The International Steam Pages

Steam in Northern China, November/December 2001

Derek Jenkins reports on the latest Steam and Safaris' tour to North China:

November 18

Arrived Beijing via BA and took internal flight to Harbin. Left Harbin 20:45 on train K603 to Hegang

November 19

Arrived Hegang 06:17. On the way in saw SY1498 going South on a passenger train. Went first to the line to Xing Shan for passenger train 21/2 which had SY 3014 before moving South to Fuli. Saw the North and Southbound passengers here and spent some time watching the antics on the 600mm OHE system where most wagons seemed to spend their time off the track rather than on it. Then moved to the works and central stabling point. It transpired that the locos at Hegang (steam and electric) are divided between Mining and Deep Hole divisions and only mining locos are dealt with at this point. Lunch time is a good time to be there as most of the locos make appearances for servicing.. We then returned to Xing Shan. There were several SY's in the hole but too far away to identify. We then moved to the line that heads west beyond Fuli. This line runs into open country and there is a steep bank beside a dirt road. Annoyingly the light went before, at 15:40, an unidentified SY stormed up with a passenger train. This is an excellent spot but most locos are tender first. Southbound fortunately this one was not. Hegang needs more than one day and we were only scratching the surface. SY's seen here were 0354, 0498, 0635, 0683, 0799, 0905, 1030, 1370, 1464, 1498, 3013, 3023, 3024. as well as 13 electrics. We then headed for Shuangyashan by bus.

November 20/1

Two full days were spent at Shuangyashan. There is no doubt that this is a system well worth visiting but worringly the shed staff said that they were expecting more diesels shortly. This is undoubtedly odd. Both QJ's and SY's are in good condition and only one of the existing diesels - 3138 - was in action (barely). The number of seemingly unemployed people just wandering around town speaks as to the decline in mining although on the line there was a reasonable amount of coal traffic. With the passenger timetable the only indication we obviously went for those with the hope of coal trains in between. The passenger train departures from Dongjing were spectacular and there are good photo spots on the main line beyond Changan and approaching Tudingshan station as well as leaving Shuangyashan itself.

Locos seen here :- SY's 0568, 0597, 1045, 1046, 1102, 1486. QJ's 3135, 3593. 3594, 3598, 6805, 6806, 6808, 6897, 6917, 7017, 7018, 7019, 7020.

We left Shuangyashan when the light went and headed for Huanan. South of Jiamusi this so called main road deteriorated into a cart track which was almost impassable in places. After a late arrival cabaret in the Forestry Company Hotel restaurant was provided by an eel which made a break for freedom from the restaurant tank and slithered across the floor defying attempts at recapture for some time. 

November 22

With the eel no longer in the tank at breakfast (escaped or providing that evening's meal) we set off across town to the Coal Railway station. This is not an easy place to find save that it is on the eastern edge of town. The intention was to catch the 08:00 railcar and decamp in the mountains for the following coal trains. However, on arrival at the station we were told that no coal trains were running that day due to problems further up the line. In any event there are now only 2 trains a day and only one in the light. The management were willing to hire us a train (did they see us coming and cancel the day's service?) and after money had changed hands we set off behind 011 in several coal wagons. It was fortuitously mild but with the normal temperatures at this time of year this might have been an enterprise resulting in hypothermia. As it was the only damage was that we all ended up looking like coalmen. What we did achieve was to get to the inaccessible mountain section and to have the advantage of a train for run pasts. There is some spectacular scenery here and a number of excellent photo spots. The only real way to get the shots though is to hire a train.

Locos in steam were :- 011, 043(21043), 44, 168. In the shed were 041 and 04? (the last digit being painted out). There were also the remains of 055.

Back in Huanan we set off by road for Qitaihe on another diabolical dirt road which from time to time crossed a new highway under construction and which necessitated many journeys into fields to avoid obstructions.

November 23

Qitaihe. The initial enquiry about this place to our guide Lu Yong had been only on the basis of a coal mine symbol on the Quail map. Lu knew someone in town who confirmed there was steam there. What we found was a surprisingly well run and extensive system with both steam and electric. The system runs for about 40km in all roughly to the East and West of the city. There are numerous branches and sidings. Mapping the extent of it would take several days and we had just one. We began at a stabling point west of town. Here were SY's 3002 & 1456. There were several electrics about as well and as we were watching these there was an unmistakeable whistle and QJ 2552 appeared with a coal train banked by an electric. It looked as if this had had to reverse somewhere hence the 2 locos. We were told that there was a passenger service as well and thus took off to the salubrious surroundings of the town dump around which the line does a reverse curve. It was fairly foggy but SY 1174 made a fine sight as it hustled by with this train at 10:00. The works/shed is at Fuchang and here we found SY's 894 & 1014 both stored. In works, for attention following a collision with a road vehicle, was QJ3142 . We saw SY1456 pass the works with a coal train travelling the fastest by some way that I had ever seen an SY go. Returning to town 1174 departed with the passenger at 14:30 and 2552 indulged in various shunting activities. The extent of the steam stock is said to be those locos above. The electrics are EL1s 1551 - 1556 and EL2/23s 1001-4. This system is probably worth another visit. In view of the small number of locos and the extent of the system you have to be in the right place at the right time though.

From Qitaihe we drove South to Jixi.

November 24

The decent weather we were having had to change and it did with a vengeance. The day dawned (sort of) with a thick mustard coloured fog and within minutes of leaving the hotel it began to rain heavily.

We picked up a local by the roadside who turned out to be the Adrian Fuller of Jixi. First he directed us to Chengzihe where the following SY's were all in steam :- 0590, 0733, 0863, 1058, 1437, 1544. Our expert then took us to Didao. We encountered a 600mm OHE system in Didao close to the standard gauge stabling point. Here were SY's 1205 & 1213. 0950 then appeared on a coal train. From here we went to the works which our man said is called Liangxi rather than Xijixi. Here were 1344 (in steam) 0407, 0804 & 1545 (in works). Stored were 1340 and a numberless SY (makers date 10/74). From here we headed South to Hengshan to find SY's 0038, 0040 & 746 all in steam. In the murky distance there was what appeared to be a JS but a trek to a mine found deflectorless QJ 3085 waiting to pull out a rake of loaded wagons. After leaving our expert we headed South to Mudanjiang. A good way South of Jixi we encountered some more SY's at Lishu. By now it was snowing and we had no time to stop. As it was conditions deteriorated dramatically with the road a sheet of ice and vehicles colliding, turning over and heading into the ditch. It speaks volumes for our driver that he got us to Mudanjiang unscathed.

Jixi undoubtedly deserves more time. The system is extensive but in the short time we had and with the weather conditions it was impossible to get a grip of it. There may well be a very stiff bank out of Lishu and there are probably other places we did not see and locos we did not encounter.

From Mudanjiang we took train 2018 to Tieling for Tiefa.

November 25/6

Tiefa. There is nothing to add from here save that JS 5029 was in steam as a special event for us. The management will steam this loco as long as the price is right! From Daqing we took train 6688 to Shenyang.

November 27

Sujiatun Works. Here were Ji Tong QJ's 7137 (on steam test) and 7140. I had seen the latter having its rods removed at Zhelimu only a few weeks before. Also in works SY's 0515, 0714, 1313, 1462.

We then took train 4226 to Tongliao. As it had been previously this train again had SS9 electric 0001. Departure from Shenyang was much delayed by the wrestling masses boarding the train.

November 28

Drove out to Zhelimu and took train 6052/3 to Daban. Train loco was QJ 6478 and 6631 from Chabuga.

November 29

Daban. Shed visit. Nothing new to report save that the stored locos had changed and now consisted of 6135, 6795, 6840, 6844 and not seen a few weeks ago was deflectorless 6984 presumably the pilot loco. Then drove to Reshui

November 30 - December 2

Jing Peng Pass. The reported DF4 here was not in evidence. Traffic was slightly down from October and there was the annoyance of a number of trains carrying ballast and stopping in section to unload. Other than a couple of days with the usual vicious wind the weather here was excellent. Left late on Dec 2 For Baotou via Jiningnan.

December 3

It was still dark at Baichi so unable to ascertain what was there. En route to Jining nan DF4's 4069/70/2 were encountered as well as QJ's 6855 & 6764. At Benhong were 6844 & 6850. The train engine was 6633. In the dark at Hohhot a dead JS and Dead QJ were just visible.

December 4

Made an early start for Singing Sands. The new road is now open for part of the way to Dongsheng. Blue lorries are presently banned from it but we saw one that had sneaked on and had inevitably overturned. It was less than encouraging to see a Blue and Cream DF4 heading Northwards in the mist. On arrival, however, there were North and Southbound trains steam hauled at Shabazi. The Shenhua Group's Turquoise and White DMU apparition passed both of these there at 08:55 and the northbound turned out to be QJ 6785. 7053 then appeared at 10:00 Southbound but from hereon , however, it was all downhill with a succession of new DF4's the only break being 6785's return at 14:25. Even the local passenger was in the hands of old shape DF4 9496. The lone dromedary here has been joined by many more which provide interesting inter train entertainment as they are herded across the sands or skate about on the ice. 

December 5/6

Aobaogou. On 5th uphills 12:55 6169 + 6171 banking and 14:20 6088 + 6863 with 6784 banking. With nothing else scheduled steam hauled went into Dongsheng where 6452 arrived with the local passenger at 15:30 and 6088 left Northbound at 16:30 with the train 6169 + 6171 had brought in.

On 6th uphills 13:15 6088 + 6863 with 6171 banking, 15:20 6785 with 6169 banking and 17:00 6194 + 2977 with 6784 banking. Passenger Southbound 16:15 Aobaogou departure with 6567. 

December 7

Visited Dongsheng shed. Dead here are 6655 & 6613 (both appear ex works) and 6404, 6287, 6195, 6346, 6789, 6018, 6415, 6946,. In works were 6573 (with its wheels off) and 6194. In steam, not previously mentioned :- 6740, 6178.

Generally :- The new diesels are 9501-6. They are appearing indiscriminately and any train (except, it seems, the Hohhot passenger) can be steam. The staff at Aobaogou know which trains are steam and which locos are on them. The local passenger now leaves Dongsheng Northbound at 09:00 and Shabazi at 10:20. Southbound at Shabazi 13:40, Dongsheng arr 15:30 dep 16:00, Aobaogou arr 16:10 dep 16:15.

The DMU times are as reported but on 7 Dec it was sick and running an hour late northbound.

The staff at Dongsheng expect to receive more diesels and sadly expect steam to be eliminated by next June.

December 8

Having returned to Baotou visited the Steelworks. Undoubtedly the highlight was finding YJ's 115 & 232 both in steam - the latter ex works. Other SY's here 0264, 0392, 0501, 0710, 0711, 0823, 0824, 1293, 1431, 1727, 1731, 1743, 1748, 3012. JS 58002 is dumped along with the ET7's and XK13's long dumped.

Moved on to Baotou Xi where there is a long and sad line of dumped JS's :-8001/4/5/7/8/9, 8010, 8267, 8279/80/2, 8320/1/2/5/6/8/9, 8316/7/9, and QJ's 6831/4. 

Then took train 1481 Baotou - Beijing arriving at the unearthly hour of 05:00 before BA flight home.

Rob Dickinson