The International Steam Pages
Steam in Central China, November 1998
Leslie McAllister continues his wanderings, mainly about the Terracotta warriors and diesels , but if you want to read the steam(y) bits, click here!
With fellow HKRS member Rick Wong: Rick was heading for WuChang on a factory inspection for his company and so I took the opportunity of having his company for part of my travels and went with him on Train 98, the Kowloon to BeiJing Express, hauled by DF11.0012. We travelled Soft Sleeper De Luxe and well worth it, it is - two comfortable beds side by side in a RW19k instead of four to the usual soft sleeper compartment. This is similar to the First Class compartment I had on my steam-hauled Trans Siberian trip in 1996 (the book is still in preparation). Mind you, the carpet could have done with a shampoo, but that's China, I'm afraid - maintenance of their excellent capital works always seems lacking.
A warm sunny day as we left Hong Kong and no sooner had we departed, than we had to give our orders for dinner to a young lady who came round drumming up custom. 42 minutes to Shenzhen, at the usual leisurely pace. The Chinese drivers have got this section down to a fine art so that they have found exactly the right speed to toddle along the KCR, without having to apply the brakes because they've caught up with an all-stations EMU.
25 minutes later we stopped at DongGuan for the border functions. Here, everyone troops off, complete with their luggage, goes through passport control, customs and quarantine controls before re-joining the train. It's efficiently enough done, and they do provide trolleys for people to pile their Amah-bags full of goodies onto. We were back on the train within 15 minutes but took the opportunity to do some modern traction photography on the platform end, during the remainder of the 60 minute stop.
DongGuan is a good location for this as you have freights with green DF4s; expresses
with DF11s and now the SS8 electrics; the slower services with both green and orange DF4s;
plus the "ktt" and the X2000 tilting train. Indeed, we were rather surprised
that we weren't overtaken by the X2000 on its Northbound journey on the Through Train
These coaches have an information system which gives the name of the next station, the speed (always quoted at least 1 kph faster in English!) and the temperature which speedily dropped to 6oC! All announcements are in Chinese and English.
Rick, after copious homework annotating my timetable, tried the shower at the end of the coach, also not available in mere soft class coaches! We did not change to electric as expected at ShouGuan, but continued over the electrified mountainous stretch with our diesel, so that we were actually early at ChenZhou.
Although the bed was comfortable, my sleep was fitful and I was awake when Rick rose to get off at WuChang. In the early light, electric SS8.0097 (note the symbolism) took over from our diesel which had worked right through the night. JS6438 was shunting passenger coaches here. On a later visit, two weeks later, Rick noted a QJ shunting freight at WuLongQuan, 20kms south of WuChang on the main JingGuang Line. I saw no other steam as we continued through HanKow and I enjoyed a "Western Breakfast" in the diner - three eggs fried, two small pieces of toast, butter, strawberry jam and a small cup of acceptable coffee, which tasted suspiciously like "2in1" packet coffee! No complaints. I rejected the shower and opted for the washroom - better than the usual "Soft" washroom" with hot and cold taps (but only cold water!), and soap and flannels supplied. I had a hot shave, using water from the flask. Strangely enough, we were not given the usual small towels which I am accustomed to get in a sleeper in China.
Now, I was continuing North to ZhengZhou which offers connections to various places of
interest. The sun had now risen and burnt off the mist from a cold, damp-looking
countryside. We whirled along silently, sometimes on welded track, passing many freights.
One even boasted a chocolate and cream SS3 piloting the usual SS4 double locomotive. I
dozed for an hour, but was awake as we passed LuoHe, an eventual destination, where a DF5
was shunting and QJ6901 sat in the Local Railway platform. Obviously, it had just come off
the daily short working on the line, which continues on with an electric from here to
ZhengZhou. At XuChang, the only sign of the narrow gauge that I saw was the line running
under the mainline, North of the station. We arrived at ZhengZhou, which was in the midst
of re-building work, 15 minutes late. First, I had fun finding the exit, then the booking
office (at the South end of the station). I had further entertainment with the ticket
staff here as they refused me a ticket for the train I first requested and then on my
second attempt (after queuing a second time) gave me one for an earlier train to
leaving within 10 minutes. The young lady swivelled her VDU round to show me the train
number and the time. A desperate rush ensued, as with the building works, the entrance was
well hidden from my non-Chinese eyes. When I eventually found it, now hot and bothered, I
ignored shouted demands for putting my luggage through the security scan and rushed to the
designated waiting room (No.6 on the extreme West side of the station), just in time to be
the last to board the train.
I tried the restaurant car, to be told, in English, that lunch had finished, but to return at 6pm for dinner. So I made do with a Twix bar and some coffee and engrossed myself in C.J. Cherryh's "Finity's End" for most of the trip, taking notice of the world only when we slowed or passed a station. Not much to report - others have commented on the hilly nature of this line, which seemed to keep our electric (a SS3 I think) busy. This "express" stopped at some stations overlooked by the timetable planner and at the second of these, at about 14.35, an SY shunted. At one of several power stations along the line, at about 14.50, a QJ shunted. The traffic appears to be handled by SS4s on freight and SS3s on passenger. Also I noted some Bo-Bo-Bo electrics in green and white livery.
More climbing into sparsely covered hills, with much grade separation, tunnels, and girder bridges. Even sheep with their shepherd. At San (something) Xi, where we stopped at 17.38, a JS shunted at the East end. Here many swarmed off the train and across the tracks to the exit (as ever in China). The lady of our company, who had previously shared a skewer of tasty port dumplings from a platform vendor, now took advantage of the reducing numbers to stretch out and sleep. At 6.10pm, I joined the crowd in the diner, where a different young lady cashier took my order, beginning with "What would you like to order?" Then, after some efforts in broken English, followed by much pointing at dishes in my "food" list (these lists which you get in guide books do work, up to a point!), we were both defeated and I resorted to pointing to the dishes which were starting to appear from the kitchen. For Y20, I got a good size bowl of rice and a plate of beef, cabbage and onions cooked with some chilli in Soy sauce. Not too hot, the meat was reasonably lean, so I was well satisfied. Homework in the timetable showed that there were two Yuxia branch trains, the first at 0650hrs from Xi'An!
So to Xi'An. I went out to the taxi rank and asked for the Hyatt. At that point, they asked for Y30 for the trip (about 5 times the meter price). I argued, some of the drivers simply walked away when I refused to pay what seemed to be a cartel price. I eventually paid Y20 (I'd offered Y10). Future journies never cost over Y10 and the highest meter reading, when they did turn them on (seldom - presumably to cheat the government out of taxes?), was Y7.50. So damn these tourist areas which are spoiling the normally very honest Chinese!
Oh, the Hyatt was Rick's suggestion, which I went along with as I felt it would be a better place to get a tour to the Terracotta Army arranged. At least I could discuss it in English! I expected to pay US$110, according to the "China by Rail" book loaned to me by Rick. They asked for US$140, I haggled and a special price was miraculously discovered which meant that I paid what I expected to. Otherwise, I'd have headed to another cheaper establishment, so the guy did the right thing for his company and I can recommend the hotel to anyone visiting "The Eighth Wonder of the World". Clinton stayed there on his recent trip, as has every other World leader passing this way - there were photos of all of them in the foyer. I got a very nice room for my money, complete with kettle, TV with CNN and HBO and was well looked after by friendly, helpful, English-speaking staff.
I slept like a log after a nice warm bath. Up and quickly out in the morning, only to lose time as I couldn't find, in turn, the entrance to the station (the booking office is obvious and labelled in English) and then the right waiting room. When I got to a barrier, I was refused entrance, possibly because I was too late. I did some train watching from the bridge at the East end of the station (I had got my bearings mixed up!), but, of course, only saw electrics.
Back to the hotel by a taxi I hailed on its way to the station (definitely the way to get an honest fare, as he feels obliged to push his "flag" down!). Good buffet breakfast and back to the station to book my ticket out on Train 682 that night. Xi'An has a foreigners' booking hall upstairs from the main hall (clearly signposted in English). There you say the train you want to a lady who speaks English, she scribbles your needs on a piece of paper and sends you to another window to pay and get your ticket. I might add that this wasn't the train I'd asked for, I preferred one 30 minutes later, as this would allow a safe attempt to get steam to Yuxia on the afternoon train. However, I now had a soft class bed for my return East!
Hotel again and checked out, leaving my luggage with the concierge (another benefit of
a bigger hotel) and then I investigated the options for getting to see the
"Army". The previous day, I had ascertained that they did not have a tour desk
(an incredible omission), so I inquired of the price of a hotel car - a mere Y600 for 5
hours! So, I went outside and with the help of a door man, hammered a "VW
Santana" taxi driver down from Y400 to Y250 for the round trip to the Tombs. He
wasn't too happy, but as I did not plan a long stay to see the Army, I thought the fare
quite high enough.
Going through the main entrance, you are confronted by stalls selling many souvenirs. Most of these are available inside where there is a small town of merchants of every tacky or otherwise type of memento. The most interesting stall in the entrance way was one where the farmer who first found the Army signs copies of a guide book. Inside, there is no sign telling you the way to the exhibition halls - they are to the right and about 200 metres past the encampment of stalls. Now, there are actually three halls of differing design but uniformly immense, of the size of an aircraft hangar. Hall One contains the "Army" that you see in all the pictures and I believe the men you see are all, to some extent or other, restored, as most figures have been broken over the years. Here they stand in rows and columns in military formation. Further back in the same building (you walk around the outside on a raised walkway) you can actually see partly excavated trenches containing parts of men, horses etc. The army included cavalry and chariots, although none of the latter survived, being wooden (there is an excellent reconstruction in another hall). It's a commendable way to show off the "find". In Halls 2 and 3 there is more of the same, but mostly these are covered archaeological sites, where you can watch men still digging. There is superb 360o cinema which shows a dramatised documentary of the making and painting (none are restored to extent of the painting) of the army; how it was buried; found and looted only a few years later and finally discovered by farmers digging a well about 15 years ago.
As an attraction, it's a "must" for anyone exploring the World's great features - natural and man-made. It truly is the "Eighth Wonder". So after two hours, back out to find my driver sleeping. I had rushed it a little, hence my recommended two and a half hours. He was pleased to see me back in timely fashion and we were back at the "Hyatt" shortly after 4pm, where I paid him off and left him with a handshake and a smile!. I left my souvenirs with my luggage and went outside again to get a taxi to the station to explore the second train to Yuxia. My "Santana" driver was back like a shot and took me to the station for Y10, so obviously, he felt that he had been reasonably rewarded for the afternoon. After all, it takes a lot of journies at Y5 or 10 each to make up for one nice steady drive in the country and two hours paid sleep! This time, I got onto the platform, via the exit, relying on the staff not knowing how to stop a non-Chinese speaker! Very unfair of me, but is it easy to get a platform ticket to go and watch the trains? No-one took any notice as I ventured up and down, photographing the electric and diesel depot at the station, but noting no steam departure. In the evening, I actually saw the return branch train with a BJ class diesel. So Xi'An appears to be without passenger steam. There may be freight, but as it would start from the West, I didn't see it. If I've got this wrong, will someone let me know, please.
I whiled away a comfortable few hours in the lounge of the Hyatt and then enjoyed their "German" buffet. Replete, I joined Train 682 to enjoy a reasonable amount of fitful sleep en route to ZhengZhou, where the train terminates at 07.25.
I now wanted to catch K90 North, but the booking computer would not yield a seat, to the clerk's and my dismay, but he then offered me K58, starting from ZhenZhou at 09.07, which I gladly accepted to XinXiang. I had plenty of time to find the correct waiting room (No.1 this time) and have breakfast - coffee, rolls and tinned pate. Hot water for the coffee was extracted from a stall, by buying some noodles for later (I think I ended up carrying them home). All this watched by the amazed, but smiling Chinese.
K58, taking just over 6 hours to BeiJing, is obviously ZhengZhou's crack train, with smartly uniformed conductresses in aquamarine tunics, matching long skirts (I bet they're glad of them in these temperatures!) and peaked pillbox-style hats. The train of air-conditioned double-deckers was hauled by an SS8 electric. The coaches are fitted by an information system in English and Chinese and on departure, I was personally greeted to the train (I assume that there were no other native English speakers that the recorded announcement could have been aimed at?). Our young lady, after going along the coach checking that all the luggage was safely stowed in the overhead racks (no hanging straps or overhangs please!) made a speech, saluted and was applauded. You miss so much of this local colour when you don't speak the language! Flat country to the North, the only feature was a long river bridge and the only sign of life, people tending plump cabbages. I looked out as we entered XinXiang, to see the well-engineered local railway head off to the East. The line appears to run under the mainline as a double track railway (there is a considerable network to the West which I assume is connected in) and with the associated junctions, including one flyover East to North, it seems quite Honeybourne-like.
Of steam, there was no sign, only orange DF7s and blue BJs. I did not look out to the West as we entered, so I spent an unprofitable, damp cold hour and a half on the platforms looking North in the hope of seeing a wisp of steam, assuming wrongly that any yard was in that direction. The depot at the station contained only electrics. I gave up, noted that daily train on the Local Railway runs right through to Rizhao, starting at 08.15. Based on the evidence seen, I did not plan to spend a day and a night waiting to see whether it was steam, or whether there was any steam along the line. So I booked South on Train 525, for a mere Y5.50 for 80kms. Little wonder as this train was decrepit YZs, utterly wedged already and I spent a uncomfortable hour in the corner of an end vestibule on the West side. As we left, I now saw the other depot with one or possibly two rows of QJs. None appeared to be in steam and the fact that they were sitting buffer to buffer suggests that they were dumped. A sad sight!
Later, I found a piece in CRJ regarding YanZhou, at the other end of the line, which suggested that the line had indeed been completely dieselised. I would say that it has on the evidence of a depot full of DF4s and other diesels! This trip was deteriorating into a modern traction bash and my spirits sank! At ZhenZHou I knew that I had an eight minute connection into another train South to LuoHe, where there had been steam two days earlier!
I made the connection, into a possibly fuller train for another two and a half hour stand with hundreds of others! You can't avoid this as few trains stop at these less important stations and you have to use what's available. By the time you queue on board at the excess fares desk (always the hard class coach nearest the diner) for a Hard Class berth, it's not worth paying for it! It's such a pain that you can't get a higher grade place at these wayside stations.
At LuoHe I booked into the Xingya Bailan Hotel opposite the station again. Even in a top price room (Y220), it was freezing cold thanks to ill-fitting windows and a pathetic heater). During a walk later, I discovered two other hotels and recommend that someone tries them instead (left from station, right at the crossroads and they're on the left). As usual, that night, ladies practising "The Oldest Profession" were busy ringing me up! A "service" you miss in the Hyatt! At least the water was warm and I had a shave and a bath.
Now to the station again, intending to catch Train 669 out along the line and to connect into the returning "local". However, both trains have been retimed and #669 now leaves LuoHe at 18.35, nearly two hours later.
I took a stroll through the marketplace, noting boxed shirts at two for Y15, among the bargains. Many street eating establishments, but I tried "Mr. Lee's California Beef Noodle" restaurant instead. One of waitresses spoke a little English, was very helpful and after more exploration of my "Food List", she got me shredded pork, green peppers, rice, cucumber and peanuts(!), with a soft drink for Y12.50.
Last time I was here, Local Railway tickets were on sale at a separate booking office, but this time, it was the main booking office which officiated. #669 arrived behind a SS1 electric and 6901 (what else?) took over. The train consists of no less than 9 YZs, a CA and an XL. The diner was in use, the YZs were individually heated by the coach boiler and I slept, as in the darkness (and cold) timing was out of the question!). We took 36'56" to the first stop and after a 3 minute stop ran on to ZhouKou in 29'04".
I detrained and watched 6901 uncouple and then couple up again. The two firemen checked round thoroughly and when the driver returned to the engine, he, too, had a look. They spotted me and tried to make conversation, as it was obvious that the "Gweilo" was interested in the steam loco. Then, to my surprise, they were relieved by another crew. The relieved crew all shook my hand and set off for the shed. The train departed and I set off back to the station building to await the local. I was met by the station master who greeted me with "How do you do?" We shook hands, he bowed and gestured me towards the exit. I entered the waiting room to find it empty and with only a young lady sweeping up. She was keen to get me out so she could lock up. I just had time to glance the timetable which showed that I had mis-read the local's arrival time at LuoHe by an hour. It had left here an hour before and we had probably crossed it somewhere in the darkness! I've done this before! Do I look for a hotel here, or get a taxi back to my luggage and my intended bed? No hotel in sight, so a non-decision! One of the small taxi-vans cam along, his "For Hire" sign illuminated, so I attempted to negotiate. He wanted Y100 for the trip and that was that. He was not unreasonable, as it's 58kms and he had two tolls to pay. He was clearly happy with the business, as he opened the window in the middle of the town to call to one of his cronies that he was off to LuoHe!
It was an interesting journey down a good road. We kept passing small tractors pulling large farm trailers piled high with bricks - literally every tractor for miles around seemed to be at it. Clearly there is a big building job on somewhere and ever farmer was lending a (profitable) hand. Convoys of full trailers in one direction and empties in another. Clearly some kind of staging or relay arrangement was the order of the day as you saw many trailers full of bricks waiting for traction at the side of the road. Every eating house on the road was doing good business with drivers consumming hot food on a cold night, their tractors and loads parked outside. An amazing sight and clearly a big co-operative operation. Another feature of the modern China is the filling stations - huge overall roofs in various exotic designs, but usually only 8/10 pumps. Fortunately, there is only one main road into LuoHe, which is fairly spread out, so when we ducked under the railway, I was able to direct him to the hotel.
A cold night with very little sleep and I was up for the 06.36 local. 2238 hauled 5YZs and a XU. At first, it was too dark to time and I sat, cold in an unheated coach. The staff here have gone downhill since my last trip for despite seeing coal loaded on at ZhouKou, the attendant didn't bother to light the boiler. We crossed a QJ on freight en route. Worse was to come when 2238 uncoupled at ZhouKou and was replaced by a green CoCo "hood" unit, No. 3319. Is it a DF2? I noted 6815 at the shed here, while 2815, 2262, 2810(?), 6903 and one other QJ were dumped to East with SY1163.
At 09.05, 6901 crossed us tender first on the "express". So to JieShouShi, where the previous practice was followed and the diesel came off. 1271 faced East and took over the local. 6816 was here on freight duties. Now we trundled East, never exceeding 32mph! At FuYang Xi, we did not change engine as the previous visit, so I had two "old" QJs and a diesel, plus some pretty pathetic performance to show for my morning! Fu Yang Xi shed had two QJs in steam, two dead and two dead SYs. At FuYang, I had no sooner stepped onto the platform when a QJ came through on a Northbound freight. Things looked momentarily brighter, but, it was to be the only steam-hauled freight which I saw in 30 hours here!
I now planned a full day's photography in this area, so I booked into the hotel on the left of the station forecourt. I then made my way onto the lineside at the exit to FuYang's own shed (to South of station). The light was dreadful and I just watched as a succession of diesels came past - DF4s on freight, both them and ND2s on passenger.JS6007 is still Queen of the Coalyard, but she spent a quiet afternoon, only erupting into action once. QJ6569 was being prepared on shed but did not come off, to head North to the yards to collect her train until after dark. I should have negotiated a room facing the railway here (you get a view of the station and the avoiding line from a well-chosen room), but instead, after eating in the hotel's excellent, if noisy restaurant, I studied the timetable and CRJ reports while being assaulted by sounds from the Karaoke bar which I will swear were heard in LuoHe!
Lay in in the morning until 09.00, checked out, putting my luggage in the left luggage and back to lineside, this time to North of the station. A steamless time, although the hazy sun at least allowed some modern traction shots. One QJ did appear to either leave or enter the shed during the morning, but there was no steam freight movement. The LuoHe local came and went with 1271, which I ignored as I'd travelled with her in September and yesterday. I could see little reason in staying at all - old engines and a diesel on the Local Railway and only diesels to photograph at FuYang. So, I joined the long, but fairly orderly, queues seeking tickets for the evening train (#435) South to DongGuanDong. This train conveys only Hard seats and Hard beds. The board said that there were 100 beds for to-night and I had little trouble getting a middle berth.
Why was I not heading back onto the local railway? Well, as I've said, old engines,
poor running and a miserable hotel at LuoHe, the obvious base for this line. I can get old
engines, better running, better hotels and warmer temperatures on the SanMao! A great pity
about FuYang, which looked so steamy in September. The JS is probably safe for the moment,
although the pilot DF7 could probably do that job as well! Most of the diesels seen at Fu
Yang were built after 1995, so if the factories keep churning them out at this rate,
there'll be little steam left anywhere soon!
Note that ZhouKou and Huaiadian remain loco changes for the all-line local, but that the "express" uses the same locomotive throughout and in both directions!
So, I spent the afternoon on the lineside, with no more success and so at 16.30 I
abandoned photography and joined the mob waiting to join #435. This is, in effect, an
emigrant train. Most of the people in the hard seats were heading South to what they hope
will be a better life in the factories of the ShenZhen Special Economic Zone. I took a
stroll to the front to note that we had a green DF4 and saw that with the front two YZs
locked off, presumably for later joiners, that the poor people were already standing the
length of the train, and this at the start of a 22 hour journey!
I slept quite well and noted that we'd arrived GanZhou at 08.34 after a hilly section with many tunnels, although none very long. The line here is incomplete and there are many sections where there is only one line or the second one is not yet in use. We lost time as we waited for crossings with freight trains. The stations are often big and impressive, but serving only small towns - clearly the line is intended to open the area up. The hilly country continues with further tunnels and bridges following one another in quick succession. It was difficult to read as we swept in and out of them. I noted one JS on a works train near Km2025, another at LongChuan North at midday. There is a big new depot at Long Chuan with 20/30 diesels and the layout includes a turntable (why, if steam is finishing?) Another station had a small yard with a water crane, but no steam engine!
So to DongGuanDong, now almost on schedule. Joined the scrum leaving the station, no taxis, but some unmarked taxi vans, one of which took me the few kilometres round to the main station, then a GuangShen train to the border, KCR and home.
A disappointing trip and indeed, but for "doing" Xi'An, it was almost a complete waste of time and energy. Deeply depressing to see the steam going in Central China. It now seems that we have a choice of the freezing North East, plus Inner Mongolia, or the San Mao in the South if we want to travel behind a steam engine.