The International Steam Pages


Central China for your Christmas Break

Leslie McAllister continues his wanderings with a report from Central China

Summary

For those without the time to read it all. LuoHe to Fu Yang passengers remain steam for part of their journey, depending on diesel availability. From 1.12.98 a new (allegedly steam hauled) passenger service was introduced from the steelworks South of LiangBaTai to LuoHe each morning, returning in afternoon. This line was converted to standard gauge last year. FuYang was much steamier than on my last trip a month ago. The narrow gauge at XuChang looks to be all-diesel now. There is still steam in form of JSs and QJs to be seen here and there on both the GuangZhou to BeiJing mainline (the masts are going up in the GuangZhou area) and the new mainline from BeiJing to Kowloon. Doubling of the latter is under way, but not throughout its length.

And so to the Trip….

Faced with Christmas away from my loved ones, I decided to go somewhere and do something to help me forget what I was missing. Rick Wong had managed to scrabble a day or too off work – his boss (his Dad) makes Scrooge look generous! We were accompanied by is younger brother, Richard, who was taking in the scenery and checking out his ancestral home, he being Australia-based. He wasn’t too impressed with the organisation of things! I can’t think why!

Despite my disappointing trip to Central China a few weeks ago, we returned there, as it appears now to be the closest we can get standard gauge passenger steam. Usual rules apply in this report – speeds are stated in (British) Imperial Miles Per Hour, as God intended!

24 December 1998

Usual Escape Route from the Colony – KCR to Lo Wu, picking up Rick and Richard at Sheung Shui, where Rick suggested I might like to join them to stand in the Third Class end – I was only travelling First because he had suggested that was the coach to meet in! Having paid my fare (double that in Standard), I was not giving up the luxury, even in favour of being sociable.

Fairly easy transit of the border – Gweilos and Chinese get separated on the Chinese side and despite this and the differing formalities, we all reached the other side at the same time, to the second! To Shenzhen station, to wait for Train 36, the 13.15 Super Express to GuangZhou. I procured sticky buns to ward off hunger (one of the stalls does good ones for Y2 each). We tried the lunch boxes on board as well. We sat in the lower deck of a double decker coach, being hauled sedately (mainly in high eighties – the schedule demands the high nineties) by the almost unique DF9.0001. So Rick and I have cleared the two locomotive class for haulage!

As a result, we took a poor 67’40" for the run to the Dong station. This train, of course, was chosen, because it a) allowed an hour’s connection to our onward train and b) did not terminate at the ill-positioned Dong. Why anyone thought it a good idea to run very fast trains to a station on the outskirts of GuangZhou, rather than rebuild the main station to accommodate the traffic, is beyond me. I will go to any lengths to avoid the misery of Dong’s taxi queue and the ride through the dreadful traffic to the city centre.

We fought our way out of the Main Station, as our train was not at the platform and enjoyed the facilities of the Soft Bed Waiting Room (there is a Soft Seat room here too). The Room has arguably the cleanest public "loo" in China!

We joined Train K90, the 15.44 ex GuangZhou and were pleased to find that we were not sharing our compartment with anyone. Actually, the train was very empty, which was surprising just before Christmas, but of course, the Chinese do not celebrate Christmas with a holiday. Going North in daylight was a bonus and we saw JS6419 at YingDe (Km 2106) and another at the GuangDong Electric Company’s power station near Km 2077.

Dinner in the diner was fairly good and cost Y70 for the three of us. JS 6374 at MaBa (Km2062) and at least 3 JS’s in steam at ShauGuan, which probably has more out of sight. During the stop at ChenZhou, I ran across the footbridge to gaze into the dark depot to see if the two QJs were still there – one had been partly dismantled on our last visit. Both seem to have disappeared. The train staff were quite concerned that I had disappeared, but I was only gone about three minutes, with Rick watching that they did not go without me! A QJ was on shed at HengYang and further steam in yard at HengYang Bei.

Our DF4D continued through the electrified section, presumably to save time on the engine changes. We think that all the quick expresses do this. However, the masts are going up at the GuangZhou station area, so clearly the delayed electrification of the lower part of the mainline is now getting under way, with all that entails for steam, somewhere, when the section is energised and the diesels are cascaded! By the way tee-shirt weather in HK and GuangDong, at 27o falling to 8o by 22.00hrs!

25 December 1998

Christmas presents galore with a fair batch of steam sightings, starting with a JS simmering in the yard South of XinYang; then a QJ at MaZhang, probably used to shunt the nearby power station and finally a real catch in seeing a tender first QJ steam past on the mainline on a PW train at about Km850!

The train’s information system claimed a temperature of 0oC at dawn rising to 2oC, by the time we de-trained. However, there was no sign of any frozen water, and I assume that the temperature was a few degrees higher.

XuChang:

Arrived XuChang at 08.35. The East Han Dynasty founded a Capital here in AD196 and the City features in the Chinese epic "The Three Kingdoms". We took a taxi-van (referred to as "MianDi") to the narrow gauge station, helped by a local map bought from a kiosk at the station – the narrow gauge station is clearly marked, as is the depot. Of course, we were too late to see the first train of the day, but the timetable board gives the service as follows –

 

Train 101

Train 103

Train 102

Train 104

XuChang (Narrow Gauge)

07.00

15.30

12.25

18.50

 

Dan Cheng (Km165)

12.20

21.05

06.50

13.30

So, off we went to the depot which is under a kilometre to the South, right beside a level crossing. We paid off the taxi, as plenty were going past and taking a cue from everyone else, simply walked in. There is a clear entrance to the place and we were really looking for someone to ask permission from, but we got to the clearly visible steam engines without being apprehended. Three SanShui-built C4s were outside, 4202, 4219 and two tenders, one from 4215. There were some bits of engine lying around, which may have been dismantled corpses! Five more (one was KaiFeng built) were inside the works/shed, including 4218. All appear to have had their connecting rods removed. I saw three diesels and am forced to the conclusion that the line is so powered completely.

By now we had attracted attention and Rick was asked if we had "made contact" before visiting. Answering evasively, we did the obvious thing and removed ourselves from the scene. I took no photos, as I can photograph working C4s elsewhere, so why upset people by taking shots of a scrap line?

Hailing a passing MianDi, we returned via the City "Museum" where, for our Y3, we were allowed to enter the gardens, stroll around a courtyard with a modest decorated "corridor" and most importantly get a good shot at the fine 400 year old Ming Dynasty brick-built pagoda. Otherwise, there were no real exhibits other than some wall illustrations and information (all in Chinese, of course). The buildings, which one assumed were full of exhibits appeared to be used by the numerous staff as canteens, rest rooms, etc! Obviously, it will be a little while before XuChang becomes part of the "Western" tourist circuit!

After just ten minutes, we took another taxi to station and bought tickets for the next train South to LuoHe, only to find that Train 337 runs every other day from here, so we had two hours to kill before Train 543 at 12.07. We took another MianDi to the XuChang Grand Hotel - XuChang Da Jiu Dian - and had coffee in the Foyer. The foyer had an exhortation wishing us a Merry Christmas and a Prosperous New Year and such greetings were pretty common throughout the area we passed through. To go with our Y10 cups of reasonable coffee, we provided our own "Mr. Kipling’s Mince Pies" (courtesy of the Discovery Bay Park ‘N Shop) and so had Festive "Elevenses"! Who says you can’t celebrate Christmas properly in China?

At the station, while we waited for our train, we were somewhat disturbed by the very graphic photographs used to illustrate the results of an explosion within a YZ22. You see these warnings against carrying explosives with you everywhere, but this one was excessively explicit with its pictures of dismembered burnt bodies, in a place where they could be seen by young children. A very rusty 1997-built SS8.0033 hauled us to LuoHe. Rick got top marks here by suggesting that we have lunch during the 35 minute journey, which thanks to the procedure used in Chinese diners, we did easily. You buy tickets for your dishes from the cashier, hand them to the waiter/ress, who trades them for your dishes, which appear within minutes from the kitchen. China certainly has its Downs and Ups!

LuoHe:

I had previously twice used the Hotel opposite the station, but as I’d been frozen there three weeks ago, we took a stroll round casing the other establishments. The most promising appeared to be the LuoHe Bin Guan, a yellow building to the right as you leave the station, but on closer inspection, we found that they were still building it! Of course, just like the Spanish hotels of old, there were taking customers! So we opted for the "Gold Island Grand hotel" - JinDaoDaJiuDian. The first room we were shown was pretty grotty, so the lady showed us another, suite-like room, with double bed. She said she would put an extra bed in it for me, while the Wong Brothers shared the double. We took it for Y140 for the night and it proved a good choice. From the station, turn left, to the road junction, turn right and it’s the first one on the left hand side.

Leaving our main luggage, we hailed a MianDi and asked the price for a ride to ZhouKou, headquarters of the Local Railway, some 66kms away. Unusually, the honest driver simply said "whatever is on the meter, but not over Y100", so as I’d paid Y100 three weeks earlier, he got our business! Again, the road was very busy with tractors and trailers hauling bricks for one building project or another. All helping the GDP growth, of course!. As he left the LuoHe City Limits, he took his Taxi sign off the roof and covered the meter with a towel – clearly there are restrictions on taxis working outside their areas (actually, I’d seen a version of this in GuangZhou last year). At ZhouKou, I had to guide him to the station! In the end, the meter read Y110 which we paid and went inside to check the train times, which had changed, again!

I won’t waste time by tabulating another set of times to find they change next week. At the moment, the all-line local leaves LuoHe at 06.30 (not 06.36 as stated in all the timetables), changes engine at ZhouKou at about 08.30 and arrives at FuYang at 13.05. It returns at 13.40, ZhouKou at 18.38 and arrives LuoHe at 20.51, not the 21.54 stated in timetables. The "express" now leaves LuoHe at 18.35; ZhouKou at 19.57 and arrives at ShenQiu, at 21.15. In the morning it leaves ShenQiu at about 08.50, although this may be earlier, ZhouKou (no engine change) at 0950 and arrives LuoHe at 11.24. These are definitely approximate times, as the alterations notice at LuoHe simply stated that it now arrived 48 minutes later than the published timetable. Just get there early seems to be the best advice!

Zhou Kou:

DF2.3319 was here shunting, seemingly attended by a substantial crew of at least five! Some of these were wearing identical yellow jackets and baseball caps, both well smeared with grease, suggesting a fitter crew. Is the locomotive being used for crew-training, prior to a larger invasion? Anyway, we walked along the tracks to the West to the works and simply walked in, cameras at the ready. We were rewarded by the sight of QJs 2238 and 6904 in steam, with SY 1164 in steam inside the Works.

QJ 2264 sat outside apparently usable, but SY1265, while complete, looked very woebegone.

In the works, QJ 2963 appears to be having a fairly major overhaul, as she was wheel-less, the wheelsets being elsewhere, although looking as if they had just been re-turned. The works has at least one overhead crane, but we weren’t nosey enough to see if the QJ had indeed been lifted by jacks, or cranes. Better to keep a low profile, I thought. We simply walked out again, this time by the main gate and regained the track at the level crossing. 2238 had gone off shed, while we were photographing, but she was still at the East end of the station, now ready on a 50 wagon freight. The driver came over to chat, saying that they had three diesels on the line and that they would soon replace the out of date steam engines. The fact that the DF2s were built in the early 1970s seemed to have escaped him. We photographed 2238 slowly, with many slips, take her train out of the yard. At least it allowed us several shots in the failing light.

Back at the station to buy our "Edmondson"–style tickets for the ride back to LuoHe and to await the arrival of the local, which arrived behind a QJ. As 6904 took over the train, I got my "big" Christmas present as this was my 40th QJ for haulage! I think that puts them past my lightweight Bulleid Pacific total. Oh that they ran as fast! We joined the second coach, despite staff directions to use the third, which they pointed out had heat in it. As we intended to open the windows, it made little difference to us! However, after I’d tried to see the kilometre posts in the darkness without any success (as the coach in front, being a full van, was not showing any light onto the lineside) and with my fingers freezing up, we soon gave up and repaired to the coal fired warmth behind! At LiuCun, the QJ-hauled Express waffled through and we crossed a QJ-hauled freight a couple of stations later. En route, I enjoyed some of my Mum’s Christmas fruit cake, also airfreighted to me, via a Chinese friend!

At LuoHe we repaired to "PC Lee’s California Beef Noodle" establishment where all three of us ate for Y22! Rick assures me that the California Beef Noodles (at Y5.50) were very good and a bargain. We now grabbed another MianDi and asked the driver to take us to church! You see, earlier in the day we’d seen a building with a cross, over the rooftops of the station square. It being Christmas Day, I felt I should try and visit a church (as I would have done in HK), if only to say a short prayer.

Well, the driver drove us in what seemed the wrong direction, drove out of town and along the river bank to pull up outside what was clearly a church. I got out to see if I could gain entry, as there appeared to be some lights inside the sanctuary. The local people guided Rick and I down to the basement, where we found the caretaker and two ladies who appeared to be sisters. He was just about to let me into the church, which is no longer in use, when the ladies offered to take me to the "New Church". So, they squeezed into the MianDi with us and we drove back into town and out again to a large building on the outskirts. It had a high church-like frontage with 4 storeys of offices (?) and the inscription in Chinese "Christian Church".

Here we were welcomed by about 20 ladies and ushered inside. This large building, which we were told had cost a million Yuan, looks as if it could hold at least a thousand worshippers. The sanctuary was a great barn of a place, with a small rear balcony with further seating. There was no Cross or, indeed, any kind of obvious Christian sign, although a sign in Chinese said "God Loves everyone". . There was a Pulpit-like lectern at the middle at the front, flanked by Christmas trees (two outside in the hallway as well). Behind the lectern was a raised area, where one would normally see the altar, or Communion Table, but all that there was here was a row of chairs.

A moment later, an old man in a suit and wearing a cap came in and was introduced to me as "The Father". Rick is not a Christian and may have translated this wrongly, although he is clearly the Priest or Pastor of some kind. Through Rick, I explained that I was a Christian from Ireland and it being Christmas Day, that I wanted to say a prayer in a church, if possible. I had intended to pray quietly, as Presbyterians do, but clearly, either through mis-translation or whatever, they expected me to lead a prayer! The old priest removed his hat and everyone gathered around! I’m afraid that I feel I blew this a bit, but I said the Lord’s Prayer (which binds Christians everywhere) out loud, and as some of the ladies spoke quietly while I did this, is possible that they understood what I was saying and repeated it in Chinese? I followed with a short prayer for the people who worshipped there Sunday by Sunday and a prayer for my family around the World on this uniquely family day.

I asked the priest how many normally worshipped there. His reply amazed me – 5,000 on occasion! I expect that might be over several services on a Sunday and this may be the only church for many miles around. Actually, there is another on the Local Railway at Km51 near Xiang Shang. They offered some refreshment, but as Rick and Richard were keen to get some sleep before our early start in the morning, we declined. I thanked them all for their kindness, we dropped the sisters off and returned to the "Golden Rocks".

We had a nice surprise in that the heating was on and it was very comfortably warm on a cold night in our room. Further, the water in the bathroom was scalding hot and I enjoyed a warm bath after making calls home to the family, courtesy of Rick’s mobile phone! Final job for the day was to open my Christmas stocking – we’re very traditional in our family and Suzette had sent me a small stocking by Airmail, which was duly brought on the journey and yielded the Marks & Spencer version of "SchokoLeibnitz Keks" (my favourites, being almost entirely chocolate; giant Smarties and a copy of the "Private Eye" Annual - "St Albions Parish News" (compulsory reading for those with a cynical view of British politics!). And so to bed and good sleep.

26 December 1998

We checked out at 06.15 and watched the security guard get up and roll up the motorised security screen (he sleeps across the doorway, just in case!) Out into the cold darkness to find the station square packed with buses filling up with patrons, megaphones blaring at other prospective patrons and many people on their way to work. You miss this delight staying where we did, but you get a full dose of it at the "best" hotel. Never again!

For this early train, you buy your ticket (Y20 for over 200 kms and you get an Edmondson ticket) from a shop beside the entrance to the platforms at the North end and I wondered why the lady ticket collector seemed agitated with us. We found out why when the train departed the moment we got on board, at 06.30, and not the timetabled 06.36. This line changes its timetable more frequently than some people change their shirts! Two coaches were half full of smokers, peanut eaters and spitters. We took an end of coach seat and were told by the police that these seats were for them. We explained (by written note) that we didn’t speak Putonghua and there we stayed. I note that these seats seem, without a notice to proclaim it, to "belong" to the police and as four of them crowded us throughout the journey, it simply isn’t worth the hassle!

6904 hauled the same set as last night and although it was too dark to time, the white steam drifting by the window on this cold, misty, but not freezing morning, made a pleasant steam experience, which Rick effectively recorded on slides (come to next HKRS meeting to see them!). By 07.26 the orange sun gave enough light to see the kilometre posts and so I started timing in earnest. As usual the speeds were nothing to write home about (even if I do) and we managed 39; 36 and an even more miserable 35 in the last three sections to ZhouKou. QJs 6818, 2238 and 6901 were at the shed. Here, misery of miseries, DF2.3319 took over.

I did not note the dumped QJs or SYs in the yard to the East, as we were surrounded by police by now – three of them and two staff. Rick was more troubled by them than I was. However, one of the staff was communicative and told us that the line to the West from LuoHe had been converted to standard gauge last year and showed us a notice proclaiming that from 1.12.98 a daily service from the outer end to LuoHe Xi had started to allow people to have some time to shop in LuoHe. The service actually starts inside the steelworks at "Welding" at 07.08, stopping at various sites with other industrial names. Once outside, the service is –

 

Train 704

Train 703

LiangBaTai

08.22

18.16

 

LuoHe Xi

10.20

16.15

Rick tells me that the narrow gauge line from LuoHe Xi to WuGang and LiangBoTou was the first Local Railway to be built in China, completed in 12.58. Also that Henan Province has more local railways than any other!

Access to LuoHe Xi is by No.24 bus from the Asia Hotel (don’t know where that is!). I think that the obvious way to do this is to take a MianDi to LBT in the morning and ride back. The return service only runs as far as the Coiling Plant, arriving at 19.16. From the steelworks, there is a line North to the standard gauge line at PingDianShan, but we do not know if this has been regauged, or if it has a passenger service. Exploration with a Chinese speaking guide might bear some (expensive!) fruit.

At JieShouShi, the staff only opened a single door, so the platform food vendors simply climbed in through the windows! Their Y1 hot dish looked appetising, but wasn’t (it was Chilli-flavoured jelly!), but the "Nan"-like bread with minimum of flavouring was OK and cost as much for two pieces! The staff opened the door for me to get out and photograph 1271 take over from the diesel, which had plodded along no faster, possibly slower, than the steam engines it will replace! There is a definite lack of logic in dieselising a slow-speed line like this, with coal available on its doorstep.

Eastwards again, sedately as ever, allowing plenty of time to note piles of bricks everywhere - clearly a Winter job is to extend the house or a shed, or a build a new wall. 1271 has a particularly melodious chime whistle, used along with the air horn, as is common. Speeds in successive sections only reached 34, 39, 38, 38, 36, 32, and 33 up to FuYang Xi.

After their lunch of noodles, meat, etc, the police settled down to a game of cards and the ladies of the staff industriously knitted and gossiped. The day continued very hazy (pollution?) with visibility never more than a kilometre, but it was not too cold. Around Km190, we passed over two waterways, each with their modest fish farms. Ricks of straw everywhere, but not many people in the fields. Here and there, well-matured cabbages were turning brown, although it must be said that this vegetable turned up in several lunchboxes and was often the best ingredient. There seems to be no shortage of edible greens.

FuYang:

Fu Yang Xi depot had three high-deflectored QJs - 0506, 0508, plus one other; another QJ and the two SYs which have been dumped there since September at least – why are they building more? I could be onto a good business finding out of work steam engines and acting as middle man to onward sales into industry! I think that it was 0506 which was gleaming and carried a name. Just 30mph and a signal check before arriving at FuYang itself 8 minutes late.

We were positioning ourselves to photograph the return at 13.40, when we saw steam coming South and so began a fairly productive afternoon, spent on the lineside, to the North from the station. Sightings (all QJs) were –

Time

Loco

Notes

13.20

-

45 wagons South

13.35

6277

45 wagons North

13.40

1271

Returning to LuoHe on local

-

6277

LE to FuYang shed, already turned (is there a triangle at yard?)

15.19

-

Southbound

15.30

6232

LE North

17.10

6277

Plus 2 others at FuYang shed, seen from train.

17.10

JS6081

As usual on coal yard shunt

The entertainment obviously also included many DF4s on passenger and freight, plus the busy, 1997 BeiJing-built DF7 which constantly scuttled around delivering and picking up wagons. The goods shed was busy with men loading vans with paper sacks of solid Citric Acid – a local speciality. The local map shows that FuYang "New Town", including the station, lies East of the river, while the larger, old town lies West.

South again on the 17.10 to DongGuanDong. Only one of the three YWs was populated at all on leaving, although the others took on some passengers later. The YZs were full, but not to the point of standing passengers this time. We had five in our section of six berths. This train is operated by the GuangMeiShan Railway, who clearly bought or leased this very dingy set from the national railway. The Brothers Wong, especially the younger one, were most unimpressed. Like most Hong Kong Chinese, they are less than impressed by Mainland standards of cleanliness and had brought their sleeping bags, rather than use the duvets provided, as crazy Gweilos do! The coach was unheated on a cool evening (12oC inside at 9pm!) and the hot water supply was delivered only at certain hours. I must say, however, that the dining car staff filled my mug up on request without a murmour. GMS has track in Eastern GuangDong Province.

The diner simply acts as a canteen for the staff, who appeared to be being well fed when we investigated. The meal boxes (Y10) provided some sustenance, the best part of the evening one being the chicken drumstick, the cabbage and the rice.

Richard took to his bed early, Rick and I about 9pm, just in time as lights out was 9.15pm! I slept quite well, despite the hardness of the bed! I must be getting used to it!

27 December 1998

I crawled out of my middle berth before 08.00 in time to see a JS in steam at GhanZhou at 08.41. The line is mainly single here, with bridge supports in place for the second line, but no decking. This was the case most of the way South to-day. At 11.00, in a section littered with tunnels, another JS poked its chimney out of a short tunnel. This section is quite attractive hilly country, with some architectural delights to view, such as the occasional pagoda. The day remains hazy, showing a polluted atmosphere even in this fairly mountainous area, with evergreens clothing the hilltops.

Best of all are the terraces which march up every side valley and the hillsides, sometimes to the extent of 30 or 40 "steps". Possibly decades of work with pick, shovel and baskets hung from a bamboo yoke over the shoulders of these hardy people, male and female. This new line is being completed using similar methods and one saw the same methods being used to bring and spread ballast on the newly positioned track panels (themselves put in place by modern track-laying trollies!). I assume that the manual workers are local people very properly being allowed to share in the prosperity created by the building work.

A JS was at HePing ("Peace") station. LongChuan depot was still full of green DF4s. The puzzle of the turntable here was partly solved when we found QJ2696 at LongChuan station, kindly parked just behind where we stopped, allowing a quick photograph close-up. The line here in the South is on a single track formation, only – or is it simply part of the existing line to the South East here?

It was a warm day in GuangDong province and the layers of clothes were shed and the windows opened. On time arrival and we procured a van to take us to the main station where we just caught a train South to the border. It was packed even in First Class, presumably with Hong Kongers returning from their Christmas break.

At ShenZhen the Chinese authorities had seen fit to close one of the entrances to the border facilities, so a large crowd milled around in the plaza in front. Taking advantage of my foreign status, I went "In" the "Out" waving my passport. I was not being unreasonable, as there is access to the second floor Passport exit from this side of the building. Relatively long queues on this side, but when I got to the "Home" side, I actually walked straight up to an immigration booth for immediate transit – the quickest I’ve ever managed! Unfortunately I just missed a ferry and so still took two hours from the border home – the downside of living on an Outer Island in the Colony!

It had been a much better trip than I had dared hope, made better by Rick and Richard’s excellent, good humoured company. My thanks to Rick for additional information to complete this report. Now I’m planning a trip further North seeking that forty first QJ. Watch this space!

New Year Greetings to all my readers! May it turn out steamier than I fear!


Rob Dickinson

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