The International Steam Pages

Steam in China September/October 2001

Jan Willem van Dorp reports on a wise ranging trip through the country:

Timetable : The new timetable came into force on 21st October 2001 with the usual retimings throughout the country. Minor retimings under the old (pre 21st October) service are not given in detail as these data are obsolete by now anyway.

Wangdu-Tangxian-Baihe: The Tangxian-Baihe section of this narrow gauge line just south of Beijing offers steep gradients and some good scenery. Traffic is light though and varies from day to day, but trains can easily be chased, either by public bus or, on the steeper sections (westbound from about 3 km west of Tangxian to the first intermediate station at Yanzan and eastbound from Baihe to the second intermediate station at Shangaman) where stops to brew up are frequent, even on foot. Crews and station staff are very friendly and helpful. Both engines and track are in a very sorry condition though, the line would appear to have been constructed using granite sleepers, which now crack and widen the gauge (see below) and later improved with now already crumbling concrete sleepers.

On 31st August C4-2819 was the working engine; that day it left Tangxian early at 8.00 with four wagons of sand for Baihe, which were initially left at Shangzuan loop, the engine proceeding LE to the level crossing with the main road just before Baihe where it had left four derailed wagons with stones on its previous trip. After rerailing this load was also brought to Shangzuan, 2819 then (13.00) carefully proceeding LE past the derailment site where the pw gang was still at work to Baihe. Here water was taken, three empty wagons collected from the cement works and in two trips 9 full ones from the quarry, four of which then were taken to Shangaman, bringing back that morning's load of sand, which was then duly deposited at the cement works. More water was taken, the engine turned on the turntable (at Tangxian there is a triangle) before at 16.30 setting off for Tangxian with the remaining 5 wagons of stone. Two brew-up stops later Shangzhuan was reached, where the 8 wagons of stone deposited there during the day were added. The next minor gradient proved to be too much for this heavy train though and half the load was left on a level section halfway Shangzhuan and Yanzan. Tangxian was finally reached at 20.00.

The next morning 2819 had left, probably to Wangdu, and C2-2813 had taken its place at Tangxian. This engine set off for Baihe with three wagons of sand at 10.00. Baihe was reached at 11.30 and after shunting and tripping left at 13.00 with five wagons of stone. Tangxian was reached at 15.00 (apparently the line had been cleared during the night), where 2813 was quickly turned for, after taking water, a second trip with three wagons of sand to Baihe, leaving Tangxian at 16.00. At each of the major gradients this engine with these loads only needed one stop to brew up.

On 2nd September - a Sunday - nothing happened during the morning, but 2813 was expected to head West again by 14.00. By 12.00 a small diesel had appeared at Tangxian, from Wangdu I suppose, and this propelled 5 empty wagons to the second quarry siding, some 5 km up the Baihe line (before Yanzan), before returning east LE to clear the line for 2813, which also propelled 5 empty wagons, two for the first quarry siding and three for the second. The 8 wagons at the second quarry siding were then filled with stones, after which 2813 brought them down to Tangxian.

There are frequent buses from Tangxian to Baoding (some via Wangdu). Baoding is the most convenient railhead for this line as few trains stop at Wangdu. In Tangxian the Tangxianshangyeju Hostel offers doubles with bath for 80, less for single use.

Dahuichang limeworks railway: On 5th September 03 went LE to the quarry at 14.15, but nothing further moved that afternoon. The next day started again with a light engine, 02 in this case, heading to the quarry over the wrong track at 14.15, five minutes later followed by 03 with empties over the right track, after which the often described frequent service started. Do note that the nr. 385 bus route seems to enjoy a generous lunch break, none left Bajiaocun between 12.00 and 13.30. Bus nr. 356 - albeit via a longer route - seems to be an alternative. In the afternoon 385 runs quite frequently though.

Chengde: No news, which is good news. 7-10th September saw different traffic levels every day, with a magnificent Sunday 9th September with trains storming the bank at about hourly intervals sunrise to sunset, but the other three days were rather slack. As usual most uphill trains were single headed, double banked, but one train with four engines, two front and two rear and one with two engines, one front, one rear on seven loaded wagons were also seen. This latter short train was the only one stalling on the bank - twice. Engines noted on the line: SY 0533/1493 ; JS 6217/27, 6368 (large smoke deflectors), 6403.

Fuxin: The coal railway has a lot of SY action (the last JF is now dumped) and very friendly staff - where else could you just walk into a huge opencast mine? - but very little photographic potential.

The previously (CRJ 124/WS 99-5) published passenger timetable was still largely correct in mid-September with one exception: the destination of the early morning Southbound trains seems to have been exchanged; the first, 108, now heading up the (Wangyang?) branch and the second, 110, following the CNR line further South to (Dongliang?). At least on 12th September the engine off 108 made a LE trip to Wulong before returning for III. On the CNR line some QJ activity remained, but apparently only to the South. A 6.00 arrival and 14.45 departure were seen twice and a 9.00 arrival once. The Fuxinzhanqian Hotel is opposite the CNR station and has rooms for all pockets.

Tiefa: In mid September the coal railway system continued as previously described with only SY (facing in random directions) on both freight and passenger trains except for the then still 3 pairs of diesel hauled CNR passenger trains through to Diaobingshan. At that time the passenger timetable published here still applied give or take a few minutes here and there, but the new 21st October service must have brought some changes; according to the new nationwide timetable (p.202) the CNR trains through to Diaobingshan (only indicated up to Daqing, but that was already the case in the 2000 timetable) at least have been reduced to two pairs only.

Westbound freights for the Dongguantun line usually pass through Diaobingshan where a banker is added which most days continues with the second freight, at about 9.45 (often double headed) and 10.30 (not daily). Occasionally there is a third one at about 12.00. Return paths are dictated by the crossing opportunities with 407 passenger, i.e. about 14.25, 15.50 and 16.20 through Diaobingshan. Some of the best photospots are indeed on the km 7,5-10 section of this line, but the busy Sanjiazi-Diaobingshan section offers quite reasonable photo opportunities as well.

The coal railway branch East from Daqing parallels the CNR Tieling line up to the Tieling power plant. In the Diaobingshan area staff were found to be very friendly and no problems were experienced.

The Hotel in Diaobingshan station square (on the right if You leave the station) is the Tiefashi Zhanqian Hotel; it still charges 100/126 for double rooms with shower (the showers work if you ask) and can be recommended. You might however get a visit from the owner's brother- in- law who collects photocopies from gricers’ passports.

Shenyang-Harbin: In September all wires were up, waiting for the power to be switched on, but all traffic seen was still diesel. On 30th September the first electric engines (twin units, probably SS,) were seen at Changchun shed and one of them was seen working a freight between Siping and Tieling on 3rd October, so I assume the power was switched on 1st October. Obviously diesels will only be replaced by electrics as and when these become available, but that the last remaining pockets of CNR steam cannot last much longer will be clear.

Shuangyashan: Quite a nice system with plenty activity in late September with both QJ and SY working freights, some 4-5 in daylight both on the main-line and on the Fushan branch, QJ working the passenger trains as per the timetable published in WS 2000-4, give or take a few minutes here and there and SY on pilot and trip work around Shuangyashan. The hotel in the bus station opposite the CNR station is excellent value at 68 a double with bath, at least in single use, but they do try to charge foreigners double.

Huanan : Not visited as a Japanese enthusiast I met at Shuangyashan on 21st September told me that he found no trains running there the previous day apart from the one he chartered. I guess that means there was at least one engine in steam though.

Xilin mineral railway : A very scenic little line, especially with the magnificent autumn colours in late September. Three engines, 06, 07 (tender 10) and 08 (tender 07) were active on what appeared to be a three day diagram with two engines working hard on the line and the third in turn stopped for washout. More engines were dumped or stored in the loco and carriage sheds, but none looked serviceable. Indeed, the running engines were not in a very good condition either; 06 needing brew-up stops even the level section and 07 needing frequent welding(!) on its motion. Engines are turned at both ends of the line and 25/6/7th September saw about three trains each way in daylight. On Friday 28th September, on the eve of both the national day (1st October) and the mid-autumn festival (a new nationwide one week holiday) 08 (front) and 07 (rear) left Xilin at 8.00 with 7 mineral wagons loaded with passengers. As these got off at frequent stops to set fire to the lineside, this at first looked like the annual outing of the Chinese arsonists society, but more likely it was just an old fashioned sobotnik (communist day of "voluntary" work) to burn the grass near the line cut in the previous week in a (somewhat) controlled manner. It was also an excellent photospecial with many runpasts.

In the afternoon 08 returned on a loaded train picking up the few remaining arsonists who hadn't yet returned under their own steam. The next day found 08 just arrived at Xilin by 8.00 with a loaded train and 07 also present, but nothing further happened that day; apparently the holiday had started. The Xilin stationmaster is quite helpful, but some crews (not all) have definitely been spoiled by idiots handing out big money. In Xilin the line is reached by walking West (uphill) from the first level crossing South of the CNR station.

There is now a quite reasonable, but rather expensive, hotel in Xilin, in the main street, 100 m north of the station access road. A double with shower is 132, but that can be discounted for single use.

Tongliao-Jiningnan: An early to mid October visit produced no real news on the steam front, all traffic apart from the now daily Daban-Hohhot DMU, North of Sanggendalai remaining QJ. There are some minor items though ; for one, two new stations are under construction (and already in the new timetable) on the Jingpeng pass section, both with two loops. They are located at about km. 484 between Xiakengzi and Shangdian and at about km. 507 between Liudigou and Galadesitai. Then the QJ passengers are now equipped with brand new blue and white coaches. They have also been speeded up on 21st October. Besides the two new stations there is further construction on the Jingpeng pass section all (or nearly all) dirt roads now being equipped with guard posts (I hope this is not a job creation scheme for steam crews to be made redundant). During ten days on the Jingpeng pass section only two singe5~ headers were seen all other trains, on average 4-5 each way in daylight, being QJ+QJ as usual.

Annoying was a visit at my hotel by three officials from the Keqi (Jingpeng) Tourist Bureau to extract 50 per day for their photo-permit. Without the interference of anybody interpreting who could be made hostage I managed to send these Chinese only speakers off with 50 for my whole stay and I strongly suggest that nobody pays more for this seam, or if anybody does pay, report it to the authorities in Beijing as corruption. After all issuing photo-permits is the business of the railway or the national authorities and not that of local government, nowhere in the world and certainly not in centralist China.

In Reshui the Mei Le Hotel at the western end of town was found to be excellent value at 60 a double.

Baotou: In passing no steam activity was noted at Baotoudong.

Baotou-Dongsheng-Shenmubei: Quite a few changes here; there has been further renaming of stations : Heitangou is now Wulanmulun and Daliutabei (ex Daliuta) now Shendong. The Wulanmulun (ex Heitangou) to Shenmubei is electrified and worked by old single unit electrics in two tones of green on freights. The passenger service has been revised with the old passenger now a fast with few stops, worked by a DMU of the same design as used on the Hohhot-Daban express, but a new QJ passenger/mixed Dongsheng-Wanshuiqannan-Wulanmulun-Dongsheng has been introduced. The Dongsheng-Hohhot express remains QJ between Baotou and Dongsheng, but a single QJ can not nearly keep time on the southbound (uphill) express. The full passenger service from 21st October 2001 is given in the appendix, but beware of the advertised halt at Xiangshawan; both K 993 and 7498 stopped there on 18th October, but neither of them did on 22nd October. Possibly this stop is seasonal (summer only) or on request(?). On the freight front the first two brand new DF4 (9496/7) had arrived by mid October and were working freights, usually as a pair, on the section South of Dongsheng, but that still left some 4 QJ triple tractions (double headed and banked) at Aobaogou viaduct every day during daylight at that time. North of Dongsheng all freights seen were still QJ. In six days on the line-side none of the DF4 diesels previously reported were seen. To reach Aobaogou viaduct (km 107-108) take a southbound 3 city bus in Dongsheng ; it terminates at the km 101,7 level crossing. The railway station is served by bus 1 Shabazi (and sometimes Xiangshawan) can be reached from Dongsheng by the new passenger/mixed. This (7498) usually crosses a freight as well as the DMU on 4695 at Shabazi, the freight then following 4695 after some 30 minutes (ample time to photograph both QJ trains) as there is currently no crossing possibility at Nalingoumen, the first station South. The next rush hour is around 11.00 when K 993 usually both overtakes and crosses a freight at Shabazi. 7497 also usually crosses a freight at Shabazi but after that rest sets in until first 4696 and then K 994 head North. To return to Dongsheng from Xiangshawan (km 43,5) walk to the main Baotou-Dongsheng road near km. 39,0 and catch a bus from there; there are still plenty of buses at 16.00, but I wouldn't try much later. Shenmubei-Shuozhou : No steam would appear to remain between Shuozhouxi and Shenchinan ; indeed, the whole line seems to be electrically worked now. From the DF4 hauled Shenmubei-Datong passenger (which still connects with the Baotou-Shenmubei train eastbound, but no longer westbound) on 24th October only one dead QJ was seen at Shenchinan shed and the one freight seen on this section, at Shuozhouxi, was diesel or electric (it was dark by then). Also, Shenchinan had lots of spare DF4. On the Shenchinan-Shenmubei section all freight is now worked by pairs of twin unit SS4/SS4B electrics. Two QJ were seen in steam at the intermediate station of Yinta (km. 144) though, probably for a branch to a mine, although there is also a not electrified branch (of sorts) here, which closely parallels the Shuozhou line for some 40 km. before disappearing South, possibly to join the Kelan line. Only DF4 were seen on this line though.

Jinchengjiang-Pingzhai (Hechi): This very scenic local railway surrounded by karst pinnacles remains JS worked, engines being turned at both ends. Apart from the mixed which still runs roughly to the timings published in CRJ 123 (i.e. southbound at Jinchengjiangxi 10.20-10.30 and northbound 14.30-14.40 approx.) there are usually about three freights each way in daylight. Weather is a bit of a problem in this part of China though and even at the best time of the year (November/December) one can only hope for decent weather. Jinchengjiangxi station, the centre of operations for this line, can be reached by a city bus nr. 6 (frequent, brings You to the level crossing South of the station) or 23 (just a few per day, but goes straight to the shed/ turntable north of the station). Alternatively, catch a Northbound bus from the roundabout 300 m east of the CNR station to Wenping village, 1 km from the station at km. 13, the level crossing at km 16.7 or any point further North. Up to km 17, the best photopositions are in and around the km 14-15 gorge. Other possibilities exist around km 12 and 8 as well as both sides of Jinchenjiangxi, but generally there is a lack of vantage points. Apart from the mixed which works through, freight traffic between Jincheng-jiang and -xi is trip worked by the Jinchengjiang pilot. Engines seen working 8275/83/84/87/88, 8373/5/6. The Hong Xing Binguan opposite the CNR station is good value with doubles with shower from 40. For another report on this area see Johs. Damsgaard Hansen's report.

Laibin : JS 8353 was seen shunting at Laibin on 5th November, so freight on the Heshan branch probably remains JS.

Rob Dickinson