The International Steam Pages

Steam in China, March 2001

Michael Rhodes reports on the latest Extreme Steam Team visit


BA39 to Beijing


13.00 Air China Beijing to Harbin (pleased to meet a few of Derek Phillips mega narrow gauge bash party, including an old friend from Newcastle, Phillip Dove). We gather they had a very good 3 weeks and hopefully one of their number might put a report on this page as I think there were one or two gems from their trip.

Bus to Zhanhe - through a bit of a blizzard - 7 hour drive

Overnight in the forestry lodge in Zhanhe which was warm and clean with western bogs but only limited hot water for 2 hours each evening.


Zhanhe shed - 6 locos in steam

Then a railbus ride to Rerkehe, 140km along the line to near the end of the line and the last loading point along the route. We met the directors of the "forest farm" at the end of the line, which apparently covers 21,000 hectares of forestry. Much useful information about the Zhanhe system, but for travellers to this outpost - beware! No bogs, no running water and electricity until 9pm from the local generator. We were privileged to have the generator kept on until 10pm on the night of our visit, probably because Vernon was doing the "Maotie" with the local directors. This of course led to its own problems as nocturnal "visits" were in total darkness to the outside where deposits had to be made in suitable snow drifts - enough said. This location is not for the faint hearted, or indeed those who worry about ingesting large quantities of wild mushrooms harvested from under the snow - I'm sure they had slight hallucinogenic properties - or perhaps it was spending the night in a tiny room with 3 of us sleeping on wooden slats with no decent bedding.


Back towards Maolan stopping at the bridges 12 and 5 km from Maolan - excellent phot spots but very little steam traffic as diesels were much in evidence and there was a steam failure during the day which led to a 3 hour gap in the middle of the day when the light was best.

Then "hell for leather" back to Zhanhe for supper


The day started badly and just got worse - at 8am the local police arrived and decided to arrest us because all 3 of us had photographed/videoed a local pop corn seller 2 days earlier. He was a delightful character who beckoned us to photograph him and then apparently went to the local police to complain about it. As far as we can gather he is a well known "trouble maker" who is always making complaints to the police but given that we only had permits to photograph trains and not people or any aspect of the town life (even if used as a frame for a railway picture), they had us over a barrel. Li Weishu, our guide as always, was magnificent - faced with 4 angry policemen who got quite physical, he managed to negotiate that even though all our films were confiscated - they would be processed in Harbin, under the eagle eye of the local chief of police (great excuse for the guy to get a free visit to Harbin to see family) and only those slides with people on would be confiscated. Great plan and one which took great negotiating skills - fatal flaw being that the E6 processing in Harbin was quite frankly worse than shite - 3 stops under for all film and the results just show what lovely pictures we got at Rerkehe and then that they should be binned - which they have been. The one redeeming fact in all this is that I hid my B&W and 645 films and they were fine!

I think the moral of the whole tale is that although China is a great place to visit and has become much easier to visit over the years there may still be unexpected problems (I am reminded of Duncan Cotteril's report of problems at Chengde). I gather that Derek Phillips group who were in Zhanhe 1 week after us also had to prove that no people had been photographed so visitors to the far north beware.

Anyway, we took the bus back to Harbin and then the K train to SYS. The train was clean and warm as in December and arrival at SYS on 8/5/01 was in glorious sun.


Shuangyashan shed and yard

SY0632, SY0568, QJ6917, QJ3598

The rest of the day was spent mainly in the SYS colliery station area (see excellent map from Ted Talbot and Florian Menius)

1100 UI QJ Fushan to SYS coal
1115 QJ7017 station
1145 SY1045 shunting station
1320 QJ3135 - mainline passenger
1330 QJ 7029 - uphill coal empties
1335 QJ 6897 - Fushan passenger
1400 QJ 3583 - downhill coal
1410 QJ7018 - downhill coal
1420 QJ7029 - uphill freight
1458 QJ7017 - mainline passenger
1600 QJ3583 - light from SYS yard to colliery station
1610 SY0632 - shunting SYS yard
1725 QJ3583 - mainline passenger

One note - again of caution - is that a Japanese gricer was mugged in January 2001, and all his cameras were stolen about 800 yards out from the SYS passenger station. This incident was told to us by 3 independent sources, so I think it is probably true. The gricer was found unconscious at the crossing where the line to the carriage sidings diverges from the mainline and although he was a solitary traveller (safety in numbers), he apparently was a target because of the fairly obvious large lenses etc which obviously stand out in a place like SYS. We found no problems at all in SYS.


Another excellent day on the approaches to SYS

The following locos were seen and photographed:-
QJ7017, 3135, 6917, 6897, 7020, 7018, 6805, 3135, 6897, 7017
SY1045, 0632, DF7 0292

Sleeper to Harbin then K train to Yabuli for Weihe


Passenger was on time on the Weihe system - but with 2 orange coaches as well as 2 green. This was all apparently because of some filming for a pop video for the extremely famous Taiwanese pop star - Zhang xin Zhe who was singing a ballad out in the forests. This cause a bit of a stir in the Weihe forestry lodge which was mobbed by several dozen school girls who all wanted our autographs as they were convinced we were the main attraction!!! Some poor Chinese girl has our names alongside best wishes from the Extreme Steam team - not much resale value there!

One log train today


Three log trains - can't complain


Two log trains, then a dash for Yabuli market where a kilogram of refried chillis can be purchased for the princely sum of 30p, then off to Harbin for a night a decent hotel followed by flight from Harbin to Beijing and BA038 home on 13th


Zhanhe is potentially a great system but for the problems several people have had with officialdom and the nuisance of the diesels. SYS is one of my favourite systems and there are loads of great locations even on our limited exploration of the system - it had the heaviest snow since 1958 the day before our visit so plans to get further out from SYS were thwarted even though we had a 4 wheel drive for the visit. Weihe is a gem of a system as many others have found - just a pleasure to watch and undoubtedly a must see for anybody who hasn't been there yet.

Rob Dickinson