The International Steam Pages

Narrow Gauge and Industrial Steam in Northern China, March 2001

This is a report of the Steam and Safaris tour by Derek Jenkins with the assistance of Lennox MacEwan

Shanhetun Forestry Railway - 5-8th March 2001

We flew Beijing - Harbin then had a bus onwards to Shanhetun.

This system was not nocturnal, as previously reported, but operated 24 hours a day. Steam is responsible for all log trains but passenger services, of which there are a number and to various destinations, are operated by various dilapidated railbuses - both bogie and 4 wheel and a rail lorry which pulls a coach and carries animals in its lorry part.

The system has the following steam locos (all were in steam- and all were in regular use save for 07 which is dumped. 067 is used as the Shanhetun shunter) :-
004, 05, 006, 07, 007, 08, B031009, B031031, 067, 506, 603.

The system is busy and is hauling logs of all sizes as well as wood chips in bags, bricks tiles and coal. It would seem that all the locos are needed as rarely were any idle other than when receiving maintenance e.g 05 was having its wheels turned on our arrival but was out on the line less than 48 hours later.

Before our arrival there had been heavy snow which hampered operations and we managed to get our bus stuck in a snow drift whilst exploring the line. There is a reasonable dirt road for some distance from Shanhetun vaguely paralleling the line. The road probably goes as far as Shahezi.

We took one of the railbuses to Shahezi where there is a 6 track layout but did not go further. The line officials said that the line ran to Changqing - 100.5 Kms.

There are a number of reasonable photo positions on the way to Shahezi particularly in the area before Xiangyan loop, where trains stop for water. This area can be accessed by road from the crossing just beyond Xiangyan then by walking back along the line.

Despite it being busy the line is threatened by a reservoir project and the 2001/2 season may be its last.

The management and staff were very friendly and on the railbus trip were happy to indicate good photo positions, leave us there to await a train take the railbus to the nearest loop and return when the train had gone.

Ganhe Forestry Railway - 9/10th March 2001.

We returned to Harbin then took the overnight train thence to Ganhe.

This system also appears to be a 24 hours a day operation. Steam is used for both the log trains and the daily passenger service although there is a railbus which seemed to be used for some passenger work.

The system extends to Yuanjiang where there is a junction and thence to Wulite and Ganyuan. We were told that the passenger service (which nominally departs Ganhe at 8:00am but can and does run later) runs to Wulite and Ganyuan on alternate days. The passenger usually has 4 or 5 coaches and because the places served are remote and inaccessible it also operates as a travelling market. This attracted a good deal of business at Qilibin where there is a 6 track layout, watering facilities and a "Y". We travelled to Qilibin by steam hauled train which the management of the line laid on for us. Its departure was much delayed (which also delayed the scheduled passenger by 2 hours) by the appearance of the local constable who immediately banned all photos. An argument ensued between him and the railway authorities resulting in the constable accompanying us to make sure we behaved. He became bored after 10 minutes and ill 10 minutes later and had a thoroughly miserable day. We photographed anything we wanted and the Forestry Company's photographer photographed us for inclusion in their newspaper!.

The railway authorities were welcoming and very friendly

Locos here :-
In steam 01, 02, 07, 09.
Out of use 03, 04, 011, 012, 20005. All these locos are probably serviceable.

The line is reasonably busy although traffic is sparse at times e.g. on 9th March 3 loaded log trains arrived before 10:30am but no more were seen all day. It is not said to be threatened and the passenger service is likely to remain steam hauled if only because it is well used and a railbus could not carry all the passengers and their goods.

There are several good photo positions close to Ganhe including a fine bridge but access beyond is difficult as the roads are poor to non existent. Several good positions were seen from the train including a bridge near Qilibin

Alihe Forestry Railway - 10th March 2001

This system is now closed and the line lifted save for the first 6 Kms. from Alihe. There are no signs of the proposed Tourist service on this 6 Kms. although Alihe station is still manned. The station masters only duty appears to be to organise the rail replacement bus service.

Stored servicable are diesel loco 044 and steam locos 039, 045, 046
Also present were steam locos 020, 023, 035, 044 and a loco numbered 28-030 on one side and 28-034 on the other. There were also the remains of 009, 022, 040 as well as remains of several railbuses and rail lorries. There is a fine semaphore signal at the entrance to what is left of Alihe station yard.

The works area was also manned by a number of workers who had nothing at all to do.

We were told alternately that the area served by the line was logged out or that the log company had ceased to trade. The former seems more likely as logs are still brought in by road.

Zhanhe Forestry Railway 11th - 13th March

We arrived early afternoon having taken the train Alihe - Fuyu- Beian - Zhanhe. We explored the extensive station area and yards. There is a permanent pilot loco which shunts loaded trains immediately on their arrival and brings out empties. The system was clearly busy.

The following day we had hired a railcar but the police appeared intent on seeing us out of town but after discussions with the railway authorities we were allowed to embark on our journey. As at Ganhe the friendliness of the railway authorities was at odds with the awkwardness of the police.

The first 22 Kms. of the line are through undulating country but after Sudaogang there are many scenic locations - particularly between Hexi and Hadong which was as far as we went.

On the 13th we were photographing from the road when the constabulary reappeared. We were accused of photographing the local inhabitants who were said to be annoyed. As we had not photographed anyone this was obviously just a ruse. We were ordered to return to our hotel and passports were taken for checking. We were told films would be confiscated but Lu Yong our guide did a grand job and persuaded the police it was easier to watch our videos. After an examination of these and finding trains and no locals they became bored and we were allowed to go. Fortunately no trains were missed during this farce.

Steam locos here are :- 023 (OOU), SZ31198, 31179, 31187, SZ31037, 003, 31095, 174, 098, 31175, 80, 036.
Diesels 385 and 3 others unnumbered.

This is a busy, interesting and photogenic system which deserves more exploration. Unfortunately the Police are not friendly whilst the railway authorities could not be more welcoming.

Xilin 14th March

We travelled here by train from Zhanhe via Yichun where we had a bus. We first went to Xilin Iron & Steel. This is a very small steelworks the management of which seemed pleased to see us. Only SY 0507 was in steam and it seemed able to cope with all the work available. OOU were SY's 0325, 0961, 1441

Adjacent to the line which runs from the CNR yard to the tipping building of the mineral railway we discovered JS 5120 (with high deflectors) and JF6 3082 both OOU.

We then moved on to the mineral railway. The loco shed/works are situated above the town at the main yard. A short single line runs from there to the tipping building. On the line to the mine trains were running regularly. There are several photogenic spots and the area where trains leave the mine and travel steeply uphill into a "Y" before reversing is worth some time.

The mine itself is worked by ancient 2 axle electric locos 2 of which were working and a further of which was OOU. The overhead wire is not for tall people being only 5ft 6ins above the rail!

Weihe 15th - 17th March

We travelled by train Yichun - Harbin and bus to Weihe. This system has been well reported on before but we found none of the hostilities from staff or management some have reported. Indeed we found no problems when here a year ago. As long as you make an effort to be friendly with them they will reciprocate which even goes as far as stopping a train by the lineside to give you a lift!

The summit south of Pinglin is worth spending time at although it is in a cutting and a bit tight. It can be accessed by road to the crossing just beyond Shuangfeng and walking back or the passenger train to either Pinglin or Shuangfeng. Northbound log trains often take a banker at Shuangfeng which can be the engine of the Southbound passenger. While we were there the summit was deep in snow making walking the line difficult.

One word of warning is that the northbound passenger does not stop at Shuangfeng station as if it did it could not make it up the bank. Intending passengers are supposed to flag the train down at the road crossing south of here but the train will not always stop!

This system remains well worth a visit but ominously there is talk of next winter being its last due to lack of trees.

Yabuli 17th March

We took the train from here to Tieling for Tiefa. We were able to look at the remnants of the forestry system.. Nearby the old station area (of which there is no trace) were locos 01, 02, 04, 05, 06, and the tender of 127.

Tiefa 18 - 20 March

This system is now well reported on. It was as we had previously seen it. As we had the excellent cooperation of Mr. Wong from the railway we were able to discover when there was traffic on the scenic section towards Faku. This is worth spending some time on. Cooperation from the railway equals money passing the other way but as it also got us into the works it was worthwhile.

The through passenger trains from China Rail now seem to travel only to Daqing but have been replaced by steam hauled equivalents over the mine line.

This is a complete list of this systems locos. All SYs are Tangshan and all working except where indicated

JS 5029. Staff indicated Dalian 1957 OOU
SY 0023 No plates but probably 1/1967 OOU
0063 6/1967
0393 7/1971
0435 Away for overhaul
0665 5/1973 In works following overhaul
0860 7/1974
0979 4/1975
1147 8/1981 In works under repair
1183 7/1982
1255 10/1983
1412 11/1985
1683 5/1990
1749 10/1993
1751 12/1993
1764 1/1995
1767 4/1995
1769 6/1995
1770 7/1995
1771 9/1999
1772 10/1999

SY 0029 recently here is now scrapped. The remnants of SY 0969 once reported here are adjacent to the old roundhouse at Tieling CNR. Tiefa officials say that this was never one of their locos.  Also confirmed by officials as previously here but now scrapped - JS's 5838, 5915 (the cab of which is still at Sujiatun Works), 5916, 6022, 6093.

Benxi Steelworks 21st March

Bus from Tiefa to Benxi.

When last visited in 1997 we were accorded a surly welcome but this time everyone was very friendly.

The complex covers a wide area on both sides of the river. Steam, diesel and electric locos are in use but the fireless locos have been replaced by diesels. Fireless No 9 was OOU as was another which was probably No. 14.

We were able to visit the shed, works, servicing area by the blast furnaces and the slag tipping area but the latter is diesel operated and as the slag is tipped into a lagoon is wreathed in steam.

This is a list of locos seen. All SY unless indicated and all SY Tangshan save for 733
702 (0161) 7/1969
705 (0223) 5/1970
706 (0258) /1970
707 (0302) 10/1970
708 (0343) 3/1971
710 (0425) 9/1971
712 (0449) 3/1972
713 (0450)
714 5/1972
715 (0577) 10/1972
716 (0578) 10/1972
718 (0619) 1/1973
719 (0620) 1/1973
721 1/1974
722 (0772) 1/1974
724 (0817) 4/1974
726 (1075) 11/1975
728 (1077)
729 (0403) 8/1971
730 (1548) 5/1987
731 (1549) 5/1987
736 (1142) 7/1981

PL2 50 1969 OOU
XK2 28 OOU
Fireless Nos. 9 & 14 OOU

Chengde 22 - 24 March

Train Benxi - Chengde

The system was busy whilst we were present. There is nothing to add to previous reports save that worryingly the attitude of the railway to photography has become very much hardened. Besides the notices banning photography at the banking loop similar notices are now in place at the servicing area. We were told that the Railway wants to banish photographers altogether for reasons unknown. This has galvanised the Mayor of Chengde as over 1000 bed/nights per annum in local hotels are down to gricers and the local CITS are becoming worried about loss of business. He has made representations to the railway the outcome of which were not known at the time we were there.

Rob Dickinson