The International Steam Pages

Steam in Northern China, December 2001

Extreme Steam trip to China report by Michael Rhodes

December 1st

Flew BA39 to Beijing, new "beds" in business with seats going completely flat on new Boeing 777

December 2nd

Kicked our heels at Days Inn in Beijing before catching the sleeper at 21.30 to Chifeng. The train departed from Beijing Nan as Beijing Bei is being rebuilt.

December 3rd

Arrived Chifeng at 0715 and drove to Daban. Stopped at Wudan on the way to have breakfast and purchase a few essentials including pencils!

Daban shed visit at 1130
On shed were QJs6304, 6992, 7041, 7037, 6840, 6135, 6844, 6230, 7002, 7009, 6517, 6751, 6981, 6876, 7012, 6884, 6639, 6125. Scrap line contained QJs 2645, 3073, 1760, 2388, 2706

Whilst on shed there was aggressive sales pitch from several staff and we were offered good quality Chinese fur hat with China Rail emblem for $20 and excellent sheep skin lined Jitong line coat for $45, not to mention tie clips and lapel badges for $1-2. Vernon bought the full monty and now swears his new coat is warmer than the high-tech one from the UK he used to wear!

Passing during the visit were;-
QJ6638, 6639 arriving from Jinpeng
QJ6274, 6828 departing to Jinpeng

Then 29km east of Daban
QJ6301, 6358 on freight at Gulumanhan

December 4th, dawn temperature was -21

Lindong Hotel - good hot water, cold rooms and food in house was poor but it is the only institution officially licensed to take visitors. The town is 4km north west of the line and station of the same name. Early morning observation started at Lindong station.

0745        QJ7041    freight to Chabuga
0830        QJ6580    freight to Daban
0845        QJ7037    freight to Chabuga
0902        QJ6911    passenger to Chabuga
1020        QJ6751    freight to Chabuga

We walked the line from Lindong station (km693) to a road crossing at Wangjiawan (km699) and there are several good locations on the line for uphill trains from Chabuga to Daban, but sadly not much traffic. The line is then pretty featureless to Yemainao which has some semaphores. Contrary to previous reports the line from Lindong to Yemainao is criss crossed by several dirt roads which are easily accessible by bus if your driver knows the area. We had a nice chat with the crossing keeper at Wangjiawan and discovered that the job of manning this small crossing from a hut with no telephone or electricity paid 500 RMB/month and was shared by his entire family who arranged amongst themselves who took which shifts to keep the crossing manned. The family had also devised a non-standard rope pulley system which allowed the signalman to raise and lower the barriers without leaving the warmth of his little hut - very ingenious.

1200        QJ6576    freight to Daban at Yemainao

chased to Lindong for the pagoda shot (hope to scan a tranny of this to add to the report).

Then at Lindong

1350        QJ         freight to Daban
1420        QJ7041    freight to Daban
1500        QJ6301    freight to Chabuga, shunting out wagons at Lindong yard
1550        QJ7041    freight to Daban (departs after also shunting the yard)

December 5th, Temperature at dawn -14

Timetable for the day showed just 3 trains leaving Chabuga at 0600, 1040, and 1300 - there seems to be less traffic here than over the Jinpeng pass - not sure that should be the case but it seems to be.

0800        QJ6884    freight to Daban including coaches refurbished in Changchun and being delivered to Hohot area.
0900        QJ         passenger to Chabuga
1135        QJ7037    freight to Chabuga
1200        QJ6032    freight to Daban
1405        QJ         freight to Chabuga
1520        QJ7002    freight to Daban (NB light is just leaving the line at this time of year by 1515!)
1600        QJ7002    knocking out ballast at Lindong

December 6th, Temperature at dawn -20 with a bit of wind

Decided to visit Chabuga loco depot etc - this is an excellent spot.

Shed visit organised with no problem by Li Weishu - interestingly the depot foreman had no idea how much to charge as visits here are virtually unheard of in stark contrast to Daban depot. After initially trying to charge several hundred pounds, Li suggested 100RMB for all 4 of us which seemed to be OK and we had an excellent hour pottering around the depot.

Locos on shed:- QJ7163, 6125, 7049, 6358, 6478, 6631

We then moved to an excellent bank along the south side of Chabuga station and yard in time to see QJ6911 arrive at 1010 with the eastbound passenger which changed locos to QJ6478 before making a brisk departure from Chabuga.

Another comment is that the climb west from Chabuga is certainly full of photographic potential. There is a 10km winding section where trains work very hard between Chabuga station and the site of the pictures in Extreme Steam on pages 56 and 65. This is definitely worth exploration but we had to move on as we had decided to drive on to Tiefa but not before indulging in our first excellent brunch of the visit consisting of chilli pork Sezchwan style, aubergines and green peppers, mushrooms, pork jerky and shredded potatoes!

At Daode on the road to Tongliao, we passed QJ7038 at 1210 en-route to Daban and QJ7049 at 1300 en-route to Tongliao. Daode is the red chilli capital of China as a sign outside the township proudly declares and perhaps the only place on the planet where articulated lorries loaded exclusively with red chillis can be seen.

About 20km to the south east of Tongliao we passed an extensive narrow gauge system which criss crossed the road we were on. One township here was called Bahuta. The railway looks to be used for transporting sand and be of 762mm gauge. It is diesel hauled but absolutely charming none the less.

Eventually after a couple of wrong turns - the Chinese are not great at road signs - we made it to Tiefa and the newly refurbished Tiefa Hotel - very plush.

December 7th, Temperature at dawn -16 and on 8th December -4 and cloudy

This really is great system and I am just sorry I haven't been here sooner.

The maps available on this page are excellent - especially that provided by Duncan Cotterill. We knew that a permit is needed to photograph on the system and went to the stabling point to find the managers office to purchase one, only to be arrested by a couple of over-zealous security guards who would not believe Li was trying to buy a photo permit. They were not arresting us for photography, but rather because they wanted to make sure we paid for a permit. We were carted off to the main office for the system in Daqing (an imposing building adjacent to (east of) the system workshops accessed from the main road - Michael sent a map but I don't have time to turn it into a suitable from to upload - RD) and got a 2 day permit for 3 foreigners for 300RMB plus a 500RMB fine for not going to the correct office first. Anyway, the permit and the visitation to the main office opened many doors and got us into the workshops and any where else we wanted to go.

The system serves 8 collieries and the main correction to Duncan Cotterill's map is that there are two pits at Daming called Daming No.1 and Daming No.2. There is also a pit not on his map 34km beyond Faku up in the hills and this gives one the total of 8 mines. A ninth mine is being built at Sanjiazi and the whole system seems to be thriving.

The colliery company own 19 SYs and one JS and I will list the numbers of what we saw below.

The passenger timetable is a little difficult to discern as the timetable on the station wall at Tiefa bears absolutely no similarity to the actual train times. Tiefa station is the centre of passenger traffic and sends trains out on 4 lines. By far the best time to observe these is between 0845 and 0945 when there are several arrivals and departures at 0911 to Daming, 0921 to Daqing and 0935 to Wangqian. There is then an 1120 departure to Faku.

Whilst Tiefa is the passenger hub of the system, Daqing is the freight hub. There is a workshop, which has started doing heavy overhauls since the closure of Changchun works. There is also a big exchange yard with the China Rail branch line to Teiling and at the western end of this a loco servicing point which is at its busiest between 7 and 830 am.

Having walked or driven to all the pits and along all the lines, the epithet of flat and boring seems a little harsh. Where else can you see double headed SYs thrashing out of a yard with 57 coal empties - a train of over 1100 tonnes empty and double headed because of the climb out of Tiefa to Faku and beyond. Where else can you see a single SY struggle to start a load of 40 x 61 tonne wagons of coal - an awesome sight. Each colliery is photogenic in its own ways, the mainline to Daqing is busy if a little featureless and the branch to Faku is beautifully rural and winding. With diesels arriving at Dongsheng, SYS and Jitong, I would put Tiefa on any itinerary for China.

Anyway, the locos we saw were as follows:-

0023 (scrapped in works), 0063, 0393, 0435, 0660, 0665, 0860, 0979 (being rebuilt in works), 1147, 1183, 1255, 1412, 1683, 1749, 1751, 1764, 1767, 1769, 1770, 1771, 1772, JS5029 (stored serviceable in works).

December 9th

Drive to Harbin, then sleeper to Shuangyashan (hereafter SYS)

December 10th

Glorious sunny morning at SYS, temperature -18 at 8am - disaster strikes as a pair of DF1s pull out of the yard bound for Fushan (Nos.1452 and 1302). Through Li we discover that SYS got 5 DF1s about 3 weeks ago and expects 15 more units by the spring which will more or less finish steam off on this wonderful system.

Having made two previous visits to SYS we decided to explore a little further out along the mainline and therefore drove out to the power station at Bafengchang. The excellent map in Ted Talbot's report of November 1999 needs slight correction in that Bafengchang and the power station are exactly adjacent to one another. That said the map is very good although we did try to slightly improve it by photographing the map in the SYS colliery station which shows the roads more clearly. The drive along the line to Bafengchang is greatly aided by a new toll road allowing 100 kph all the way.

There are a couple of nice uphill locations for smokebox first trains (out of SYS) either side of Baoshan. The next good spot is Qixing colliery which has a stabling point for locomotives to the east of the passenger station with a water column. There are also two coal loaders either side of the line to the west of the station and a great industrial backdrop (for those who like such scenes). There are a couple of other goodish locations in and around Bafengchang power station. The most picturesque spot is however the lovely branchline station at Shuangyang which is served by an SY out stationed at Bafengchang.

Anyway back to the trip itself

At 9am we found SY0579 and QJ 6806 at the passenger station and DF1 Nos.1452 and 1302 plus SY1102 and QJ3598, plus 2 more QJs in the yards opposite SYS CNR station.

QJ7017 was then seen at Baoshan followed by a QJ at Dongbaowei mine at 1015 and another unidentified QJ at Qixing pit.

At Bafengchang there were QJ7019 plus another unidentified QJ both leaving light to Qixing pit and then QJ7030 which left with QJ7018 and SY0568 in tow which had both been withdrawn the week before due to the arrival of the DF1s - they made a sorry sight as they disappeared off towards the cutters torch at SYS.

Bafengchang was then empty of motive power so we decided to move on to the CNR station at Youyi to investigate whether the QJ working to Baoqing still run. Apparently the freight train runs daily and should arrive at Youyi around 1300 - sadly it was delayed until 1700 on the day of our visit. Apparently there is only one QJ in steam with the other out of service at Baoqing. The passenger service projected in the CRJ article that first mentioned this line has never materialised and there are no plans for one as far as we could tell.

Back to Bafengchang and SY1487 was working the Shuangyang branch and QJ6805 arrived from SYS. By 1500 at this time of year the sun has set! So back to SYS for an early supper.

December 11th, temperature at dawn -16

Out to Shuangyang, first photting QJ6808 on passenger at a crossing between Dongbaowei and Qixing. SY 1487 on passenger at Shuangyang.

Three hours wasted at Qixing with QJ6897 taking water. Unidentified QJ leaving with coal to SYS and QJ6806 arriving with empties at 1330. By now clouds had come in and there was virtually no light. QJ6805 was caught on passenger on the other side of Bafengchang and that was it apart from the fantastic sight of a QJ on 34 empties after night fall on the bank out of SYS - unrecordable but something to remember forever as the SYS system looks to remove steam by the summer. If you are going to China this is a great system and is especially busy if you stay at the SYS end of the line.

I then had to leave Vernon and Steve because of a prior commitment in the UK but they spent another day at SYS and 2 days at Hegang which I am sure they will communicate in due course.

Steam is going fast, DF4s at Dongsheng, DF1s at SYS, Xilin closed due to road competition, logging railways on their last legs. It cannot be long before the many spare diesels and the closure of steam repair shops like Mundanjiang and Changchun lead to the Jitong line dieselising wholescale. Maybe there will be another year or two - lets hope so.

Rob Dickinson