The International Steam Pages
A month of Chinese wanderings
Leslie McAllister reports:
"This is another instalment of McAllister's retirement wanderings in China. To put things in context, remember that I'm one of the less than a hundred people world-wide who travel on trains, stopwatch in hand, to see how fast (or slow!) it's going. Photography is not my thing, I only take photos to decorate my logbooks! I will happily buy the books produced by the people who freeze on mountainsides in pursuit of that "Master-Phot". That really is a spectator sport!
My current objective is to travel behind as many QJs as possible while I have the chance and I started the month with a paltry 19 engines, all on the San Mao Railway. This is how the tally was increased!
LuoHe - FuYang (8 - 12 September 1998)
This Local Railway was last reported in Continental Railway Journal (easily the best printed reports on China) about 2 years ago and I'd like to buy the guy who reported it a drink! I did the trip in the company of my second cousin, Andrew Gleasure, a non-enthusiast who came along to see a bit of "real" China. He was excellent company and must be acknowledged as co-author of this part of the report, as he provided a second pair of eyes to spot activity on the non-kilometre post side of the line!! Incidentally, the posts are every half kilometre on the Northern side of the line, from zero at the junction with the mainline at LuoHe.
(Before any of you get too excited, Leslie was back here in November 1998 and his summary is "I'm just back from another trip when I found them using a diesel for part of the run ( and the same QJs!). FuYang was splendidly steamy in September with 3 steam freights in an hour, but almost "gone" by November, when I saw only one in 36 hours." RD) Click here for the gory details.
This local railway, has a narrow gauge component (not visited) to the North of the standard gauge line between the aforementioned towns. LuoHe is about 820kms South of Beijing on the mainline to the South and we got there on a very late-running Train 544 which left GuangZhou 3 hours late and lost another 3 hours en route, no doubt as a result of the flood disruption which affected so much of China this summer. But the 25 hour journey proved worthwhile! We used the Xingya Bailan hotel directly opposite the station at Y220 per night for a room of faded splendour with much wet mould, but there was plenty of hot water, the staff were friendly and it was 100 metres from the steam!
The complete passenger service (taken from a printed leaflet, with minor amendment to accord with "reality") then was -
The good bit is that you could get 5 engines in a round trip on the daily local train! Our travels on Train 701/2 gave us the following engines
Other engines seen in use on the line were QJs 506, 2111, 2264, 6816, 6904 SY 1164 was
in steam at ZhouKou depot
The line branches off the main line at KM820.5 and heads into the fields. Most of the crops seem to be North American Maize - "Corn on the Cob" - and indeed tens of thousands of cobs were to be seen drying everywhere, even stacked against the ballast! Much horse and donkey traction for agricultural transport needs. I saw goats for the first time in China here and indeed a common sight was a mother and her kid, tethered on grazing duties in the fields after harvesting. There were many non-industrialised brick and tile works in the fields.
At ZhouKou a branch heads off North towards a power station (and beyond towards the mines?) and I believe that this section was once narrow gauge. Coal is the staple source of freight, of course. ZK has a large depot and works to the West, with a turntable. There is a large yard to the East, with dumped locomotives and newly outshopped wagons and coaches. Fu Yang Xi has a walled off depot. There is a separate China Rail depot at Fu Yang itself, where I was told not to photograph by a member of staff.
The line is almost entirely signalled by attractive semaphores which offer a fine accessory to one's photos! Typically, a three armed signal admits trains to a station - Home and Distant arms with the third arm indicating whether one is routed into the loop (if not the arm is dropped into the vertical plane). The station exit has a line of Homes, depending on the number of loops, although three in a row is not atypical.
Train 701/2 consists of a RYW, 3 YZs, a TZ (diner) and a XU (full brake). Externally the train is very shabby but OK inside. The diner dispenses edible lunch boxes and beer, which the staff brought to us at our seats in the RYW! Train 669/670 loads to 8/9 coaches.
The Local Railway has very friendly staff (the on-train policeman even brought us hot water for coffee and rinsed out our mugs before we made the beverage!). The on-board staff change over each evening at Zhou Kou, the HQ of the railway and presumably sleep in the RYW at LuoHe.
For me, the line offers absolutely no speeds, I think the maximum noted in 600kms of travel was 37 mph! Shades of Hungary in the 1970s, when the 424 Class 4-8-0s plodded along through very similar countryside at about 30-33mph! Unhappily the line offers the average photographer little, as the trains have no gradients to surmount and of course, it's too warm for white exhausts, but there are those delightful signals and a 100% steam railway in a rural setting cannot be all bad! Traffic is light at the East end and most traffic seems to be between LuoHe and ZhouKou. Unhappily, it is the East end which has the only "feature" - a river bridge about 10kms before Fu Yang Xi. I rate it well worth a visit, as there's not a diesel in sight! Also with the steam freight to the East (and a comfortable hotel to recover in), Fu Yang looks well worth further investigation. I'll be back. (Read my November report as well, please - things changed quickly!).
We had time to kill at Fu Yang, as we were returning to GuangZhou on Train 59, via NanChang. So we enjoyed QJs 6333, 6684 and 6268 all heading East on long freights between 1700 and 1820hrs. 6627 was on shed. JS 6077 was shunting the coal yard and sisters 6081 and 6097 were dumped beside the new main line to the South. We used the new and excellent Xin Min hotel (Y240) to left in the station square for a short night's sleep. Their restaurant gave us a good meal for just Y48. While waiting for #59 to appear (at 0400hrs!), 6236 and 6276 ran separately North light engine. Single and double headed DF4s powered freights on the new mainline. Freight on the line East is a mixture of QJs and freight. Does anyone know why the Eastbound diesels use the avoiding line, while the steam comes through the station?
So, South on the new mainline, boarding with only hard class seats, with the help of an English speaking Chinese guy, we got Hard Sleepers on board a full train. Hard Sleepers seem to be frequented by a lot of young professionals, who can't afford Soft sleepers and we had the excellent company of several who spoke some English and helped brighten up the 25 hour journey to the South. This line crosses the Yangste on a bridge several kilometres long (I am reliably informed - I was asleep!).
Mainly 1998 built blue and cream (shades of the Great Northern of Ireland's railcar livery) DF4s on freight, with green or orange ones on passenger. We saw a red boilered loco (SY?) 0439 in industrial use and a QJ on freight at about Km600 near a big new hump yard. Time was lost approaching NanChang where we changed from DF4 to ND2. Near JiangJia, was a new diesel depot with QJs 6410, 6641, 6644, 6649 and 6741; plus JS 8390 dumped.. At Feng Cheng, JS 8134 shunted. At Xin Yu there was a steam shunter, hidden behind a rake of wagons. At Fen Yi, JS 8333 was coming off the branch with a freight, while sister 8030 shunted at YiCun. This all added interest to an enjoyable piece of railway which at times followed a river and culminated in a climb into almost Alpine scenery of hills and trees to a summit around Km 845. We lost time on the mainline south after ZhuZhou
Arrival at GuangZhou was at 0623hrs, but with an easy purchase of tickets for #21, at 0651 the first Super Express to Shenzhen, the lateness caused no problem. DF11.0004 hauled a train of double deckers in which the Hard class coaches had been fitted with antimacassars and passed off as Soft! This trick used to be used by British Rail's Southern Region for the "First Class Only" trains to Royal Ascot! By the way, the GuangShen Railway does a "Great Chinese Breakfast" on board of 2 fried eggs, some ham and a piece of toast, plus Congee for Y15! "Number 4" put in an unimpressive performance taking 69'06" for the run from Dong to the border city, but I was safely back in "Disco Bay" at just after 1000hrs, 5 QJs richer and having enjoyed the trip a lot more than I'd dared hope
Chenjia Railway ( September 1998)
The Hong Kong Railway Society made a trip to this line, following an earlier reconnaissance in depth by four members. I will make no attempt to add to fellow member Robin Gibbon's excellent account of the line itself and will confine myself to an account of our particular trip.
We travelled North from the former Crown Colony by KCR and then by Super Express 62 which is diagrammed to be worked by the GuangShen Railway's hired in X2000 set. As this train is scheduled to do the run to the GuangZhou Dong station in just 55 minutes, there is an additional (tilting?) supplement of Y10 on the normal fare of 70 Yuan. After taxi to the main station, we joined Train 16 for the 5 hour run North to ChenZhou.
The ChenZhou International Hotel's management were instrumental in helping the Society organise this trip and in making sure that all went well, as indeed it did. The hotel carries my unreserved recommendation as being good value with pleasant rooms, good food and competent , friendly staff. After time for a shower and a Western breakfast, we were off in the hotel's minibus with its "Ace (lady) driver". We arrived at the station just too late to see the coal empties with No. 22 which preceded the mixed train, on which we had a reserved coach (with extra train security men!). We were greeted by the line's manager, Mr Liu, who was to be an able and accommodating host for the day. Class C4 0-8-0 No. 93 hauled the daily mixed train with our special coach on the rear.
At this point, it is probably worthwhile to describe "normal" operations, as I have seen them on two visits to the line. If the traffic warrants it, a train of empty wagons precedes the daily mixed train from ChenZhou at about 0730hrs. This runs to the coalmine, right to the end of the line, pausing at JiaHe for the locomotive to turn on the triangle just West of the station. There it picks up a loaded train and returns to JiaHe to await the arrival of the "mixed".
That train consists of up to 10 empty bogie coal wagons, two passenger coaches and 2 vans which the local people use to carry all sorts of farm produce, including live pigs! This train leaves ChenZhou at about 0815 and stops at every station along the way, arriving at JiaHe after 4/5 hours. Most passengers, often carrying their baskets of produce on a yoke of bamboo, get out at GuiYang which has a busy market in the street leading to the station. On the mixed train's arrival at JiaHe, the loaded coal train leaves immediately, but you would normally have time to get into position to photograph it, if you've come in on the mixed, whose locomotive now turns on the triangle (usually as you're photographing the coal train leaving!).
After the crew have their lunch, the locomotive, now tender first, takes the empty coal wagons to the mine, leaving the coaches and vans behind. At the mine, the procedure seems to be that the locomotive couples up to the full wagons waiting under the overhead hopper and pushes them (still pulling the empties) on through the loop at the West End. It then uncouples its empty wagons and leaves them in the loop, pushing the loaded wagons until it is clear of the loop points. It now proceeds through the loop with the loaded wagons, past the empties, under the hopper and back to JiaHe. When they are ready, the mine people couple up the empties to a steel cable which is attached to a drum and they pull the empty wagons under the hopper, filling each one up in turn so that when the next empty train comes in, there is a loaded train waiting. The overhead hopper is itself served by a steep, cable-operated tramway from the mine, which lies below in the valley. This line is at 90º to the "main line".
Returning to our trip, the minibus, with just 3 of us (everyone seemed to want to ride the train in this direction), "chased" the train. Well, I say chased, we photographed the departure and then drove straight to Gui Yang, the principal town en route. You turn right in the town centre to follow the railway. We checked at the station regarding the position of the coal empties and were given duff information, which resulted in us missing the empties arriving but we made up for this, by catching it departing! We then photographed the mixed train arriving and departing and caught it at 3 other locations en route to JiaHe. We also discovered an electrified industrial tramway serving a Lead and Zinc mine, between GuiYang and JiaHe, previously unreported! Incidentally, we simply followed the main road, which after Gui Yang provides 3 /4 satisfactory photographic positions, including a tunnel.
Unknown to me, Mr Liu decided to stop the train at one of the viaducts to the East of Gui Yang which allowed the train contingent to get a shot on the bridge, which you can see in Peter Crush's separate illustrations. On another occasion, I think I would only use the minibus West of Gui Yang and try to persuade the management to stop for a few well-placed photographs (or even a run past!) before there. Nice to have a whole railway at your disposal!
At JiaHe, the party re-combined to first photograph 22 with the now loaded coal train leaving and then travelling by minibus to the mine, to catch 93 arriving with the empty coal wagons and the passenger coaches (a special arrangement for those who wanted to travel this section). Plenty of time to examine the loading arrangements here, After much expenditure of film, we left by minibus (some in the train also) to get in position for the first of the afternoon's shots of the returning train. We were blessed by a splendid sunny afternoon, allowing four good locations for shots, before an exchange of passengers at Gui Yang.
Of course, we stopped to explore that mining tramway properly this time and the staff must have been shocked to find a dozen enthusiasts suddenly rush in, photograph two of the overhead electric locomotives (again see Peter's photograph) and be on our way within 10 minutes. Where it crosses over the road, the line runs into the mine itself. In the other direction, it continues Eastwards to an unknown terminus, but not on the steam line. It needs further exploration.
The loaded train had to wait at Gui Yang for 22 to arrive with a caboose in tow. Presumably it was heading for JiaHe, but I thought we had cleared all the loaded wagons from there. Perhaps they loaded up the enpties we had brought after we'd left? Certainly, the line was having a busy day.. The minibus took most participants directly back to ChenZhou to allow an opportunity to see the facilities at the terminus. I personally travelled by train for the first time that day! We arrived back earlier than on my previous visit, although without any record speeds!
At Chenzhou, we had three engines in steam, 93, 21 and xxx. Zz was out of steam, outside the shed/works. C2 cc is dumped and rr is inside the works receiving attention. As usual, JS5444 was pilot on the standard gauge side of the yard. SY 0662 is locked up in a nearby shed. The day was rounded off (after a major scrub in the shower - you get very dirty on a coal railway!) with a dinner of Hunan specialities, at which had Mr Liu and his wife as our guests. We presented him with one of our "Eternal Friendship" banners (anyone who makes one of our trips so successful, earns our eternal friendship!) A few tried out ChenZhou's street café life, enjoying a beer at one of the many small cafes on the main street and watching the world go by. Were we in ChenZhou, or Brussels or Paris?
We returned South the next day after a short photographic interlude at the main station, photographing SS1 and SS4 electrics. We noted that one of the two QJs stored here is being dismantled where it stands! We then enjoyed views of the Old main line and noted no less than eight JSs in steam at various points, with a further members of the class out of steam. ShaoGuan seems to have the biggest allocation. The only sour note of the whole trip was when one member had his film confiscated by train staff for taking, what appears to us to be a completely innocuous photograph. China is a more open and friendly place than it was, but not everyone has got the message, so please, friends, continue to take care that you don't inadvertently cause offence.
Some final overall comments on this line. It is, unhappily, rather run down, but runs through delightful scenery with much traditional Chinese architecture. The Western end of the line offers the best opportunities for photography. I agree with Robin that it gives those of us who missed the Irish narrow gauge a chance to see what we missed. Standing in the front coach of the mixed, with a rake of coal wagons in front of you, replicates, almost exactly, the scene on the Arigna Tramway of the erstwhile Cavan and Leitrim Railway, which also served a small coalmine. Of course on the C&L, the engine would have been a 4-4-0 or 2-4-2 Tank and the wagons four wheelers, not bogie wagons. For a visit, it's a must, so get along and do it, while you can. The Society will be ever in the debt of the Hotel staff, Mr Liu and his railway people for an enjoyable and instructive visit to a simply super railway.
Mudanjiang and JiXi (28.9 to 2.10.98)
After a few days to recover from the above trip, I headed to
BeiJing, by Dragonair on
26 September. I planned to escape immediately by Train 39 to HaRBin, but was thwarted by
full trains (in any class) for the Mid Autumn series of public holidays. Travel by train
is not so simple, when you can't book more than 4 days in advance and then usually only at
the station of departure. CITS don't help, when they ask you to tell them two weeks in
advance! (Do they then succeed in getting the tickets? - I hope so at a 50% surcharge!).
So, I adjourned to the Sheraton Great Wall (where two friends were staying) for an
unplanned night in the Capital. I did manage to get a soft sleeper for the following
I did mention that I was doing this on my own? Honestly, I don't recommend it. You do get stared at all the time, especially in Hard Class and it can be very trying. Add to that some peoples' compunction to handle all your belongings (like your cameras) and it becomes downright annoying. You are constantly asked to explain just what you're doing. My fault the last bit, of course, because I guess that a Gweilo with head out of window, stopwatch in hand, feverishly scribbling half kilometre times in his notebook is not the most normal sight on a Chinese train! Thanks to Rick Wong, I do have an explanation in Putonghua and have become expert in explaining my activity by a series of drawings! To be fair, once they get the message, people smile and let you get on with it. The continuing curiosity is mainly to see just how I write, as obviously Arabic script is rather different to the skills of Chinese calligraphy. All this adds to the stress of being in a strange country, but if there's no-one with the time to join you and you want to cover the line, or the engines, you have two options. I took the obvious one, discomfort and all.
One advantage of using Train 437 is that it offered a quick connection into the daily tourist train Y21 to Tumen, via Mudanjiang. Unhappily, with the new timetable on 1 October, the connection has been broken, as Y21 now leaves HaRBin at 0500hrs! This train includes an "open" soft seat coach and one had the joy of four seats to oneself, complete with antimacassars and two flasks of hot water for the trip down one of the most scenic lines in the country, made more lovely by the autumnal hues, which had turned Heilongjiang into an undiscovered tourist trap. Does New England offer hills covered in trees of gold, brown and reds, all to be seen from a hard-working steam train? I'm getting ahead of myself, that was on the line to JiXi. The line from HaRBin is now all diesel and a sad loss it is to steam traction, both from a photographic and travelling point of view.
So to Mudanjiang, where on arrival I beheld the welcome sight of a 2917 on a rake of 6 coaches in an adjacent platform, so I rushed over, complete with all my luggage and checked the coach boards to see where it was going to! Then, the question was "when?". The on-board crew did not understand my sign language, but the driver, who joined in the debate, quickly informed me that this was in fact the 1407hrs to Bamiantong. So, dumping my luggage in the left luggage, I was on my way, behind steam within 37 minutes of arrival in the area! Not bad, eh?
I don't remember anyone writing of the line to JiXi in particularly glowing terms before, perhaps they weren't there in the Autumn! It is a great pity that all the freight is in the hands of DF8 or DF4 diesels and that the passenger service is pretty sparse, so that photography is not really worthwhile. The single track line starts fairly level to about Modaoshi ( 30kms) and then climbs at 15% (1 in 70!), with some easings, to the summit at Daimagou, 25kms further on. The line climbs along the side of the hill, with the valley ever further below, so there are severe curves and one section even which follows a horseshoe around side valley to help gain height and allows you to look down on where you had just been! There are three tunnels, one at Km390 and two close together at Km394. Add to this the reds, browns and golds of Autumn and it's pretty spectacular! The climb is broken into four sections, with a loop (sometimes a small station) between each. The stations are nice architecturally, do they have Russian parentage, as this part of the World was once within the Russian Empire?
Beyond Daimagou, the line is double as it drops down round tortuous curves on generally easier gradients to Muling. There was a PW team working on flood defences at about Km419, where temporary lines had been laid for their mobile dormitories. MuLing, has a locomotive depot to the East which appeared to have about 5 QJs each time I passed. There may be some steam freight East of here. The line then follows a wide valley, with the river alongside for some distance. After Xiachungzi (the junction for Vladivosotok!), the line follows the base of the hills on one side of the valley and then crosses the river to do the same on the other. There appears to have been flood damage here, around Km14 (from XCG) and there was a large PW encampment, with temporary sidings, living accommodation and a big PW team. They appeared to be building new protection against flash flooding and there was a walking-speed restriction over a temporary bridge. You can tell you're close to Russia as the villages here are single storey houses, with immense wood piles stacked against walls. Indeed, I was usually mistaken for a Russian!
From here to JiXi, we stay in wide valleys, with no particular railway features. Beyond JiXi, the country opens right out into a featureless immensity, with barely a hillock in sight.
So to the travels. A shiny 2917, with embossed cabside numbers and China Rail sign on the tender, hauled Train 5757 ( 6 coaches) out of Mudanjiang, on time at 1407. This train does not stop at every station and after passing Ai He at 38mph, we managed 42 mph before stopping at Modaoshi. From here we climbed steadily, passing the first loop at 28, then dropping back to 27 while the exhaust deepened. An easier section saw us spurt to 33, drop back to 25 and then recover to 31. The continuing 1 in 70 brought the speed back down to 28 which continued through the tunnels and into Daimagou in 35'59" from Modaoshi. Splendid steam entertainment!
Of course, we simply rolled and braked downhill from here, but were given little time to admire the fabulous Autumn colours, as we whirled round the bends at speeds up to 46mph. From Muling, , after an early 40mph, we droned along the valley floor at just 31mph. After the Xiachungzi stop, where we crossed an unidentified diesel passenger (from Russia?), we shot off to 45mph but then coasted, ever slower to Sandaohe, passed at 30mph. After accelerating a little, to 36mph, we eventually rolled into Bamiantong at dusk at 17.17hrs, in 41"11 from XCZ. 2917 shunted her coaches to a siding and seems to have gone off somewhere (JiXi?), but I don't know as the staff were keen to get me off the platform! I now had a long wait until my return train.
I took a walk around the immediate station environs, although there was little to see! There were several small eating establishments, but I tried the flashiest looking one directly opposite the station and found a young lady waiting at table who spoke a few words of English. I now produced my sheets of food words (in English and Chinese) and started pointing at dish names until they nodded that they could do a particular one. I had fried rice with pork, accompanied by fried green vegetables in garlic. With a Coke, it came to Y18 (about one pound 20 pence!) So the time was passed pleasantly enough.
At the station, I had no trouble buying a Hard Class seat on Train 298 (MiShan to HaRBinDong) back to Mudanjiang, but seeing the crowd waiting for the train, I joined the train at the hard sleeper and paid for a bed for the three hour journey. 6154 hauled 12 coaches (518 Tonnes) and I noted only a few details in the dark. Train 825, the 1634hrs train from Mudanjiang to DongFangHeng was steam hauled, crossed on our way to Muling, which we reached in 68'41". We were piloted out of here and for some crazy reason I assumed the pilot would be a diesel (certainly the case on some trains from Mudanjiang to here), so I didn't get out to check whether the pilot was steam or diesel. I was lulled to sleep by fine steam sounds, snugly tucked up on a lower bunk in the Hard Bed car! We arrived in Mudanjiang at 22.17hrs, 5 minutes early. The pilot would have come off at Daimagou.
Handing the taxi driver instructions to take me to the best hotel, he headed straight away from the station to the main square and pulled up in front of the New Manhattan Hotel. He motioned me to stay where I was and came out shaking his head. I realised that they had refused to pay him a tip for bringing me and so I got out, paid him and negotiated the room myself, without too much difficulty. It was a fairly new hotel, everything worked and it was reasonably priced (under Y250 per night). I can recommend it as it's a short ride from the station, has friendly staff and the restaurant manages fried eggs for breakfast!
Refreshed from a night's sleep in a non-moving bed, I checked out Train 821, at 0830. It was diesel, a fact only determined when I'd bought a ticket and had got onto Mudanjiang's well-guarded platforms. There does not appear to be a way to get in to see the trains without a ticket. So, I retrieved my main luggage from the left luggage and took it to the hotel.
I was luckier with Train 829, 1013hrs from Mudanjiang to MiShan. 6906 hauled 9 caches and ambled slowly out to Modaishi, stopping at Ai He, but not exceeding 36mph. The climb was a relative plod after yesterday, but of course with a train half as heavy again. We climbed at 16/18 mph to the first loop, stopping in 13'28". Nice noises on the next section, as we climbed at a better 20mph to the next loop. With a steady exhaust beat, we managed 22mph in the next section and with 21/22 through the tunnels reached Daimagou in a total of 53 minutes from Modaoshi. A lot slower, but with three short stops at the loops, with their tiny halts, where one or two would scramble out or in.
At Daimagou, we crossed Train 830 from MiShan which was diesel-hauled. At MuLing, 3121 was on a hopper train, but may have just arrived from the East. In the depot here was 2973 and 3 or 4 other QJs. On we went, never very quickly and indeed, the travelling fitter indicated that we'd go a lot better if the driver put the regulator "in the roof". At no point did we exceed 44mph. Nearing JiXi, 6797 was seen shunting and 6838 was at JiXi itself. DF3.0066 took over and I detrained at JiDong, where SY1344 was shunting. After I'd photographed it, I was told not to by the local policeman! As I've said earlier, not everyone is in step with the more liberal attitude normally seen in China to-day.
I hoped to get steam back to JiXi on Train 298 from MiShan, but instead DF3. 0100 rolled in. Happily, it was replaced at JiXi by 6978 (with 12 wheel tender). By now, it was dark and I made no attempt to time the train until we got to MuLing and took on 3402 as pilot. I now timed from the washroom window of the Hard Class sleeper, using a torch to pick out the kilometre posts. We climbed at 22 mph with quite excellent sounds from the two engines and after slacking to 10mph for Permanent Way work, the exhaust deepened beyond as we accelerated to 23 and, as the grade eased, to 30 and so reached Daimagou in 48'15" from Muling.
Next day, a grubby 6448 headed 9 coaches on Train 829. Again, the performance on the easily graded section to Modaoshi was very dull, staggering up to 30mph. We climbed reasonably at 20 to first loop and with an eruption of noise at 24 on the next section, so that with the more vigorous driving we stopped, blowing off lustily! We accelerated to 21 on the next section and 20 on the final run into Daimagou, a total of 54'45" from Modaoshi.
Happily, 6154 rather than a diesel arrived heading 9 coaches on Train 830 from MiShan. This train does not convey a YW so I had to rely on getting a seat in one of the YZs. However, the train was only about half full at the front so I managed to get a seat where I could see the kilometre posts. We rolled down round the curves at speeds up to 45, but it was beyond Modaoshi on more or less level track that we had some quite nice work as we romped along at over 40 all the way to AiHe, with a maximum speed of 47.
The 1325, Train 823, was diesel hauled via LinKouon to JiXi; the 1407 departure was 2917, so I waited for the 1634, Train 825, to DongFangHeng, which I planned to ride throughout. 6154 hauled 9 coaches, of which the first YZ offered, as an additional "service", TV played at discotheque volume levels. When I looked, Signoury Weaver and Ian Holm were starring (dubbed into Putonghua!) in a thriller of some kind. I negotiated a hard class berth on board and indeed the YW was full with people going home for the mid-Autumn Festival. They caused a big distraction as several spoke pretty good English and wanted to talk! We just managed 36 on the level stretch to Modaoshi and then climbed at 19 to the first loop, fell to 16 on the next section, 18 on the next, but for the final section to Daimagou, the posts were invisible in the darkness, so I could only enjoy the sound of a nice steady exhaust all the way up. Total time for the climb was 58 minutes.
From here, I took only sectional times and conversed with the locals, one of whom was a delightful 12 year old boy who was keen to try out conversational English - he did really well, even if he may not have always chosen quite the word he meant. His final words, as we all turned in for the night were - "I love you". As good a memory to come away from China with as you could get? Another man showed the topic of the moment, when after a conversation about Britain generally, changed the subject with the words - "Tell me about Diana"!
6979 took over the train at JiXi and was itself replaced by 6905 at HuLin. Indeed we were greeted there at 3.30am by firecrackers and many people got out. As I watched the engine change here, I looked up and saw Orion, traced his belt on to orange Aldebran and knew that my family could stand in the back garden of my home n England at that same moment and gaze on the same sky. A comforting thought.
We arrived at a cool DongFangHeng at about 0540, to find the station locked against early customers for the 0720 return train. So I photographed the main street, an old coach body similar to those old American Pullmans and noted people arriving on foot for the day's festivities in bright costumes, topped by flowery head-dresses. Train Y219 arrived behind a QJ and indeed, I did not see a single diesel at this end of the line.
In the cold dawn light, 6905 took the same 9 coaches back the way it came on Train 826, through a flat landscape, some of which had suffered from the year's flooding. Corn cobs dried in the weak sunlight, people stared at the Gweilo, now sitting in a Hard Class seat near the front of the train, feeling a bit miserable in the cold. But I brightened up quickly when one of the staff brought me hot water for my coffee and as breakfast was consummed, the world started to look a better again! The stations varied immensely, this one a wreck, while the next had neat diamond-shaped flower beds. I noted similarities to the Trans-Siberian - the wide landscape, the Silver Birches. Beside me a family was engrossed in an energetic card game, every hand punctuated with friendly argument and smiles. We plodded on without getting out of the low thirties, crossing tender-first QJ on a freight and overtaking 3021 on a Westbound freight at HuLin.
6979 rejoined the train here and we continued in similar vein, noting that mechanisation had arrived with two combined harvesters working side by side. We crossed 6840 with another freight and 6306 on the HaRBin - HuLin sleeper (Train 603) at WeiXing. Silver Birch gave way to pines, some boggy ground was being patrolled by cattle and indeed a little further on, cattle and horses were feasting on the outer skins of what appeared to be pumpkins. Yang Gang had a neat single storey building and boasted three beds of deep red wallflowers, the sight of which may have encouraged the driver, who showed a little more energy in the next section as we whirled along at 38, after section after section in the lowest 30s. A severe slack to near walking pace occurred at Km32 (from MiShan) where there was washout repairs in progress, with a big kink in the track to a temporary bridge. The depot at MiShan is at the East end, on the North side of the line and contained 2 steam locomotives. At the station, 3137 appeared to be sitting just off the stock of Train 297, although this should have arrived hours earlier. from HaRBin. By now, the train was pretty packed and people continued to join with sacks of produce, boxes, etc. Two ladies who sat by me had 5 sacks between then! We actually managed 39 after HeiTai and the moment the regulator was shut, 6979 blew off. We crossed 6984 on a hopper train at DongHai's neat station after which our driver seemed to realise that he was on the home stretch and we did 43 before noting 1344 still at JiDong and a final 45 before the engine change.
Oh, well, you can't have new track and a new engine, so I was philosophical when 6448 backed on and the departure was announced by a recorded deep bell (positively Russian Orthodox!!). 6838 and 6147 were in the JiXi area as we started brightly along double track, with 45 in the first section to DiDao. From here, the line, now single again, climbs (the steepest I noted was 1 in 80) to a greater or lesser extent all the way along a pleasant valley to the summit tunnel near YangMu. Mostly, the climbing was lethargic, but with many crossings to contend with, the driver has little reason for energy, if he expects to wait at the next loop! At one point the line swaps sides of the valley and we crossed four DF8-hauled freights in as many stations at one point. Then on easier gradients, we had a fine, noisy little sprint up to 41 round the curves to KuiShan,. And were rewarded with the sight of 6154 on 11 coaches on Train 823. DF4.7117 with a freight awaited our arrival at the summit loop on the West side of the tunnel and now on double track, we quickly raced up to 45 before the YangMu stop. Another really nice piece of railway which must be done again!
LinKou had two QJs at the depot and another in the yards We continued noisily with 6448 as the line climbs again and I enjoyed some excellent exhaust music, particularly after XiangXing. I did not feel I should resort to timing with my torch to spot the posts, surrounded as I was my many "gapers". Certainly, the driver showed plenty of energy and after the line separated into the summit tunnels, we seemed to fly along. We crossed one diesel passenger and saw no more steam. I studied the new timetable which had started that morning and was dismayed to find that the overnight train to Jiamusi now appeared to be routed via HaRBin! So it would be back to the hotel. Also the 8xx trains on the JiXi line from Mudanjiang so that the convenient crossing from one train to another in the morning at Daimagou was no longer possible.
This section looks well worth a trip in daylight, so I must try and get back to do Train 823 which covers it in daylight.
So, after a night in "The New Manhattan" again, I was back on the 1035 departure up the JiXi line. This was a short turn to fill in time before the 24 hour journey back to BeiJing, done in the hope of a new engine, dashed of course!
6154 hauled Train 829, with 9 coaches. These local trains in the 8cxx series seem to consist of a YW for staff and a few paying passengers (I paid a lot of excesses to travel in these quieter surroundings, closer to the engine in this direction, too) plus a string of YZs. Some of these advertise the fact that they're "TV" wagons by being painted in a gaudy red, white and blue livery, so you've been warned! Finally, a XL for post and parcels traffic. The XL can be at either end of the train in my experience. The overnight sleepers are heavier of course and their likely consist is to be found in the mainline timetable as most are important enough to feature there. The heaviest appears to be XXXXXXXXXX. 6154 gave us an early 41 maximum after the AiHe stop, only to see this spurt used to get us the rest of the, ever slower, way to Modaoshi! We accelerated to 20 up to the first loop, then 22 to the second, where I detrained, as the former "connection" into Train 830 at Daimagou had been broken by the new timetable.
This station has three loop lines, curving at the East end, while other "loops" on the climb are entirely set on curves. The local staff took me under their wing here, showing me the separate "signal box" and inviting me to spend the time in the "stationmaster's office, complete with VCD player and deep armchairs! This office was next door to a large room equipped with a dining table and eight smart chairs. There are a couple of small farms at the rear of the station, which is perched on the side of the mountain and offers fine views, which were captured on film. I nearly missed Train 830 when the stationmaster suggested I catch a later train and enjoy a few drinks in the meantime!
So, I scrambled aboard in a hurry, noting "old" 6448 at the head. We whirled downhill, braking only when we'd reached 44 on the approach to Modaoshi where many got out. The local people from the little stations and loops on the mountain clearly use this train to go and do their shopping! After an early spurt to 42, we ambled along to AiHe and after that stop managed 40 before Mudjiang and the end of a memorable visit to this area.
2917 was waiting on Train 5757, but I now had to return to BeiJing to meet my friend, Tim Morton, who was flying up from Hong Kong next day. I used Mudanjiang's "crack" train of the day, Train 466, which is shown in the timetable as starting from here, but came in, complete with passengers, from the North behind DF8.0085. The crew is usually lined up in full uniform on the platform for inspection before the coaches arrive. After inspection by the suited-train manager, they are sent to their duties. This train is probably the smartest I'd been on in the country, emphasising the benefit of a strict manager who clearly took an interest in the running of the service. Certainly it was the cleanest "RW" I'd been in and the staff were up and down, tidying regularly. It would be difficult to fault the service.
It was getting cooler as I left Mudanjiang and I guess that I had visited the area about as late as the area is comfortable to visit, weather-wise. A massive diesel park South of the station with DF-3s, 4s and 8s. Only one SY was visible. This train offers a buffet of mainly slad items for lunch which I risked. Small fish was the only meat dish I noted, but tasty plum tomatoes, coleslaw, noodles, boiled egg segments (in their shells!), cucumber, beanshoots, plus a bowl of freshly boiled rice. With a can of TsingTao, it came to Y26. I watched the cook and his two assistants expertly make vegetable dumplings for later, on a huge, floured work board.
I had a companion in my soft class compartment to start, but he went to bed at 4pm I dined off my rations and went to bed at 9pm. He got off at 7am and I breakfasted off pancakes and pasta from the trolley - as I hadn't been sick after yesterday's lunch, I decided I'd trust this guy's snacks, which were improved by some of my spread cheese, all washed down by packet coffee. Then, after a shave in hot water from the Thermos, I felt a new man! En route, I had noted the big QJ dump, previously reported before HaRBin, but saw little other sign of steam. Still, I enjoyed a restful morning as we sped South, close to the sea, here, enjoying the luxury of the compartment to myself and the unending supply of hot water for coffees while I read!
I had a unwelcome shock in BeiJing to find, again, that I couldn't get sleepers for Tim and I for that night's train to JiNingNan. After I had checked the possibilities for the next day, I took a taxi to the Sheraton Great Wall, as I knew Tim had asked them (when he was up the previous week) if they would try and get our tickets for us - we risked getting two sets! Happily, through the assistance of the Sheraton's people, a travel agency on the complex had done the deed! I could have kissed the girl, such was my relief at not losing another day!
I repaired to their splendidly-appointed "Atrium" restaurant and enjoyed a couple of beers, excellent Goulasch soup and a steak! Tim appeared in very timely fashion, off the Hong Kong plane, having used one of the hotel's limousines from the airport! So, we got off to an excellent start. I slept well in my soft class bed on a very full train.
Before I leave the Mudanjiang area, it may help other travellers who follow me if I reproduce here what appears to be the almost full passenger timetable for the area. The new timetable came into action on 1.10.98 and I managed to get a copy of the small local "book". If you get a chance to buy these, do, as they contain many trains which do not appear in the mainline timetable. As usual trains are spread all the way through the book and it took some detective work to produce the following tables, which I hope brings all the trains for the lines together and will allow people to plan trips more easilyi. I will, no doubt get round to doing a diagrammatic table later!
Now, let me say it now - I did not see all of these trains on my travels, so I cannot guarantee what is steam or diesel. What I can say, is that I did not see any of these trains with a DF4 - they seemed to be on trains to Jiamusi, Tumen or HaRBin only. I saw a total of three DF3's only anywhere on these lines and I never saw one East of MiShan. In a sentence, any of these trains could be steam or diesel, but I reckon that you are more likely to get a steam engine! There tend to be engine changes at JiXi, MiShan, and HuLin, and of course Mudanjiang and DongFangHeng, so even if a train starts diesel, it may change at the next changeover point. It must be potentially, apart from JingPeng, the best steam area in the World to-day (admittedly I haven't been up to Jiamusi) and I hope to get back before it changes too much.
Mudanjiang Area Timetable from 1.10.98
JingPeng (4.10 to 8.10.98)
On arrival, we had no trouble getting hard class beds for the afternoon train to Tongliao. Problem now was, how to spend the intervening 7 hours. Well, we used a very cheap and simple establishment, to the right of the station (as you leave), where for Y35 each we had a room with a bathroom (but no hot water, except what the girl brought you in a basin!). We breakfasted on fried eggs, "bridge rolls" (on sale almost everywhere) and packet coffee. They charged us Y2 (yes TWO!). So we had a couple of hours sleep, a stand up wash and then lunch - beef and noodles, fried rice with pork and stir fried celery with garlic, all for Y17. Basic, but definitely recommended as a cheap base during the wait for the train!
Train 711 was hauled by a DF4 from JiNingNan to BenHong and consisted of a YZ, a YW (staff only), a YW for passengers, a CA diner and four YZs. Our YW was very clean, but had no running water, apart from that from the coach boiler, which was to prove my undoing. I now nearly brought the trip to an abrupt end by scalding myself on the ankle while filling our Thernos. Fortunately, I remembered to remove my sock, before too much of my foot could be affected, but, even bandaged, it was a trial for the remainder of the trip. I have a nice scar! I am sure readers remember to bring a First Aid kit with them, but in case you don't, bring a tube of burn lotion and suitable bandages as well.
6032 took the train out of BenHong at 1640hrs and began our long, all stations trip through Inner Mongolia. We timed the train for an hour and a half, until it got dark, without noting more than the lowest forties. We then were invitied to use the diner, where we enjoyed omlette, stir fry and rice, with two large bottles of ChiFeng beer for Y40. We crossed a double-headed freight and 6302 on another before ZhengXiangBaiQi, where a filthy 6912 took over. Having seen the changeover, we retired for the night.
I awoke before 6am as we rolled down the East side of the JingPeng Pass. People could be seen threshing by hand in the pre-dawn light and the lights of ReShui were visible far below. We crossed 6639 and 6274 at LinXi and 7143 and 7010 a couple of stations later. We are still just on the descent here and the running was a little brighter in the low forties. At Daban, I noted 6577 and 6992; we crossed 6301 and 6763, while 6911 took over the train. 6911 has railings along the running plate in the Russian style, is a takeover bid in the offing? We breakfasted on tinned pate, rolls and coffee and the day looked a lot better for it!
The running was a good deal brighter from here, and as we rolled over this wide vista, in places so similar to the Veldt in South Africa, we usually managed at least 40mph between stops. Our best was 48.5 before LinDong, whose town, surrounded by trees looked like an Oasis! My notes suggest that we crossed little as we headed East. Indeed, the first note I have of a crossing was at the next engine change, where we crossed a QJ on a freight. We also overtook one here.
3073 was the new engine, which continued the 40mph maximum progress. We crossed 64798 on the Westbound passenger and noted that the line is absolutely straight for long distances here, with only a slight kink before another a long straight. For example, I noted one 7.75kms straight, yet we saw little effort up front, clearly the "minimum effort possible" was the order of the day! We crossed 6828 and 6358 on freights before we reached the Eastern end of the line and ran into Tongliao. So, not a lot in this direction for the timer, as JingPeng is covered in the dark, but nonetheless, what a steam experience for 1998!
We repaired to the Be Er Qin Hotel on the outskirts of the town, taken there by a driver given the "best hotel, please; note. He received, as well as our Y5 fare from the station, Y3 tip for bringing us there! We got a very well appointed clean room for Y265 for the night. The hotel is very quiet, but offers a reasonable restaurant and it was nice to be away from the hubub of the town centre. As previously reported, there is a hotel (they quoted me Y300) in the station complex, overlooking the tracks!
Tim and I returned to watch the DaBan short working depart with 3073, so that was one "new" locomotive we didn't miss by spending the night in a comfortable bed, rather than a hard sleeper on the return short working! We stood on Tongliao's footbridge to see what the steam freight traffic amounted to, but although we occasionally saw a column of smoke in the distant yards, nothing passed by in either direction in over an hour. Where does the freight go to, or come from? Or has the traffic level fallen?
6478 hauled the 8 coaches of the Westbound train next morning. We saw 6379 on a following freight in Tongliao North yard, crossed 7112, 7038, 7105 on others before the first changeover, reached without exceeding 45. About 10 QJs in the depot here including 6079 and 7007 took over. The farmers were busy threshing by hand, but 7007's diver showed little energy, seldom risking 40mph. We crossed 6135 at YaMenMiao, where she sat on 28 wagons with the blower hard on and on we drearily went, never now venturing beyond the thirties! Then at 1800hrs we foresook the timing in favour of dinner in the Diner - by pointing at what others were eating, we had courgettes with slivers of fatty meat, TWO omlettes (they were very good!), rice and a couple more Chifengers. All for Y35.
At Daban, 2645 took over and when he made some nice noises climbing in the dark, we regretted not being able to see the kilometre posts. So to GaLaDesTai and our leap of faith onto a station platform, with no town in view. It was 9.30pm."