The International Steam Pages
Steam in Northern China
Hereby a few notes from an individual trip by Johs. Damsgaard Hansen to Northern China from March 10th to March 24th this year. We (Steen Cavour Nielsen and I) visited the standard destinations Dahuichang, Chengde, Jingpeng, Fuxin, Tiefa and Weihe. Finally we spent one day in Dalian.
Tour planning was done from recent reports floating from the Internet like never before. Thanks to all of you individual gricers for sharing your ups and downs. However, organised steam parties featuring "China steam experts" with their payments here, there and everywhere shall have no credits from this contributor. Please, do not blame only the Chinese for all the rip off taking place. The fact, that more steam destinations in Northern China have turned into "money machines" these days and reached Cuban, even Vietnamese standards are not at least coursed by the behaviour of railway enthusiasts.
Arrived late morning at Beijing with KLM from Copenhagen via Amsterdam. In other due to recent reports about missing luggage, we only checked in one piece and were prepared for the worst. The luggage arrived safely, but us two budget gricers? More or less by luck we reached our destination as we were not given seats from Amsterdam until the very last minute prior to departure. Only thanks to some "no show passengers" we and a few other ticket holders were able to be squeezed inside an overbooked KLM 747. Panic. Reconfirmation at Beijing Airport upon arrival was not possible. Opposite to all other major airlines the KLM office simply was closed. Later on, telephone calls for three successive days were needed to get through to their office .
By airport bus to the main station where we left our gear in a box in the soft class waiting room and bought tickets for Chengde with departure late the same afternoon. Then with a stopover at Tienanmen to Dahuichang where limited time allowed only a rather brief visit. Action did not start before 14.30 when loco 4 as light engine headed for the quarries and returned with the loads some thirty minutes later. At 15.15 the second engine - loco 3 - departed with the first empty train. While I was exploring the upper part of the line next to the crossing, then Steen was denied access not only to the shed area but also to the first part of the line. A good pay to some staff by the guide for a couple of Swiss enthusiasts also present at the scene has to be the reason. Frankly said, no hassle occurred with the gate keeper or the loco staff.
Arrived by train at Chengde around midnight after a good rest at hard sleeper class and checked into the Jin Cheng Fandian just next to the station.
Lots of traffic at the steelworks branch all day long. We reached the summit just in time for the first of eight heavy trains to the steelworks this day. Timings at/near summit were 9.15, 11.30, 12.05, 12.45, 14.15, 15.10, 15.45 & 17.10. All trains were hauled by three locomotives including one doubleheader. The steam spectacle over the hill may be very hard to beat elsewhere in China today. One of the trains came to a halt with the leading locomotive inside the first tunnel and had to reverse for another try.
Thanks to earlier warnings we did not check out either the banking station or the steel work station where rip off and/or film confiscation seems to be at a rather high risk these days. Left Chengde by night train to Chifeng and further on to Reshui.
March 12 - 17
With base at the Railway hotel in Reshui we spent our next six days at the Jingpeng Pass. As individuals we were not disturbed by the Mafia like recent similar visitors also have reported. The new Mafia tactic is to go for the big money which are to be found among the guided tours. Only your guide may be interrupted as well as the pay probably even is included in your package trip! This did happen to a smaller American group on a guided tour we met in Chengde.
Due to the boycott of all steam news from the Jingpeng area on this web-site coursed by the rip off activities no observations or information regarding steam shall be given here except:
Added as a stopover en route to the North, we did break our journey in Fuxin for 7 hours from 5.40 in the morning. No sign of working steam at either the CNR depot or CNR station, where brand new diesels were used for shunting. Nevertheless, we were in Fuxin only due to the coal railway and went straight to Wulong station. We started out spotting:
6.20, dep. SY 0340 Pass To
Notice that one of the southbound morning passengers has been withdrawn.. Outside the workshop area SY 1396 (facing North) was shunting SY 0112 & SY 0940 (both apparently taken in for overhaul). Also present outside were SY 0112, SY 0126 & SY 0940 out of use, either withdrawn or awaiting repair. More other locomotives were seen inside the workshop, but we did not go any further.
After the morning rush the four locomotives 0076, 0941, 1319 & 1320 were parked just north of the Wulong gate crossing doing nothing for rather long, and the amount of activity at both the shunting yard to the North and the transfers to the CNR station was rather limited. Compared to just a few years ago, traffic seems to be declining. However, our short time here does not justifies any conclusion.
From Shenyang our intention was to continue straight to Weihe with FT 2095. However, no sleepers were available so we changed our schedule to visit the Tiefa Coal Railway already the following day. We used Tieling as a base. A bargain at the ludian just next to the station (not for the fainthearted, but hot showers can be arranged) resulted in a double room at 120 Yuan for 24 hours.
Readers familiar with the Tiefa steam scene are already aware of the Tiefa Coal Railway management and their 45 USD a day permits. Nevertheless, contrary to a recent posting by a tour operator at this web-site stating that "Getting a permit is a must", it is possible to get around here without a fistful of Dollars. Read on:
An early start to reach the morning rush between Diaobingshan (Tiefa) and Sanjiazi. Just east of Diaobingshan station (between the two crossings) we enjoyed:
6.20 SY 0665 Pass 302
Then it was time to have a look at Diaobingshan station itself where much caution has to be taken by non paying visitors according to recent incidents. In other therefore we kept a rather low profile, being in mind that Tiefa is NOT a closed area to foreigners. Next to the water crane at the coal yard we found SY 1683 and then at 7.50 SY 1183 (TF) arrived with P404. Spotted at the passenger bridge from the platform by some yelling policeman did not cause any serious problem. We simply left for the nearest restaurant, and upon return we were not interrupted at all. We did pictures, albeit discrete, both at the coal yard and from the passenger bridge. On the public path leading from the passenger bridge to the east where nice departure shots can be taken we acted more relaxed. Actually the only frustration here was coursed by a DFH 4 which ran around its train from Shenyang (still three pair of these trains a day) just in time to hide SY 0393 (chimney first) departing with P 205.
Rob's report from January 2000 (very helpful - includes both timetable and maps) indicated that the passenger rush hours are followed by much freight activity. Therefore we headed for the Sanjiazi area where all four lines - East (Daqing), West (Tiefa), North (Daming) and South (Wangqian) - meet. At Sanjiazi East station the following happened:
10.25 SY 0979 TF From Daqing to the west
As we had seen more movements at Sanjiazi West we changed position to here. SY 1683 did both shunting at the station and several smaller side trips with ordinary freight cars (mostly to the north) which shall not be listed here. Otherwise action was on quite often:
13.15 SY 1255(?) From the north to Daqing
In terms of quantity the Sanjiazi area more than lived up to our expectations. And we had no problems from any authorities when taking pictures at both stations and the surroundings. Notice that all loaded coal trains to Daqing which we saw were working chimney first. The layout of the mine just south of Sanjiazi is quite nice for pictures in the afternoon. Also, one loco was (is) active here with heavy shunting most of the time making "fake" departure shots rather easy from the road crossing just north of the mine.
March 20 - 22
Over almost three days we "explored" the Weihe forest railway which already has been intensively described. Therefore no specific steam observations should be necessary, except the fact that loaded trains more or less are running overnight. During our stay we found only one loaded train approaching Weihe in daylight.
In Sanjiazi we had the luck to learn about Rob's taxi driver from Dutch gricer Ameling Algra who kindly handled over the visit card of Mr. Gao Daqiang. If the Weihe line shall last for another season, then Mr. Gao may be a very busy man the coming winter. Living just opposite to Zhenzhu station this young driver knows the whole area very well and he is also an excellent driver. By far, the best taxi driver I have used in China. Not only did we reach more positions than the guided groups also present at the scene, but Mr. Gao is the kind of driver not asking for breaks and willing to tour with you for 12 hours more days in a row. Mr. Gao can be contacted at either 0451-3407214 (home) or 13945681707 (mobile).
To give a new destination a try and not at least to enjoy Chinese trams we spent our last day in Dalian. If you are not into trams, then it is better to haste with the (old?) news that steam service in the harbour area seems to have ceased. Although we did not investigate all railway lines in the port, we only found (rather new) diesels in use.
The Dalian tramways consist of three lines. A useful map is found in the Quail China Railway Atlas (a real must for every gricer travelling in China). Line 201 starts at the western part of Shengli Square located just outside the railway station and heads to the west. For the first part line 201 is even accompanied by trolley busses. At Xinggong Jie, a few stops before the end of line 201, is the starting point of line 202 which runs in another direction - to the south west. For the time being line 202 ends next to the Dalian Sea World but is just about to be further extended as part of the new light rail line. Finally, line 203 starts from the eastern part of Shengli Square and goes to Sergou in the eastern part of town. Due to temporary construction works at Shengli Square line 203 has no track connection with line 201.
We started out with line 201 where some older trams (probably reconstruction's of the same type in use in Anshan) were still in use. On line 202 only newer trams were in use, but more positions are quite interesting. Especially around the Sea World where the beach and even speed boats in the Chinese Sea can be used as a foreground because the line is running on an embankment some distance away. The Xianlu depot host all trams for line 201 and line 202 and we had a very unofficial short time visit to here. Several brand new light rail trams had already arrived, and final testing was well in progress. However, we did not see any of these new trams in service. The most interesting discovery for us at Xianlu depot was to find no more than two trams of the old Anshan type still present and of these only one seemed still to be serviceable.
With no information about the use of rolling stock we headed back to investigate line 203 almost convinced that the old trams in Dalian belonged to the past. How wrong we were and what a show we ended up with! Line 203 is served only by the very old (Japanese built) wooden cars of the same type which may still be found in Changchun. Traffic is very intense, with at least 25 trams in use at the same time. Sergou district is rather hilly so, without comparing to San Francisco, a tele lens is really good for photos here. Also, the Russian influence of architecture, which just a decade ago was very present in more other Manchurian cities are still found to a rather big extend. Not to mention several old mailboxes carrying the inscription "mailbox" still present having survived both wars and revolutions. The depot at Minzhuguangchang is home to all line 203 trams. However, a few minutes after we entered (by permission from the gate keeper) we were kindly asked to leave, so time was too limited to check out the whole depot.
For a change, a visit to Dalian is recommended every gricer who may like to use one out of many days in Northern China not watching steam. Beside, recommendation can be found at a very fair price even at the new hotels. Lots of locals are looking for customers outside the railway station. Competition among the hotels seems to have resulted in fair hotel prices. Often difficult to find elsewhere on the "gricer circuit" in Northern China. Unfortunately, our time was running out so we had to continue to Beijing the same evening at 20.37 with T 91/94. One of these very fast trains with very expensive tickets compared to slower trains. 269 Yuan gets you a hard sleeper.
Arrived at Beijing Main station at 6.08 and then straight to the airport. Reached Copenhagen on time albeit very tired and suffering with the compulsory "China Cold".