The International Steam Pages
Steam Locomotives in China, New Year 1997
Julien Blanc reports on his trip from 27th December 1996 to 19th January 1997.
On my fifth trip to China, I travelled with three Swiss friends to Yebaishou and the Jingpeng Pass and alone to Manchuria. Here a synthesis of my railway observations :
YEBAISHOU : (visited on December 28th and
A good surprise was to see the Yebaishou area still very steamy despite the planned arrival of more DF4s.
The 28/12 was spent on the Chifeng line, which is really still very good. Only one return freight had a diesel at the front during the whole day and westbound traffic was at a good level. Timed between Shinao and the summit :
We started the second day on the Chengde line near Hetanggou to see that the usual freight from Chengde after sunrise did not run and that the first westbound freight was DF4 + freight + QJ (up to the summit). The rest of the day was spent between Boluochi and Gongyingzi on the Chaoyang line. Were seen :
My friend Markus Fischer went to the Tielu Lüdian (Railway Hotel) on the right hand side of the road before the bridge, but the police made him change to the Jianping Binguan after one night : the hotel does not accept foreigners and it was fined on this occasion by the police...
The Jianping Binguan (Hotel) has a exagerated special "no-choice" price for foreigners (300 Y !), which is a shame, compared to the service provided and the standard of the rooms... This, added to some corrup... sorry connections to the local administration make this hotel the only place open to foreigners in Yebaishou, although other "Lüdian" could satisfy many lone travellers ; usual problem, but it leaves a disastrous image to foreigners.
We had a taxi driver who charged 250 Y per day for good job ; he has already been to the Jingpeng Pass with a German enthusiast and he is offering his services to drive you there directly from Yebaishou. He is dreaming of settling in Reshui and drive steam fanatics in the area !
THE "JINGPENG PASS" : (visited from
December 30th, 1996 to January 06th, 1997)
This area on the new Tongliao - Jining line is really GREAT and one week of "hard" photography still leaves a lot to be done !
A small group of four people, we decided in Chifeng to go directly to Reshui by hiring a minivan in front of the railway station ; we were expecting a very high price but they accepted very quickly 200 Y for us and departed immediately with two - three other Chinese who were already waiting for departure. Travel was fairly quick and did not last five hours.
On the way back, I took a private minibus around 12h30 from Reshui to Linxi (5 Y) and from there an "Iveco" minibus to Chifeng for 25 Y. It took less than six hours in total.
We went to the small hotel I described in my March 96 report and were very pleased to find good clean rooms again with TV and hot water all day for 22 or 28 Y per person. Apparently very few people find this hotel : it is a white one-storeyed building with a narrow entry by the Jingpeng roadsign in Reshui...
But why does this village have at least four hotels, with hot water and good heating ?! As already reported, the region has natural hot water springs and Reshui has apparently developed summer tourism or medical course. Natural hot water is used in many buildings not only to provide reliable hot water in the rooms but also for heating. Although it may smell surprisingly, this water is very soft for the skin and a good hot bath is very much appreciated after an intense day in the cold wind !
After a few days in Reshui, the police visited us accompanied by Chifeng CITS interpreter. They seemed to be quite angry that we did not have any guide. That we had not registered yet was not to please them either. Actually, our hotel manager did not know anything about this and we made the error to believe that it was really no use registering. So they gave us a registration form to fill in thoroughly and our passports were controlled very carefully. They did not insist by any means concerning a Travel Permit (ATP), so I really believe one would have been useless.
I was recognised as the drawer of the map : I do not know whether I am considered as the violator of a supreme secret and a spy, or they can appreciate the tourist potential this fame creates... Anyway I did not feel too much adversity...
So, my opinion now is that an ATP is useless but that anybody arriving to Reshui should register voluntarily before 24 hours. This mass tourism can only be possible if the local authorities tolerate it ; in respect of China's recent history and evolution, one can understand that the police wants to keep an eye on an unexpected flow of foreigners it does not have any experience about how to deal with. Registering is actually no great effort and it is fair to respect this rule, if they respect others.
Another aspect is actually more worrying : that the local Travel Service has good connections to the local authorities can be fully understood, it is usual in China. But that it takes advantage of it in an unfair way is intolerable !
MORE DETAILS :
One problem of every day's photography is to get the timetable of the trains to come. It is very useful as you can then concentrate on the one side of the summit or the other, according to the traffic expected.
As I visited Shangdian station and was recognised by the station master, I was very much surprised to hear that the railway police would forbid them to give us information, because we had no official travel guide ! We would have to go to the railway police in Jingpeng and ask there... A few times, Mrs Sun and Mr Fu from the Shenyang Steam Locomotive Association did manage to get reliable information, which they very kindly shared with us. But exactly from the day a small party arrived from Chifeng (organised by Chifeng CITS), we could only get biased information, every day the timetable of the day before...
Followed a series of unpleasant events :
- Chifeng CITS got timetables, did not share them with others and made everything so that Mrs Sun's group as well as lone travellers could not get information (we suppose pressure on the railway police).
- we had a visit of the local police in our hotel room, with the help of (and no doubt following the initiative of) Chifeng CITS.
- the police, supported by Chifeng CITS, wanted us and Mrs Sun's group to change to the bigger (more expensive) hotel we assume they have connections with. By chance they did not insist too much.
So, many enthusiasts suspect Chifeng CITS to try and get by any means as much business as possible. The question now is how far will they go in sabotaging other people's business and putting foreigners off visiting China ? In today's modern China, now that the free market rules are approved by all and especially by Beijing Government and the Party, we can expect to be allowed to choose our way of travel : alone, or with a guide of our choice. And if Chifeng CITS proves to be efficient and competent, it will get a good market share in this business and, by the way, save face.
Even foreigner's prices have been abolished for railway travel, as it was recognised as an unfair discrimination and leaving a bad image of China. Same problem here : such obvious corruption and such a constraint upon travel and business freedom are very negative for China's tourism as well as for its global image in other countries.
Many enthusiasts now agree that one should not choose Chifeng CITS for its travel organisation before they show a positive sign towards good transmission of reliable information, travel freedom and business market rules.
Apart from these unpleasant details - I want to underline anyway - all else was great as expected !
About 10 cm snow fell on 31/12 in order for us to start 1997 with perfect "Steam, Snow & Sun" shots ! Traffic levels were actually quite low, depending on the day. They were far from what was described in Summer and Autumn, although it was a little better than in March 96. On most days, we saw about six trains in total during daylight hours. On other days, morning trains ran just before sunrise and we got only 3-4 trains in total. Anyway, the quality and quantity of good photos you can get every day are definitely satisfying !
Weather was very cold, around -20 °C every day, sometimes with unpleasant wind intensifying the sensation of cold... Take care of the wind when choosing your photo positions, it can ruin many good compositions ! For example, the photo near Xiakengzi from the hill with the big curved viaduct in background is best just after sun apparition there (around 09h30) on a very still day ! (So you need no wind and... a train !)
One year after its inauguration, this line has become world famous and this is justified indeed ! Such a great steam spectacle, added to the scenery, the country-side atmosphere and the amount of photographic opportunities could not be awaited in the present depressed regular steam scene !
Let's hope of course that Chifeng CITS will not be tempted to flout the "free-market" and travel liberty rules which are now common in all of modern China, and will adapt its present attitude to enable railway tourism to develop trouble-free in this area.
Let's hope also that the Railway of Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region will pursue its "all steam" policy and continue to recognise the many advantages of steam traction, especially regarding the Region's economic conditions (raw materials (coal) abundant and cheap, comparatively low labour cost, very large supply of second-hand steam locos (and parts) from the National Railway, low axle load compared to diesels, high costs of new or second-hand diesels...) - all the usual arguments which are sadly ignored by the National Railways.
Locos noted :
QJ 2706, 6110, 6125, 6274, 6301, 6351, 6389, 6576, 6577, 6580, 6582 ?, 6638, 6639, 6735, 6878, 6879, 6992, 6994 ?, 6998, 7000, 7007, 7009, 7041, 7137
SHENYANG : (visited on January 07th, 1997)
As reported by Bruce Evans, a great deal of freight trains, working north of Sujiatun yards to Fushun and Huanggutun are still QJ-worked. A short 2 hours morning session at Hunhe (first station south of Shenyang Old (or South) station) saw the following steam movements (all Sujiatun - Huanggutun) :
Although probably nothing as compared to the 1980's, such a heavy traffic on a main line environment is impressive and must be quite rare now in China. Hunhe station is pleasant, with an old-style footbridge. About 20-30 cm of snow fallen on 31/12 - 01/01 made it very attractive.
Locos noted :
QJ 3255, 3284, 6256, 6371, 6672
DF4D 4174, 4307, 4349
MULING : (visited on January 08th and 09th,
Despite some form of dieselisation, this location and the steep climb to Beilin still retain a great spectacle. Since last year, the traffic pattern has changed a little, to become now approximately : (timings of westbound trains in Daqiaozi)
Roger Gillard's interpretation of the DF4+QJ workings is that they may now run through from Suifenhe to Mudanjiang, a QJ being added in second position for the Muling - Daimagou section only, and this should be correct.
The slow passenger is now double-headed, which is interesting but also means that the locos are not worked hard on this train. The Fast passenger is therefore better as it is heavier.
Anyway, the best spectacle is provided by both long QJ freights (at 10h00 and 14h00), which run every day. The locos are really worked hard and both steam exhaust (with -20°C) and sound are just fantastic !
I visited the area by travelling every day on train 571/2 from Mudanjiang to Daqiaozi. Deep snow covered the brown/grey scenery I had seen last year and clear sunshine made the place look marvellous ; on the other hand, climbing on hills or walls to the photo positions was really hard work ! But the photographic result is by far satisfying.
Anyway, hurry up to visit the place : more dieselisation seems to be planned for the near future.
Locos noted :
QJ 2628, 2691, 2917, 2926, 2964, 2995, 3021, 3121, 3144, 6157 (?), 6306, 6791 (?), 6796, 6906
DF4 1260, 1966
BOLI - LINKOU : (visited on January 10th and
This line has sadly suffered further dieselisation since last year, in the form of two DF4s from Linkou shed, appearing on passenger duties.
On both days, DF4 7119 hauled the Harbindong - Qitaihe 95/96 Express passengers on the Boli - Linkou section. The second DF4 (n° 7120) worked slow passengers at random on the same section.
I suppose the passenger I arrived on from Mudanjiang (Pass 563/5) had a DF4 at its head on 09/01. DF4 7120 was then on Boli shed on 11/01 from early morning and departed on Pass 564/566 at 12h54 to Mudanjiang.
I spent January 10th on the scenic section south of Tongtiantun and saw :
Because of the pollution coming up from Boli making photography difficult and the high probability of a diesel coming on the downhill passenger, I went back to Boli. Two uphill trains a day are not a great result - by chance, the photos are OK!
The second day was spent in the Boli station area, where steam workings are much more frequent. I spent two times during the day about half an hour in the shed and got no trouble at all for being there and taking photos. Steam crane at work is interesting, I could even enjoy its movements from the cab. Many locos were to be found in the locoshed : locos from Jiamusi and Nancha sheds work the line to Jiamusi and locos from Linkou shed work to Linkou and Qitaihe.
During the morning, QJ 2607 was shunting in the station yard bringing in and out wagons to the factories ; "she" went at least two times to loading points on a short branch to the west of the yard. The environment of old industry and logistic installations is very traditional and interesting. Traffic noted :
- Exp 96 Qitaihe - Harbindong arrived from Qitaihe with decorated QJ 2615 and changed it for DF4 7119.
- Pass 564/6 arrived from Jiamusi with QJ 2826 and changed it for DF4 7120...
- So, the only uphill steam train (to Linkou) of the day was the daily morning freight following Express 96 : heavier than the day before, it had QJ 2711 + 3363 at the front (dep. 09h50).
- Another QJ+QJ heavy freight departed at 14h00 to Qitaihe.
- Pass 561 arrived from Linkou with QJ 6843 (?) and departed further to Jiamusi with another QJ.
More movements were seen from/to the Jiamusi line - of which many light. Several DF8-hauled through freights Linkou - Qitaihe (mostly coal trains) also passed the station without stopping.
All this means that unlike on the lineside south of Boli, atmosphere in and around the station is still very "steamy" and you can wonder whether you are really in 1997... Of course, winter low light and snow help to get this impression !
Note that, again, I had absolutely no trouble with the police and therefore I believe the area to be open to foreigners without ATP !
Locos noted :
QJ Linkou shed : 2122 (small high deflectors), 2607, 2615 (decorated), 2619, 2707, 2711, 2805, 2934, 3146, 3363 (decorated), 6794, 6843, 6899
Jiamusi shed : 2375, 2556, 2824, 2826, 6128, 6900 (decorated)
Nancha shed : 2420
shed not noted :6917
DF4 7119, 7120 (all Linkou shed)
DF8 0044 (1990), 0054, 0062, 0066 (1991), 0076, 0080 (1993), 0082, 0086 (all Mudanjiang shed)
BOLI - JIAMUSI : (January 11th, 1997)
All traffic seen at the Boli end of this line and on the journey to Jiamusi was still QJ worked (locos from Jiamusi).
NANCHA : (visited on January 12th to 14th,
Who knows Nancha from its years of glory should not go there again... This time, it is really the end ; one more location is entering history and adds to the long list of the "spectacles of the past" as Tianzhu, Zhongwei...
Yes, the news is bad. It is well known that the percentage of steam workings on the main line is slowly decreasing ; it has also been published that banking / piloting duties are more and more in diesel hands. But situation has now evolved to the following :
- Nancha - Jiamusi has very few steam workings left, no more than 30% (including the slow passengers and Fast 333/2-334/1) : standing on the lineside can be very boring now.
- Nancha shed has already received at least three DF1s, probably from Jiagedaqi shed (which now receives new-built DF7Ds from Beijing factory). Result :
Who did not believe last year's rumour, Nancha shed would close to steam in 1997 ? OK, DF4s were unlikely to be sent to Nancha for the branch line ; but here comes the long feared danger of "second-hand" diesels !
And now that this practise of moving old diesels from a shed to another has been inaugurated, how many lines will be hit by it ?...
Here a brief summary of what was seen over a three days period between Nancha and Liushu :
Traffic on the branch line was fairly frequent, but each train has one or two diesels helping the steam engine, save for the Fast passenger Jiamusi - Wuyiling and a few very short empty northbound freights. Actually, many trains still have no diesel at the front, making some photography possible ; but it is a disaster anyway, since the "helped" locos almost never work hard anymore and the spectacle is ridiculous and particularly frustrating. Best of all on my last day : I had found a good position I had never made before ; one train came through, banked by DF4 + DF1, and the QJ at the front passed me on the 27 per thousand climb by -20°C with closed regulator and not even a trace of steam !!! Great...
Further diesel news :
Only positive things : train 522 Wuying - Harbindong was QJ hauled on 12/01, which is very rare, and Fast 333/2 Jiamusi - Wuyiling still makes an incredible spectacle on the climb to the summit (still no banker).
One of the first consequences of DF1-half locos working on the branch : on 12/01, DF1 1975 going light to Liushu "ass first" surprised sheep crossing the track just after the summit ; the drivers of course slept in the cab and anyway could not see anything of the track. Two animals were hit by the loco, one of which remained on the bogie. The driver stopped and drove back to the shepherd - who was lucky not to be ran over by the loco - and returned him the meet. Later in the day, I saw him with a friend transporting both killed animals to Nancha. So, if you eat mutton in Nancha, ask whether it comes from the slaughterhouse or whether it is one more DF1 victim...
Locos noted :
QJ 2179, 2823, 6593, 6792, 6803, 6842, 6893, 6894, 6919, 6920, 6963, 6964, 6966 (Nancha shed except 2179 ?)
DF1 1391, 1635, 1975 (Nancha shed)
DF4 1156 (1986-built), 1818, 1857... (Nancha shed)
DFH3 0113, 0117...
ZHENGJIATUN : (visited on January 15th to
Expecting some good potential from this location since I had travelled between Siping and Tongliao last year, I decided to investigate it this time.
Travelling by bus from Siping to Zhengjiatun, I could see three freight trains, all DF4 hauled ; passenger 598 to Siping was steam and a further QJ was seen on a small station (with train ?).
Anyway, the next days confirmed that all freight traffic has been dieselised in August 1996, apart from a few trips. Fast trains are also all DFH3 now, including the Shenyang - Yitulihe Fast passenger noted QJ last year. 500-passengers remain steam worked. This type of dieselisation can remind us to what had happened one year before on the Siping - Meihekou line...
Nevertheless, both lines to Taipingchuan and Tongliao remain all steam on freights and slow passengers, but no JS was seen on passenger duties this time.
On 17/01, I tried the Tongliao line, getting off passenger 526 in Baxi, a station I had noted last year for possible photography. The line is still steam and the semaphore signals (with wire command) in the small station have still not been replaced, but the nice pole-free line I described last year was spoilt by the erection of a brand new electric line in 12/96 (still not working !), about 3 meters from the track... Forget it ! Very strong wind and no traffic at all made me go back to Zhengjiatun, totally frozen after one and a half hours.
I tried then the big river bridge on the Taipingchuan line on the outskirts of town but it is too long for good photography, heavily guarded and anyway the wind would have made me prefer a diesel train ! So the day ended very quickly in a restaurant with zero shot but at least good food...
But all is not that terrible and although it is nothing special for photography, the north-western end of the yard provides a good spot for watching the departures of the fairly frequent freights to Taipingchuan and the incessant shunting of JS 5949. Freights tend to be very long and the departures of the QJs from the yard are a nice spectacle. I was invited for a 30 min cab ride by the very friendly crew of JS 5949 on the trip to the local factories on the branch line through town ; biggest customer for the railway is the glass factory, where glass sheets are loaded in E wagons !
Locos noted :
JS 5949 (1960 built), 8200 (1987 built)
QJ for scrap 1644, 1848 (1974 built), 2976, 3182...
QJ 6173, 6361, 6369, 6485, 6586, 6770, 6945...
DF4 1669, 1676 (Dalian - 1989), 6492 (Datong - 1996)...
TONGLIAO - BEIJING : (travel on January 19th)
Waiting for the train to Beijingbei on the evening of 18/01, QJ 2688 made a very fine sight as it passed through Tongliao passenger station with full power, accelerating a very long freight to Dahushan.
All traffic seen on the scenic line between Longhua and Beijing was DF4 worked as expected. Most freights are double headed and the locos are some of the first built DF4s.
Locos noted :
DFH5 0007 (shunting in Tongliao)
DF4 0190 (1977 built), 0401, 0403 (1981), 0437, 0575... (at work on Longhua - Beijing)
Generally, passenger trains seem to be less crowded as they used to be, even during the same season. I could get a hard sleeper after boarding the train without any problem on my 4 long overnight trips (Chifeng - Shenyang, Shenyang - Mudanjiang, Nancha - Siping, Tongliao - Beijing) and could have done so on the Mudanjiang - Boli - Jiamusi overnight train, or on the Beijing - Yebaishou fast train (to Dandong).
Overnight travel in sleepers (especially A/C) is now so expensive that the Chinese seem to choose more often overnight buses or air travel. This is also the result of a deliberate policy from the railway, which does not want to increase the number of passenger trains and puts the priority on freight traffic ; of course, the latter is most vital for the country's economy. But by the way, we can wonder what the long term effect of this policy will be, when the other means of transportation have become competitive, heavy freight traffic is stagnating or decreasing, government asks the railways for a better profitability and the potential travel guests have all gone to competition with a bad image of the railway in mind...
Hope this will not happen soon : we need an accelerated economic and transportation growth in order to digest the huge diesels production and leave some work to our loved steam dragons for a few more years !
NEW LINES AND PROJECTS
The line actually runs north-west from Nanning to Xingyi City (Guizhou Province) and then divides in two lines. One runs directly from there to Kunming on an east-west axis ,joining the present meter gauge line at Yiliang. The other one runs north to Hongguo on the existing Zhanyi - Baiguo branch line.
According to the article, work is in quick progress, as well as electrification. The line will already be ready for traffic in March 1997, after more than six years of hard work. Between the coast and the Guizhou high plateau, the line has to climb a 2,010 m height difference. On the whole line, there are 256 tunnels (total length = 194.5 km) and 447 bridges, totalling 80.380 km. Tunnels and bridges represent one third of the total length of the line !
The Mihualing Tunnel with 9,388 m is China's longest single track tunnel.
The article describes how fast the works have progressed, despite the great difficulty, for example regarding tunnels construction. Finally, this line is compared with the previous great achievements of the Chinese Railways : there was the Baoji - Chengdu line in the 1950's, the Chengdu - Kunming line in the 1960's, the Datong - Qinhuangdao line in the 1980's, then the Nanning - Kunming line is the 1990's greatest achievement !
For the rail fan, it should be an impressive line to travel on anyway, even if electrically worked...
- a new line from Anbian / Hengjiang (shown on Quail map) in Sichuan to Dawan in Guizhou Province (at the end of a short branch out of Liupanshui / Shuicheng). Note that I saw a report on Yunnan TV last year, showing a steam loco (JS ?) on a works train on brand new tracks in Zhaotong, an important intermediate station on the new line. The line should be opened soon, and why not with some steam, as Neijiang - Yibin - Anbian / Gongxian is still QJ worked and coal seems to be available in the area ? Note also that the last named line (Neijiang - Anbian) changed its denomination in the timetable a few years ago from Nei Yi line (= Neijiang - Yibin) to Nei Kun line (Neijiang - Kunming).
- the new Chengdu - Suining - Nanchong - Daxian line under completion or already working (Sichuan)
- Xi'an - Ankang (Shaanxi)
- Yülin - Wuzhou and Nanning - Beihai in Guangxi
- Shimen - Changsha local line in Hubei
- Nanping - Hengfeng in Fujian / Jiangxi
- Jinhua - Wenzhou in Zhejiang
- a Xinyi - Nantong line in Jiangsu via Huaiyin, Yancheng, Rugao, with a branch from Rugao to Wuxi (via Jingjiang and Jiangyin). Not shown as being under construction.
- Baotou - Daliuta - Shenmu - Yülin with Daliuta - Yülin under construction, in Inner Mongolia / Shaanxi
- a line under construction also runs from somewhere between Daliuta and Shenmu on the latter line to the west to Baode - Sancha - Shenchi - Ningwu - Yuanping - Hebian - Dingzhou - Hejian - Cangzhou - Huanghua - Xincun on the coast, with a branch from about Sancha to Heqü and a link from the Hebian direction to Shijiazhuang.
- Zhoulu (near Shacheng on the Datong - Qinhuangdao coal line) - Yüxian in Hebei
Which one of all these projects will be the next to open with steam operation ?!