one loco can take 3 full/empty wagons to/from Y station, banking/double heading is used to move 5-6 wagons at times. Locos turn and water before return with 6 fulls (usually between 2 trips to the mine with empties and fulls) locos clean fires at fire cleaning point on way to mine (road access part-way only in winter), trains cross at Y or next station. Banking on double trains can occur on empties from terminus to Y station. Locos then separately take up part-train loads of empties to the mine. The mine is due to close 'in a year' according to the local English teacher. The railway will be closed when this happens.

5. Da'an

Don't bother if you are primarily in China for good railway photos. The area is a 'pole fest' with up to three lines of poles close to the track. The long, flat straight sections and the strong wind (from the west) and sun angles all conspire to make good photography a nightmare. Despite the long oil tanker trains, the locos do not work hard once the train is rolling. Due to dieselize later this year but should not be high on any railway photographers list of 'must do' places.

6. Jitong Line

Nothing to add!

7 Yexi

We visited on a Sunday. The loco was in steam and the spare loco was locked away in the other shed. The driver was happy to move the loco and shunt the wagons. No work on the narrow gauge on Sunday. The operation has changed from the original mechanical tipping done by a small electric device on 500mm tracks (now done by hand) and a sg diesel railcar now fills one sg hopper and shunts this to a new crushing, processing plant on an adjoining track. This was operating Sunday. Originally, train loads of sg wagons (behind steam) would have left for processing elsewhere.

8. Dahuichang

Third visit, also Sunday. Work started at 2 pm as usual. Two locos in use one of which seemed to be having problems. Weather crapped out and dust and wind made video a nightmare (so gave up as last day). In the very polluted weather with hazy sun, glints and silhouettes were possible from 3 pm or so but only if you were desperate and no worried about expensive video head replacement. Even so, I have been blowing dust off my video cassettes of the rest of the trip which were at the bottom of my video bag.

Roy Laverick reports

During the first three weeks of March, seven of us undertook a tour of a number of steam-worked Chinese lines. Transport to China was by KLM, who were "cheap and cheerful" but reliable. Unfortunately their ability to deliver luggage back to the UK is still being questioned by some members of the group! The itinerary was arranged through Zhao Yang of CITS in Harbin, but as part of a new "value for money" policy(!), which does not favour state owned enterprises, at Baotou and Reshui the guides were in fact provided by local private companies rather than CITS.  The trip was timed with the intention that the weather should be cold enough for good photography, but the eye-watering temperatures of mid-Winter would be avoided.


During afternoon visits on a Sunday and a Thursday, the line was functioning as previously described in numerous reports, with locos 1 and 3 in action. CITS told us that from the first of March a new Yuan 100 photo fee had been introduced, but on neither visit was any fee collected. Probably it is prudent to keep away from the office area!


The JS-hauled morning passenger train was seen at Houba on its way back to Baotou from Shiguai. We departed immediately after this for Singing Sands, and during this journey a sandstorm blew up which persisted for the rest of day. Conditions were very unpleasant, with the sand manifesting itself as a fine mist, which permeated everywhere. Photography was impossible both at Singing Sands, and subsequently that day at Dongsheng. We were told by the guide that such events were common in March and April, and often persisted for several days. On our later return to Baotou, our guide (see below) was able to take us to the slag tipping area. Unfortunately we arrived just after the last train of the day had been emptied.


To our relief, the following day dawned fine, and sunny conditions persisted for the rest of our visit to this area. Traffic levels on the line were high, and showed no signs of suffering from the perceived "Summer run down", or the threatened diversion to an alternative route. On each of three days we saw at least five northbound freights, each QJ double-headed with a banker. Photography in the morning was awkward, since there was a prevailing westerly wind, and this repeatedly spoilt shots taken from the "sunny side". At lunchtime each day we moved down to Shashagetai (where the bankers are attached), and found that this provided a number of good afternoon photo locations, with the sun in the right place, and the wind blowing in the right direction. About two kilometres south of Shashagetai, there is (yet another!) large viaduct, with plenty of scope for good shots both at rail level, and looking up from the ground. Moreover, although the road to this location is quite rough, the prolonged stop at Shashagetai provides scope for getting further shots of the same train north of the station, after the banker has been attached.

A disappointment on this line was that, as predicted in other reports, since mid-January, the daily passenger train is diesel-worked. We did not see the Hohhot train, which passes during darkness.

Our guide in the Baotou/Dongsheng area was Zhang Wei ("William") of Overseas Travel Corp. Ltd. (Tel 0472 5166815, Fax 5164537). He spoke excellent English, and was very keen that our visit should be a success. He also knew most of the key photo locations (and following our visit, probably knows a few more!). Everyone in our group felt he did a superb job, and could be unreservedly recommended.


We progressed to Reshui via Jining Nan. The journey was uneventful, and the train is still steam hauled from Ben Hong onwards. Diesels were seen, but only on the westernmost section of the line. Traffic levels were relatively high, with about six trains each way during daylight hours. The mornings were particularly busy, and each day up to lunchtime, the line must have been working virtually at full capacity. On one day the temperature rose to an unacceptable 10c, but generally the low was about -15c, and the max about +2c. This is probably a little mild for the "death or glory" boys, but it gave good steam effects, without causing eyes to water so much that viewfinders were rendered useless!

The two level crossings in this area have both recently been fitted with elaborate barriers and control huts. Was this the result of an accident, or is it simply an employment scheme?


Peter Shirley and myself took the (for us!) radical step of visiting the Jinchengjiang - Pingzhai line in Guangxi Province. We were interested in seeing steam in a setting that was totally different from Inner Mongolia or Manchuria. The trip was risky, however, since Jinchengjiang is a very long way from the traditional steam haunts, and is consequently time-consuming and expensive to reach. Moreover, there has been an absence of recent reports concerning this location, and thus we were not even sure that the line was still steam worked! We flew from Beijing to Guilin (three hours) and then took a westbound train to Jinchengjiang (six hours). The area is off the tourist trail, and CITS were unable to provide a knowledgeable guide, so we decided to travel under our own steam.

By a strange coincidence, the driver of the cab that we hailed for the journey from the station to the hotel, spoke passable English, and thus we used him for the three days of our visit. Yuan 240 per day is probably over the odds, but he proved a useful interpreter, and was a sensible driver.

We arrived on a Sunday lunchtime, and immediately checked in at the Garden Hotel (excellent value: Yuan 200 for a truly luxurious suite). We then headed up the line, and rapidly encountered a northbound freight at the level crossing near Wenping. We went on to Pohua, and were amazed to see both loops occupied by southbound coal trains, waiting to pass the late-running northbound mixed for Pingzhai. The latter duly appeared, and in due course the freights moved off towards Jinchengjiang.

This flurry of activity on our first afternoon seemed too good to be true, and indeed it was! The following day (Monday) during ten hours on the line, we saw only Train 8597 (the morning mixed from Pingzhai to Jinchengjiang) and 8598, its return working in the afternoon. Whether Mondays are always like this (perhaps the mines do not work on Sundays, and therefore there is nothing to move?), or whether we were just unlucky, I don't know. Traffic levels were higher on Tuesday and Wednesday, but never realised the promise of Sunday.

A logistical problem that we encountered was that our small Suzuki taxi simply could not make it up the rough road beyond Duchuan, and this was frustrating, since the steepest part of the line reputedly lies in this area. Moreover, the scope for chasing trains was very limited since even the metalled roads are clogged with lorries and other slow-moving traffic, and the trains seem to sprint along at a surprising 50-60 kmph (quite a shock after Jing Peng!). The hills, trees and lack of clag, make it easy to pass trains without realising.

When it became obvious that we were not going to make it to the section north of Duchuan, we decided to visit the impressive bridge about four km south of Duchuan Station. The bridge is visible to the west from a point near the summit of the road between Poluo and Duchuan, but drops out of sight behind the hills as you descend the steep bends on the north side of the pass. Once you have reached level ground, a footpath runs westwards from the road, through a small village, and thence all the way to the bridge. The distance is about two kilometres, walking time 30-40 minutes. The light is good for train 8598 (at about 16.00), but don't expect fireworks: the bridge lies in the bottom of a dip.

As reported by others, mixed trains 8597 and 8598 are the only regular performers. The timetable in the waiting room at Poluo clearly shows a return mixed from Shangchao to Jinchengjiang, running at similar times to 8597 and 8598. We did not see this on any of the three days we were on the line, however, and conclude it is simply part of a "wish list". On one day, 8598 ran without any freight cars: the reason for this was that a train of empties was running behind it. Traffic levels on the Shangchao branch seemed to be very low indeed (perhaps only one return working a day, if that).

We visited Jinchengjiang Xi station, which lies about 2kms west of Jinchengjiang Dong (the main station). There may be photo opportunities just north of the station, but these were not investigated. The station has a substantial stabling point with coal and water facilities, but no shed! Thus the mystery remains as to where loco servicing is carried out. Since the San-Luo line (which is about 110 km east of Jinchengjiang) is also steam-worked, perhaps there are communal repair facilities.

During our visit we saw the following JSs: 8285/87/88/90 8373/76

This area is renowned for overcast weather, and we experienced 1 days of murk and 1 days of rather hazy sunshine. This is probably rather better than we might have expected, but trying to get good shots of non-clagging, black locos in murky conditions (even in Grade A scenery) is an unenviable task.

In planning this visit we relied heavily on the helpful report and map filed by Bernd Seiler, and Peter and myself offer him our thanks.

San-Luo line

Although this line was not visited, we noted JS 8374 shunting at the southern terminus, Sancha, on the mainline. This branch is therefore almost certainly steam-worked.

Gary 'Tex' Houston, Blackburn, Victoria writes:

G'day from Australia. After reading a number of reports from your netsite on China, I decided I had to see for myself. Here is a report that might be of interest. I've put a fair bit of detail in to try and help others...

CHENGDE, March 2001.

This was my 13th trip to China since 1990. Over the years I've taken cultural exchange tours into China and seen many steam locos at work, but sadly in most cases, it was from the window of a train going the other direction! Even in September 1999 I spent three days in Chengde, yet only saw the odd single loco train on the section between Chengde and Chengde Xi. However just a few weeks ago I was in China to do some filming, and managed to get two days off (March 19/20th) with my digital video cam in Chengde.

Took the 7.20am train from Beijing (main), costing just RMB40 ($5USD). It was a beautiful Spring day, and the 4 hour journey through the mountains revealed very little pockets of snow, but free flowing streams and of course hundreds of farmers doing their thing. At around 11.00am we arrived in Chengde , my carraige pulling up right beside an 'SY', it having just rolled down the hill with another rake of empties from Chengde Xi. The taxi trip to the Mountain Villa Hotel should have taken no time, however they are currently rebuilding the road bridge over the river, so amid myriads of bikes, scooters, cabs and work-trucks we slowly made all the necessary diversions. I recommend the Mountain Villa. Its a bit back from the railway, although opening your window at night allows you to hear trains quite clearly. (I might add they were working all through the night too!) They charged RMB200 per night ($25USD) for a very good room.

Quickly caught a taxi up to Chengde Xi to catch two bankers rolling back down the hill. Got up onto the line, walked up to them and was immeadiately invited into the rear engine's cab, a 'JS'. Before I could even turn the video camera on we were rolling back into the yard, past the signs that say 'Foreign Cameras Forbidden'. The signs have arrows designating a 350 metre area at the west end of the yard. I'm glad I was aware of this from other Steam reports, and it seems there could be two reasons. There is an industrial plant close beside the railway, however over the road and stream below there is a large unmarked building which a cab driver informed me was a prison. Strange place for a prison among shops and buildings, but there it is, so I recommend to others don't get the camera out unless you are at the other end of the yard, and even then, carefully.

Within minutes I was rolling back down the hill to Chengde, past the road traffic jam below. I got some time there to show the crew pictures of Australian Steam, and my family's 3 live steam models. They thought it was a great joke that we would ride around behind such a tiny steam engine. Picked up a train and stormed up the grade back over the semi-frozen river to 'Xi'. Two bankers soon arrived and I withdrew from the cab to walk back to the camera safe end of the yard and catch the whistle/horn signals between the crews as they started up the mountain.

Walked up the road about 1 km to where the railway crosses the main road. Here the grade eases somewhat, so I caught the next train creating a thunderous storm of noise and red hot cinders. No wonder the locals run from the lineside with hands, bags or jackets covering their heads!

It was now early afternoon, and the routine of trains were as follows. A train leaves Chengde Xi with one engine on front and two bankers. Two bankers roll back down the hill, followed in about 30 minutes by a train from Tonghua. It seems the engines, all 'JS' and 'SY's, are moved around all day. When one needs water, coal and crew break they go back to Tonghua, thus over the two days there were no patterns to engine movement and train configurations.

I spent the rest of the day walking another kilometer up the hill, stopping for some beer and peanuts, and to catch another train. By sundown I had come back down to a level crossing just out of the camera safe range of Chengde Xi. Here the last train I caught was double header on front with one banker at rear.

Trains continued to run through the night, but I slept, then caught a taxi at 8.00am over the hill and through the tunnel to a small group of houses. You can walk up the old main road and get magnificent shots of trains (tender first) coming up from Tonghua, especially in the morning sun. Managed to walk/climb up to the tunnel entrance, from where I could hear the next train from Tonghua stall about 1 klm away. Thus the movement of trains was slow to start, but by 11.00am we were back on track.

To stand at the tunnel entrance and hear the lead engine of a train from Chengde is awesome. The tonnage limits must be pushed with every train, for in most cases they reach the summit, 100 metres out of the tunnel, at walking pace, slipping on the damp rails all the time. Trains from Chengde have the air connected, so they stop once the rear banker has cleared the tunnel so a crew member can run forward and disconnect the couplers. In seconds the two bankers start rolling back into the tunnel, and the Tonghua train pulls away over the hill.

After a few more trains past I followed one and walked with video camera, tripod and bag blindly through the tunnel. It is about 200 metres long with an 'S' bend curve, so the middle of it is quite black. At the other end I discovered... another tunnel. The gap between is just 100 metres, but a great place for footage of trains from Chengde bursting between the holes in the rock. Mind you, for security reasons it's best not to leave the track toward the small house belonging to the 'tunnel minders', for they have a very big, loud dog!

Decided to go back through the tunnel, once again following a train for obvious safety reasons. When the next Tonghua bound train emmerged from the hole, I signalled for the driver to get into the rear banker and go back to Xi. He motioned 'no', so politely I went to walk by, but the crew on the leading banker had a fireman who wanted his picture taken, so in seconds I was up the steps and cab-bound... but in the wrong direction!! As we rolled down the hill toward Tonghua I discovered it was smoko time for this crew.

In Tonghua at that time there were no less than 4 'SY's. Train movement for the afternoon was slow too, so I walked around from cab to cab meeting various crews. The last crew however were a but different. While I experienced no red tape or threats from crews to be careful of the 'bosses', this crew had me hide the whole time we spent moving about the yard. They were due to go to Chengde, and with my limited Mandarin they agreed to take me there, but cautiously they kept me hidden, bought me some beer, and looked at my photos.

They were friendly, but perhaps too friendly. Once the train got started up the grade I found myself in the driver's seat, and the driver taking my camera to film... out on the tender! We were the first of the bankers, and once the train was moving with regulator wide open, he figured it was time for some fun. Luckily the very expensive camera arrived safely back in the cab, but before long we were rolling through the tunnels to Chengde, and I was being told to hand over American dollar for the trip!! I guess I should've seen the signs, but I was stuck, by my own fault, so I gave each crew member $20USD and left the engine at Xi feeling quite strange.

By sundown I come to terms with the situation, and in a funny way I can almost understand it from their point of view, but I guess I'm sharing this for the sake of others. China is a beautiful, friendly nation and I would strongly recommend anyone to go there, but make sure you are with someone who knows China to make it easier and less frustrating.

I finished my stay by catching a taxi back to the road bridge, and in the pitch black got an excellent cinder storm from another three snorting giants as they charged the stiff grade ahead. It was wonderful to stand in the darkness and listen to the three engines, in and out of sync, working their way slowly to the summit tunnels.

Bill Darnaby reports:

Thanks for your encouragement in organising my own tour of China. The trip was great and exceeded my expectations. You did request a trip report so here goes. However, I must caution that my knowledge of the subject, particularly the rosters, is not nearly as extensive as your regular correspondents.

The trip encompassed the period from March 3 to March 18 and was booked through Sun Xiaolan of China Liaoning Steam Locomotive Photographic Association. Mrs. Sun is a marvelous hostess and guide and we were pampered beyond our expectations. Having done it through her organisation I certainly wouldn't do it any other way in the future. There were eight in the group, all from the Chicago area, Twin Cities, Indiana and Wisconsin.


March 4 was spent at Chengde. There have been numerous and recent reports on this well known location in the past so I will confine my comments to impressions. In short, I have never seen steam locomotives work so hard. The exhaust beats were so hard that one could feel the concussion as the engine passed, a new experience for me, crawling up the hill at 10 mph or less. As reported by other correspondents the typical coal train headed for the steel mill had 11 cars with one road engine on front and two pushers. There was one uphill train of 4 loads headed by a single JS that came up at a walk and lost its footing near the tunnel. We all thought he was through but the engineer recovered after a couple of tries. It was quite a show. The line was busy that day with never more than an hour between activity, whether an uphill loaded coal train or downhill light engines or steel train. We did want to visit the helper station but Mrs. Sun advised that photography was no longer permitted there as a photo of that location had been published showing the prison in the background. Both JS and SY engines were seen as road and helper engines.


March 6 through March 10 were spent covering Jingpeng Pass. Again, I had never seen anything like this before. The sights and sounds of double headed QJ's over this spectacular piece of railroad should not be missed by anyone wanting to experience what places like Sandpatch and Bluefield were like in the 1950's. Mrs. Sun put us up in the Post Hotel in Reshui. She or the bus driver obtained a lineup from the Reshui operator before breakfast every morning so our movements between trains were very efficient and the time spent standing out in the cold wind was minimized. Mrs. Sun told us that January was very cold with daytime highs around -25C. A Japanese group that she had, who apparently like to spend all day on the hillsides, suffered numerous cases of frostbite with one individual even loosing some fingers. Fortunately, our temperatures were around -10C. With little exception our activity was confined to the west side of the pass as this was the way the train schedules worked. It seemed that every day started with a slug of eastbounds out of Houluku spaced and hour or so apart so off to Jingpeng siding we would head to intercept them. It was not difficult to get two, sometimes three, shots at a train before it reached the summit. This technique precluded some of the spectacular long distance shots but, this being our first trip, quantity was more important. Having said that, there are no bad shots in Jingpeng pass. A typical day had 7 eastbounds and 5 westbounds during daylight hours. During our time there I logged 26 different QJ's, some as many as four times. Trains consistently ran around 40 cars and only one downhill light helper was observed on the west side of the past.


March 11 and part of the12th were spent at Fuxin. We initially found Fuxin to be a confusing and frustrating place. This was partially because the early morning pollution and fog limited visibility to 200 yards or less so we couldn't figure out where trains were coming from or going to. The gloom finally cleared off and we individually hiked around to figure things out. As previous correspondents have reported the track layout is very complex and even Mrs. Sun was not familiar with all of its intricacies. The group ended up splitting up according to interests. Some of us hung out at the west end of the CNR main yard featuring frequent movements of QJ's on and off trains, the JS working the yard and the SY's delivering cuts of coal to the CNR. The daily SY passenger workings were also recorded. Others of us were more interested in the coal mine train opereations and spend their time near the junction where the double track electrified line comes up out of the pit. They were particularly fascinated with the electric engines, some Skoda built in 1956, that resembled Swiss crocodiles. My preference was with the CNR operations as they will not last as long as the mine operation. I sorely wanted to get into the engine servicing facility but when attempted we were thrown out as surely as in any facility in the U.S.. Mrs. Sun told us this situation exists because earlier enthusiasts had made trouble with the employees. In fact, she said, they have been known to shake down photographers for money and then still not let them in. It never changes, a few make it rough on the rest of us. During the stay I observed 9 different SY's, 1 JS and 8 QJ's.

Da' an Bei

March 14 through 15 were spent at Da' an Bei. I found this place to be a real treat. If you want to be totally immersed in what big time steam railroading in the Midwest U.S. was like in the 1950's this is the place. A typical day found 24 freight trains in and out of the north end of the yard during daylight with only 3 DF4 hauled. The trains of solid petroleum tank cars were particularly impressive. Unfortunately, all passenger workings were dieselized. The level of activity was amazing and one sensed that they were close to running out of engines. I observed a number of occasions where inbound engines were turned, serviced and on another train inside of two hours. This could have been Belleview, Willard or Bellefountaine in 1955. Frequently there were three QJ's lined up abreast in the yard either going out or coming in. At the south end of the yard a DF5 was working the small hump while a JS worked as a puller engine at the north end. Therefore, I spent most of my time within hiking distance of the pedestrian crossing between the yard and engine facility at the north end. As reported by earlier correspondents the area is flat and not photogenic but that is what we Midwesterners are used to so we were happy to absorb the action and not wander too far out of town on one of the four routes for extensive linesiding. The shop manager told Mrs. Sun that Da' an Bei will be allocated only two more diesels in 2001 so it would seem that steam activity will be hardly diminished into 2002. A total of 3 JS and 30 QJ's were observed in steam.

What really made this place special was that Mrs. Sun had secured permission for us to spend a whole day inside the engine facility including permission for night photograhy. The shop building has two sets of three tracks dedicated to steam maintenance and two bays of two tracks for diesel maintenance. Both of these had a drop table for traction motor removal and the end bay was high with an overhead crane. It was fascinating to hang around and watch rountine steam locomotive maintenance. I observed a cylinder reboring, rod bearing renewal, piston valve ring renewal and repair to a trailing truck bearing. All of this work had been started at the beginning of the day and all engines were in steam by evening. I was amazed at how effortlessly the emplyees manhandled the heavy rods, cylinder covers and pistons through the use of clever fixtures and without requiring cranes. The facility also had an extensive machine shop where I was able to watch a new set of piston rings being made. It was quite an educational day. The service tracks were also very interesting. The ash hoist was a Chinese copy of a Fairbanks-Morse ash hoist and ran under three tracks. After only seeing pictures of such an animal in books it was a revelation to see how it actually worked. Coaling was handled through a pair of overhead bins that were periodically filled with a clamshell equipped steam crane. As if the steam locomotives weren't enough there were three steam cranes in operation, one for the coal, another whittling away at the huge pile of ashes dumped along service tracks and one in use picking up pieces of a recently cut up QJ. If one counted the wreaking crane held on house steam there were four live steam cranes.


It was a fantastic trip in every respect. The Chinese people are extremely friendly and the children are particularly fun as they try their school English on you. Being my first trip I was concerned about the food and was prepared to be hungry and even lose a little weight. No such luck! We had the most fantastic food in generous quantities and I'm sure we all put on a little weight. I was also concerned about sickness, either flu or enteric, but none of that came to pass for any of us. Of course, one never drinks the tap water. Even the weather was perfect, if cold. On travel days it was cloudy but on train days the sun came out. It even snowed in Reshui one night just enough to make for great photos but not enough to impede road travel. I logged 84 different engine numbers but, as we saw trains that were too far away to identify or passed engines during our overnight train rides, the total number could approach 100. There is nowhere else in the world where this is possible and I am certainly going back as this won't last forever.

Rob Dickinson