The International Steam Pages

Solo In China for the first time - March/April 2002

David Longman reports on his very positive experience:

As the late, great Frankie Howard used to say ... 'The Prologue'. Having made two successful visits to China as part of a large guided group it was with great dismay that I read numerous reports in the early part of this year detailing the rapid demise of steam in various parts of China. As a teacher it is rare to find any companies who tailor their trips around the school holidays (take a bow 'Steam In Paradise') and since no-one seemed to be organising a tour over the Easter holidays the only solution was to consider the possibility of 'going it alone'. This was not a decision lightly taken and it was only after some morale boosting conversations with Rob Dickinson that I decided to take a chance. The key requirement was to be able to buy the right train tickets and without the wonderful English translation of the CNR timetable marketed by Duncan Peattie and the loan of the Chinese version by Adrian Freeman I don't think the trip could have succeeded. I quickly began to appreciate the wonderful 'brotherhood' of the overseas enthusiasts as my requests for help and advice were met with a shower of e-mails and phone calls. Finally, armed only with a Chinese phrase book, a sheet of useful phrases written by a Chinese friend, a ring binder full of internet reports and the aforementioned timetables, the time had almost come to sally forth. Then seven days before departure came the news that SYS had withdrawn its steam and it was back to the drawing board. A plea for further advice on the 'Steam In China' newsgroup page brought forth more suggestions and a final itinerary was settled. This is how it went ......

Friday 29 March

Arrived on Air China flight from Frankfurt at Beijing Capital Airport - familiar territory - and took the airport bus into town. It was cloudy and grey! Collected a pre-booked ticket on Train 2559 from Beijing Nan to Chifeng and as the weather seemed to be improving caught the tube across town with a view to visiting Dahuichang Limestone Works. Emerged from the tube station into pouring rain and promptly turned round and headed for the station. Anyone got any good ideas on what else to do on a wet afternoon in Beijing?

Saturday 30 March - Yuanbaoshan

Arrived at Chifeng and caught a local bus to Yuanbaoshan. The bus station is cunningly hidden behind a row of shops. To find it turn right out of the station and it is about 50 yards up the road on the left-hand side. Journey time to Yuanbaoshan was about 35 minutes and cost 5Y. I was deposited outside of the Yuanbaoshan Hotel - a term I use lightly to describe this establishment! The town must surely have something better to offer - no bath, no shower and no hot water and all for the bargain price of 108Y per night. At least the toilet wasn't a squat!

The mine railway was only 200 yards away and the sight of JS 6246 and JS 6544 being prepared on shed and the arrival of JS 8249 on a train of loaded coal wagons lifted spirits immensely. These were then joined by JS 6245 which arrived from Anqinggou with the morning mixed train. All engines face east and photography is best until about 11.00 when the light begins to get well behind the engines. Spent the afternoon on the bank where I saw JS 8250 on a downhill working of loaded wagons and JS 8249 on a short uphill train. Returned to the station around 17.00 as light was now well to the west and provided good opportunities for glint shots as engines returned to the shed for servicing.

Sunday 31 March - Yuanbaoshan

The 7.00am departure from Yuanbaoshan was a passenger working rather than a mixed train but there was plenty of action in the yard with JS 8518 added to the roster. Around 11.00 I was offered a footplate ride on JS 6544 which took me up into the hills behind Yuanbaoshan to the three mines that operate in that area. The crew were adamant that the conveyor belt mentioned in earlier reports had been abandoned before completion - a statement which suggests that the mines themselves may not have a long term future. The offer to join the crew for lunch on the footplate was simply too good to refuse - the ultimate Chinese take-away!

Monday 1 April - Pingzhuang

Decided to have another try to photograph the 7.00am mixed train from Yuanbaoshan before transferring to Pingzhuang by local bus. On this occasion it certainly was mixed - however it was difficult to see the nine coaches that followed behind the 24 empty coal wagons! The local bus to Pingzhuang cost a further 5Y and deposited me outside the Pingzhuang Hotel. A room here cost 300Y but what a room! In fact a suite, with constant hot water and real quality fixtures and fittings. After 4 days 'on the road' it was just about worth every yuan! The taxi driver was confident that he could find the mine railway having been shown a picture of it - a confidence that evaporated over the next 45 minutes. After several false starts we finally arrived at the brewery (see the maps!) where he refused to accept more than the standard 5Y fare.

Traffic was very light with mainly light engine movements although just before mid-day two long trains of empties passed through the washery area - but tender first. A wander over to the open cast pit was rewarded with a shot of JS 1001 on a short train of empty wagons and SY 0517 on a track train. Numerous electric locomotives were seen both light engine, stabled and on trains of waste (no coal). Late in the afternoon SY 1052 arrived on 6 loaded wagons from the north and JS 5702 brought a train out of the washery

Other locomotives seen:
SY 1052, SY 0400 and SY 1083 (with deflectors) on the coaling road.
SY 2010 (in steam) and SY 1007 (dumped) on the depot
SY 0916 (light engine)

Tuesday 2 April - Fuxin

Time to buy my first train ticket - Train 650 to Fuxin. Adrian Freeman had sent me a very useful slip of paper which was covered in Chinese characters with gaps into which one writes the date, the destination, the train number and the type of seat required. There are no words of gratitude adequate enough! Within twenty seconds of passing the slip to the ticket clerk I was in possession of my ticket. Six hours later and I was in Fuxin, having passed SY 1195 at a location I now know to be Aiyouying Coal Mine. On arrival I followed Rob Dickinson's recommendation and booked into the Hai Zhou Hotel (190Y) which although a little shabby had a huge bathroom and 24 hour hot water. The previously glorious weather had turned into a dust storm and so I rode local train No.114 from Wulong to Wangying and back.

Wednesday 3 April - Fuxin

In total contrast to the day before the sky was deep blue and the temperature had dropped several degrees giving a wonderful day's photography. Slavishly following the advice of my mage, Mr Dickinson, I took a taxi to Taiping Station and then walked from there to Wulong and back. In truth there is little or nothing to add to previous reports other than to say that only those who yearn for nothing more than green fields and woolly lambs could describe this system as unphotogenic. It is industrial landscape and all the finer for it. This is a system that despite being a little run down from previous glories is still offers a lot of action even if there are lots of tender first movements.

Thursday 4 April - Fuxin

Dreadful weather all day - huge dust storm made being outdoors very unpleasant. Stayed in my hotel room and read Terry Pratchett! Slept a lot!

Friday 5 April - Fuxin to Tiefa

The weather was no better in Fuxin so using another of Adrian's pieces of paper I caught Train K965 to Shenyang and then Train 4227 to Tieling. Buses run from the station forecourt to Tiefa. Once in Tiefa I booked into the Palace Of Bowling Hotel - turn left out of Diaobingshan station and it is 200 yards up the road on your right and then headed to Daqing to buy a photo permit. I've read all the arguments and can see both sides. However since I wanted to visit the stabling point, go round the workshops and photograph in some of the coal mine yards the payment of 120Y for two days didn't seem unreasonable. People seem quite happy to pay 200Y to visit Daban shed but resent the charge levied at Tiefa. As an independent traveller I was, in contrast to other reports, received very politely and made to feel welcome. Permits are produced in a back-street printers in Tiefa which is where I actually collected my permit. 

Saturday 6 April - Tiefa

Sunday 7 April - Tiefa to Shenyang

Woke up to find the weather had changed... it was now far worse than yesterday with dust everywhere. Discovered that there is an internet bar in Tiefa station - where I spent the next two hours sending e-mails and reading the web-sites. Cost = 2Y. Decided to head for Shenyang on Train 6688.

En route saw SY 0537 at Hushitai on the Shenyang Local Railway.

Arrived at Shenyang Bei and looked for a hotel. Found the Jun Jiao Hotel - excellent facilities at 200Y per night. This hotel can be found by leaving the station by either of the South Exits and turning immediately left. Walk along the station frontage until you reach the very far end - past the bycycle store. There is a seedy hotel immediately in front of you - walk around to the right of this building and the canopy lights of the Jun Jiao should be immediately obvious.

Monday 8 April - Benxi

As Benxi is a closed site it was necessary to hire a guide for the next two days. This was arranged via Mrs Sun. My guide had ideas of staying in a hotel costiing 398Y a night - in the event we used the Tian Yi Hotel - extreme right hand side of the station frontage at 132Y per night.

Visited what I will call the north depot ie. not the blast furnace site. In the shed were two fireless locomotives (No.5 and No.9) together with XK 28 and PL2 50. All were obviously out of use but were in cosmetically good condition. Also in the shed was SY 707 which had blown a piston cover coupled to the tender from SY 710. The tender had suffered serious damage in a rear end collision.

SY 730, SY 726, and SY 702 were all in steam on the depot and SY 708 was on depot but not in steam. SY 720 was at work in the scrap reclamation area which is to the north of the shed.

At the blast furnace area the following locomotives were in steam:
SY 723 with script around smokebox door reading 'Work Harder for Communism'.
SY 731 with script around smokebox door reading 'Maintain the Chinese Way'
SY 701; 705; 710; 715; 716; 721; 724; 725; 733; 734; 735 and 736
Additional information was gained on the following locomotives:
SY 725 - built Tangshan 9/1982 - connecting rods indicate this as being SY 1191
SY 735 - built Tangshan 3/1972
SY 733 was closely scrutinised but bore no evidence of original number

Tuesday 9 April - Benxi

At the blast furnace area the following locomotives were in steam:
SY 701; 705; 710; 713; 714; 715; 717; 721; 723; 724; 725; 731; 734; 735 and 736
Additional information was gained on the following locomotives:
SY 717 was facing south unlike all other locomotives which face north
SY 713 has no builders plates
SY 717 - built Tangshan 10/1972
SY 723 - built Tangshan 4/1974 - although connecting rod had no markings several other stampings showed the number 813. If it is SY 0813 this would fit in with the other confirmed identities

North depot
SY 702; 720; 722; 726 and 730 plus stored and out of use locomotives as 8/4/2002

However a small movement had occurred leaving the front end of Fireless No.9 sticking out of the front doors of the shed and thus just photographable.

Whilst returning from Benxi to Shenyang by train we passed a large spoil heap on the south side of the line just to the east of Yaoqianhutun. This had an electric railway system visible at its crest. However in the valley was a passenger train which I am 99% certain was steam worked. Florian Menius has subsequently identified this as Weitoushan Coal Mine. He notes that the only information he has is that they have some SYs there and steam hauled passenger trains but there are no reports or recorded visits.

Overnight Train K96 from Shenyang to Beijing and Air China flight to Frankfurt on subsequent day. From Frankfurt to London via Lufthansa - I arrive in London safely but baggage takes a day to catch up.


Why didn't I do it before? Despite other reports I found the Chinese friendly, charming and honest and always willing to be helpful. The language was a problem but never to the point of causing anything other than temporary difficulties. Most problems were solved with the aid of the phrase book, a photograph, gestures or drawings. With the correct preparation solo travel in China is obviously possible and actually can be great fun.

I know others have been doing it for years but for many people like myself it has remained a daunting prospect although I am sure it is becoming easier each year.

What I have got is a set of unique pictures which are all of my own making and this is doubly satisfying.

My positive experiences are too numerous to list in a trip report. Take what you like from the following anecdote. I managed to leave an item of property in the hotel at Tiefa. Half way to the station I was overtaken by the room maid who returned it to me. It was my money belt - containing 3000Y and $200 - all of which was intact. My offer of a reward was declined as unnecessary - she was merely doing her job. Where else in the world might that have happened?

Finally I would like to thank again Rob Dickinson, Adrian Freeman, Ray Smith, Simon Colbeck and Ronald Olsen for their help and encouragement and everybody who contributed trip reports to 'International Working Steam' and/or 'QJ-Country' which were so valuable in the planning of the trip.

Rob Dickinson