The International Steam Pages

Steam South of Beijing, January 2002 Part 3
Jiyuan and the WangBei Railway
(plus Chengde stand-in)

Click here for Part 1 (Dahuichang and Sichuan) or Part 2 (ChenJia Railway and Pingshi Railway). Skip most of this report if you want to read about working steam. There isn't much except for Chengde SY/JSs in the last paragraph.

Jiyuan January 2nd/3rd - see my narrow gauge summary for reports of previous visits.

Before this visit, my record at Jiyuan was 'Played 3, Lost 3'. In fact, I had only ever seen the locomotives close up once and never in steam - see my narrow gauge summary. Peter Nash who had been on all those disastrous trips over the Yellow River had threatened never to speak to me again if I found it working. More importantly, I wanted to know what Bruce Evans and Bernd Seiler (separately Played 1, Won 1 and in full sun) knew that I didn't - probably avoiding all public holidays including the western New Year would have been a good start. I came up on January 1st overnight by T82 from Chenzhou in a nearly full hard sleeper. I am not very bothered about residual shunting steam on and about CNR but I did see one SY and a couple more unidentified steam locos some 35 minutes west of Zhenzhou, JS 6496 shunting at Yan Shi and another JS at the power station a few km further on. At Luoyang there was a disgustingly dirty QJ in steam on shed and another dumped. At Luoyang, the Tianxiang Hotel I had used before advised me not to stay as they had no heating, let alone hot water. So I went into money saving mode (very necessary after the first 3 weeks of the trip) and spent Y70 at the Luoyang Hotel opposite the station for a room with all facilities (well the toilet worked and there was hot water, but maybe not much cleanliness or ambience). There is a new hotel opposite the Tianxiang - I didn't check it but no doubt it would have charged more than twice as much without the shortcomings of where I stayed. I was most impressed with the restaurant on the left side of the new hotel. Very popular and just Y13 for a big plate of pork, peppers and onions with rice washed down with a beer. 2001 had been a year to forget for me (don't worry you are not going to read about my 'annus horribilis' on these pages) and 2002 could only, I had hoped get better.

Next day, I had a deliberately leisurely start, checked out and meandered over to the bus station about 08.45. No buses to Jiyuan! 10 minutes later I recruited a friendly policeman. Rule 1 eventually applied and I found a minibus for what I think was Jincheng way north which sets out at 09.30. We didn't have enough passengers and it took another hour before we finally crawled out of Luoyang. Over the Yellow River we went and I relaxed a little as we sped along a good straight road which was new and almost complete. Eventually we came to a big cross-roads with Jiyuan a mere 9km left. Even better there was a narrow gauge crossing, the rails were clearly in use and a bus appeared which whisked me into town by 11.30. This time I tried the hotel on the east side of the long distance bus station (later discovering there was a better one on the west side). Still Y100 with my own bath was OK. Hope sprung eternal as I walked down the track with no obstructions and clear signs of use everywhere. Round the final corner and there was the shed, locked and no-one in sight as usual. Someone tried to send me to the main station and eventually I found a few staff who pointed me at a notice with "!!!" underneath dated December 2001. So 'Played 4, Lost 4' and I retired to the Internet Cafe where no doubt Bernd Seiler watched the trains flash by. I have enough troubles already not to want an extra 3 inches on my penis or three sizes bigger on my bust, let alone horny teenagers or the furry creatures of my dreams. 200 emails in the last week and 160 are crap and 5 contain viruses - the price to pay for a public profile. At least my ex-wife and daughter had separately send friendly messages, the advertisers had paid their bills, my cats had not walked out on me and my rugby team had squeezed out a win and were an amazing second in the Premiership. 8 hours work in the hotel room will have paid a few bills, another very cheap and quite palatable dinner and I just hope that maybe one more visit to Jiyuan will do the trick. I felt like giving up on 2002 and waiting for 2003. It never used to be like this.

In the morning, the shed was again locked and bolted. I relaxed, continued organising the next bash with a few emails, checked out and tried to find a bus to Luoyang, bearing in mind I had several options for the next day or so. There were none from the old long distance bus station and none too from the new long distance bus station east of town opposite the narrow gauge line. I hopped on a local bus onwards to the crossroads and waited. Nothing for 10 minutes, then a minibus came, not for Luoyang but for Zhengzhou. It suited me, I could work all afternoon (between the doorbell rings) and catch a morning train to Baoding. The bus dropped me at a large bus station about 1km west of the railway station, as usual it was much easier to get into a big city in China than out by road these days. Not knowing initially where I was, I threw money at the problem and grabbed a taxi but it was a bit too far to walk anyway. No tickets for seats on the morning trains out as usual so I bought an ordinary stand-up ticket for T152 and checked in to the new Tian Quan hotel over the station. 3* but a quick discount brought an excellent single room down to Y210 which saved any hassle from the touts. It was just 14.00. U$25 a day is easily achievable with two of you but difficult for just one with (good) hotels taking up most of the budget, there is no point in my slumming it when good surroundings pay for themselves and encourage me to work. Of course taking the full room service with Chinese lessons when they were offered regularly at my door was tempting but would no doubt have strained the budget too much, not to mention one or two other things.  All (and I mean all, I lost count after ten, and very delectable and well trained teachers they were) were no doubt itching to practice their and my language skills or maybe just simply checking out rumours about the size of the average big nose's equipment compared to that of the average male Chinese (in my case these days they would have been disappointed) but I suspect it was really the size of my wallet they were more interested in. It really is time I took some Chinese lessons but everyone is so helpful it hardly seems worth the effort. 

On reflection, in line with my previous visits, I believe this line is closed down annually between late December and some time after Chinese New Year. (Perhaps the steam crews go off to work the forestry lines? No, this is NOT a serious comment!

WangBei Railway (Tangxian) January 4th/5th - see my narrow gauge summary for reports of previous visits. Alexandre Gillieron was here before and after me!

I nearly missed my train because despite arriving in the waiting room 30 minutes early there was sign of any rush let alone staff on the gates. In the event a flashing sign alerted me and I wandered in and aboard to find it less than half full. Five and a half hours flashed by because from Handan I spent the time talking to a very well informed electrical engineer on his way to Baoding for a week's course. On arrival at noon he found me a bus in the bus station next to the railway station and we took a route to Tangxian which as usual bore scant relation to the Nelles Map (direct and not going via Wangdu). It took just over an hour and by 13.30 I had located the shed which, surprise, surprise, was locked and bolted with 2816 cold outside and no-one to be seen. In the station were a dozen or more wagons loaded with sand and the office was secured similarly to the shed. So I booked into the Distinguished Guest Building / Tang Xian Hotel as before - the staff were surprised to be given a photo of it from the 1999 visit. Tangxian had not changed much, the hotel was beginning to fall apart, the street dentists were still present and the railway had lost more land by the level crossing to new buildings. Indeed the biggest changes were the appearance of an Internet 'Cafe' in town and the demolition of the wagon repair shops to the left of the engine shed, the removal of the derelicts outside it and their total replacement with a large block of flats - this enterprise no doubt did wonders to keep the railway afloat! By evening, 2816 had been propelled into the shed by one of the diesels which must have been out on the line - these had all had an orange face lift since my last visit. In theory, I had just under five days to get a (steam hauled) train. There are no doubt cheaper hotels here but, probably stuck in my room for a long time at the keyboard, I needed as much comfort as possible. On Saturday morning, one of the diesels must have sneaked out of the shed without my noticing and only when it came back in the late afternoon was I was able to make contact with the staff. A few photos broke the ice and I believe what they were saying to me was that most of the staff were off on holiday and normal working would resume in March... All I would say is that if you are planning a visit here before then you need to find a way to do some checking.

I finally had a chance to look around the shed and (confirming what Bernd Seiler had told me earlier) I believe that this is basically the same steam fleet as I saw before. The Giesel ejectors have been abandoned (signs of new welding on the chimneys). Looking at 2819 it has the same overhanging cab as loco 11B1-001 then. Staff indicated that 2813, 2816 and 2819 were all that were left, with the rest cut up (there was a spare set of driving wheels in the shed). 2816 appeared to have the number 18 on its cabside underneath the layers of paint/dirt. Nigel Lawrence did report 2818 here in October 2001. 2816 and 2819 had very shiny wheels and I guess that they had run until just before (Western) New Year. 2813 had also seen use relatively recently.


So next morning, I slunk out of town, and headed reluctantly up to Chengde for a couple of days. Ouch!! Overall, I think I should have spent longer in Zhengzhou....

China has never been so easy. After the inevitable pot noodle in the hotel (courtesy of Ameling's kettle), I sorted the emails at the Internet cafe just after 08.00, caught what must have been the 09.00 bus to Baoding which dropped me at 10.20 at the main bus station 500m south of the railway station (buses to/from Beijing here) which meant I needed a 3-wheeler to the station where I quickly bought my ticket for T522 at 10.43 (chosen because it went to Beijing as opposed to Beijing Xi like most of the others). Five minutes after arrival at Beijing, at 12.25 I went into the foreigners ticket office and immediately bought a ticket for 2251 at 13.22 to Chengde and the journey flashed by courtesy of two (girl) students and a lady policeman who all spoke English and not long after 18.30 I was in the Jin Cheng Fandian outside Chengde station. What a doddle! I had vowed not to drink a drop of beer until I saw working steam again. Fortunately, we passed SY 1267 shunting at Gao Bei Duan (62km north of Baoding and 90km south of Beijing) and SYs 0492 and 0723 (the latter by no means certain) on shed with diesels some way before Feng Tai station.

It is hardly worth mentioning that, at Chengde, the weather was perfect and I saw morning trains up at (times approx for main station) 10.30 (SY/SY + JS), 12.30 (SY + JS/JS) and 13.30 (SY + JS/JS) and in the afternoon there was no train till 15.45. Next day I saw five trains in daylight SY + JS/JS, JS + JS/JS, JS + JS/SY, SY + JS/SY, SY + JS/SY, all but the last in perfect light. Locomotives seen at work were SY 0532, 0533, 1493 and JS 5634, 5720, 6403. The spectacle (sound and sight) was as good as ever and if diesels really are on the way for April, this was a good way for me to finish and made up in no small way for the disappointments of the previous week.

Rob Dickinson