The International Steam Pages
Steam in Northern China, March 1999
Steam-tour to China, 20th March - 6th April 1999, Dahuichang, Baotou, Dongsheng, Jingpeng, Chengde, Fuxin, Yabuli, Weihe, Sujiatun & Anshan, report by Johs. Damsgaard Hansen and Bo Lindhardtsen
This was a private tour planned rather a short time in advance. The worrying news about the rapid decline of steam on the CNR together with several new build lines with steam opened since 1995 when China was visited last time made more of the destinations rather simply. Beside, we had the big fortune that nowadays news are available very fast due to the magic of the Internet. Thanks to all of you who provide information this way.
Especially we have to thank John Raby who gave us the inspiration to make a detour to some of the last forest lines near Mudanjiang after reading the excellent new-year report on his Forgotten Railway Home Page. Bernd Seiler helped with additional information, in other about the Jingpeng-Pass and advised us not to stay here too long time; a good advice as Chinese steam has much more to offer than "the idiot hill". Also, Christoph Oboth added some useful hints about Baotou.
Dahuichang Limestone Works, Baotou, Dongsheng, Jingpeng, Chengde, Fuxin, Yabuli, Weihe, Sujiatun and Anshan were the destinations. For the gricer familiar with the Chinese steam scene, these places (perhaps with the exception of Fuxin) do not include any new discoveries.
The intention was to do the trip at a fair price; both to save money, but also to convince ourselves (and others!) that China can easily be done with neither expensive guides nor organized tour parties. Compared to just a few years ago it has become much more easy to travel on your own in China. Train tickets (hard sleepers) to a very fair price are booked within a few minutes and cheap accommodations are found in most places. Taxis, available for around 1,50 Yuan a kilometre, together with the frequent minibus-service make mobility quite easy. In seventeen days in the Middle Kingdom we spent each 467 USD all inclusive - actually a cheap holiday.
The report gives a brief summary of what we found together with some hints for coming visitors.
Sunday 21st March:
Arrived in the morning at Beijing Capitol Airport and went downtown with the airport bus. This shuttle ends about 500 metres to the north of Beijing Main Station and to a price of 16 Yuan it is a cheap and easy way to get into town. Departure time from the airport during daytime is every hour at the minute 30.
After leaving our gear at Beijing Xi station by taxi to Dahuichang NG-line. As there are only few taxis available in Dahuichang we asked the driver to wait during our visit. In the locoshed the cold locos No. 2 and No. 4 were parked. Outside the shed No. 1 minus tender stood derelict. As previous reported nothing happens before 14 o'clock. At 14.20 a loco without number left the plant with empties for the quarry. A few minutes later another loco without number (a new one?) departed with the next empty train. In one hour we enjoyed no less than four empties (chimney first) and it is also worth to notice that free-line crossing sometimes happens on this NG-double tracked line! Due to lack of time we did not check out the SG-sidings where a YJ has been seen shunting recently. At 15.30 we left this nice place after having no problems at all with the staff contrary to previous reports. If you have the time then bus line 356 terminates in Dahuichang close to the plant. If you are in a hurry, a taxi makes the tour to Beijing Xi station in only 35 minutes.
Left Beijing Xi on Exp 177 at 16.47 heading for Baotou.
Monday 22nd March:
Arrived at Baotou Dong at 5.35 in time to watch the steam hauled passengers departing in the morning. The complete timings (Baotou Dong) for the trains on the ring-line (all still with JS) are:
Our actual sightings were:
With four departures within 45 minutes this intense passenger service with steam must be very difficult to find elsewhere in China nowadays. Beside the passengers, more JS as light engines either departed or arrived at the nearby Baotou Dong depot-area just west of the station.
We then left for linesiding outside Shigai on the light trafficed line Baotou - Shigai (100% JS) which has the following passenger service:
According to earlier reports a morning-freight should arrive in Shigai around 10 o'clock and return to Baotou shortly afterwards. But as nothing happened (except T 804) we decided to go back to Baotou at noon with one of the many minibuses which run between Shigai and Baotou Dong Station.
In the afternoon we visited the Baotou Steelwork. This is easily done without Chinese escorts/guides as there are public roads within the steelwork; we just hired a taxi and drove around the area for quite a time. Unfortunately the use of steam is declining. At the coaling facilities beside the shed we found four SY in steam. Most locos of class YJ are now withdrawn but one is still kept in running order according to the staff in the shed. We found this loco, YJ 232, in steam in the area north of the locoshed, while all shunting to the south in the furnace-area was in hand of diesels. However, SY is still used at the tippings and other duties outside the central area of the steelwork.
From the steelwork we went to the nearby Baotou Xi depot. In the western depot area three JS were in light steam together with QJ 6831 which has no smoke-deflectors and therefore looks quite strange. Where little was going on here, and we wonder how much the QJ is still used on the CNR in the Baotou-area. A brief visit to the eastern area of Baotou Xi depot only showed a lot of withdrawn QJ's.
The huge freight yard of Baotou Xi saw no movements with steam, except for the JS-hauled passengers on the ring-line together with one freight from the steelwork with a SY (tender first).
We spent the night at the new West Lake Hotel (Xi Hu Binguan) located on the main street ½ km north of Baotou Dong Station. A double-room is 116 Yuan - this price is without additional service offered by the local callgirls
Tuesday March 23rd:
This day was spent entirely on the 30 km long branch Baotou - Shigai to see the banked freights out from Shigai to the small village of Houba (km 20) which is at the summit on this line. Unfortunately the freight-traffic seems to have been declining compaired to earlier reports this year and again, the morning freight train did not run. The observations for the day are as follows:
We then returned to Baotou Dong station with minibus and had a sharp transfer to another minibus from the nearby bus station leaving for Dongsheng shortly afterwards (travel time 3 hours). By arrival at the bus station in Dongsheng one is surrounded by locals offering accomodation in their private guesthouses. Expect to pay around 50 Yuan for a double or 10 Yuan for a bed in a dorm. Stayed overnight in Dongsheng.
Wednesday March 24th:
First we checked out the timings for the passenger-service on this 100% steamline (QJ) Baotou - Dongsheng - Shenmu; the current timetable is:
Departed from Dongsheng (km 100) with T 855 and went south to Shashagetai and walked to the big bridge four km to the north in km 115. For northbound trains this area between Shashagetai and Aobagou is a good place with heavy gradients although the light can be a bit difficult - it is best in the morning or late afternoon.
Again the freight traffic (coal only) had been reduced (temporary - or due to the end of the winther?) as 11 hours of linesiding produced only one freight train! Fortunately this train was probaby the heaviest freight ever seen in China by the both of us. No less than 54 loaded boogiecars hauled by a QJ-double and banked by a third QJ passed the bridge at 11.15 This train could be heard far in advance.
The crew at Shashagetai station were extremely helpful with information. According to them two loaded trains were scheduled this day, but one seemed to have been delayed. The timings for the next day arrived just before we went back to Dongsheng with T 856 at 18.20 and the coming day should produce some more loaded trains.
Back in Dongsheng a brief visit to the depot showed 7 QJ's in steam and another 7 QJ's either cold or stored.
Thursday March 25th:
Left Dongsheng with a taxi at 6 o'clock for the Singing Sand viaduct (distance 65 km) for which we had to pay 130 RMB after a cool bargain before departure. The driver had some difficulities finding the place, but we finally left his car near the newly open halt (km 43½) just north of the famous bridge-tunnel area, from where we walked to the bridge (km 44½) and climbed the hills (with all our gear!) from where we enjoyed the fab view and spotted the following trains:
Then another trek (not for the fainthearted) across the sand dunes and over the mountain to the south of the tunnel where the line is on an embankment just beside the river in km 46½; a nice spot for southbound trains in the afternoon with mountains together with the sand dunes in the background:
At 17.05 we boarded the T 852 in Shabazi and went to Baotou.
Friday March 26th:
Early morning-visit to Baotou Dong Station with the following steam-departures:
Afterwards a brief visit to the Baotou Dong depot with three JS (but no QJ) in steam. Left Baotou Dong at 8.22 with F. T. 204 to Jiningnan (no CNR steam left) where we spent a couple of hours before departure at 15.07 with the famous passenger 711 as the next destination was the Jingpeng - Pass. With 900 km behind steam, this train simple is the last great steamride in the world.
Saturday March 27th to Tuesday March 30th:
Arrived at the railway station of Galadesitai 5.40 and checked in at the wellknown Post Hotel in Reshui were we had a doubble for 100 Yuan a day after a bargain as the staff wanted 250 Yuan at first. We explored this well known area for 3½ days which some may think is too short time, but it is possible if you are in a hurry.
There are no reasons to go into details with the positions and the amount of trains on the Jingpeng-Pass. So many reports from here are available on the Internet. Nevertheless a good hint is to check out the schedule for the coming day, which is available in the different stations from 18.00 o'clock. Although the timings never are kept, you get an idea of which way most of the trains will run the next day.
We saw the expected average of four to five trains in each direction during daylight.
On March 30th we left Reshui for Chifeng which is easily done by public transportation. First take a minibus to the town of Linxi (10 RMB) from where there are many connections further on to Chifeng; we did it with another minibus (40 RMB) and arrived in Chifeng less than four hours after we left Reshui. Another short transfer at the bus station and at 18.30 we were on our way to Chengde in some sleeper-bus destined for Beijing. Arrived in Chengde after midnight.
Wednesday March 31st:
By minibus line 5 to the summit on the Chengde steelwork-branch. Arrived at 9 o'clock and noticed the following trains going uphill:
As the weather was both dark and foggy we did not wait for more trains. Left Chengde at 18.47 with F.T. 593 heading for Fuxin
Thursday April 1st - Friday April 2nd:
Arrived Fuxin at 4.05 in the morning. Recovered in a restaurant and then we began to explore the steam-service in this area in which only a few information is available. With the amount of steam here it has to be said, that everyone who considers to visit this part of China in the nearer future shall not miss Fuxin which is easily put in between other well known destinations. Although the railway photographer only interested in making the master shot may get disappointed, the gricer looking for big quantities of steam will have a splendid time.
On CNR the number of steam locos is still quite high. On the shunting-yard south of the station only steam (both JS and QJ) is used for shunting-duties. Notice that the shunting locos are facing south. The shed-area is located southeast of the shunting-yard and has a nice old roundhouse, which unfortunately is surrounded by a wall.
Steam is mostly used to the south to Yixian where the line diverges to Jinzhou and Yebaishou. At least the following passenger-trains are still with steam (QJ):
Some additional passengers may also be with steam.
Steam hauled freights (QJ) south of Fuxin are used with a rather high intensity while freights to the north almost are in hands of diesels. We saw only one freight with steam here.
Beside the CNR the Fuxin-area is dominated by a local industrial railway with a very intense network with both steam (SY only) and electric lines (Czech, East German and Chinese Bo-Bo-Bo's & East German Bo-Bo's). The major transportation is coal from the many mines in the area. No diesel seems to be in use at all. All steam locomotives are facing south.
The industrial main-line which is approximately 45 km long, runs from Xinqiu in the north (where it terminates close to the CNR-line) some 20 km south of Fuxin to Dongliang which is also on the CNR-line. 10 km south of Fuxin in the town of Minzu a short line branches to the east to Wangying where there is a mine. Between Minzu and Dongliang the industrial line runs parallel to the CNR-line.
The line from Xinqiu to Dongliang together with the branch to Wangying is served with several passenger trains, and all are hauled by steam. Tickets are sold in the train by female conductors in every car (old hard-seat bogies) to the price of one Yuan - a fair price for a steam journey in 1½ hour if you like! The timetable from 1997 with later retimings (marked *) written of in a cabin is as follows:
Retimings valid from 1998 (?) - The simultaneous departure from Minzu at 14.50 earlier reported by Australian gricers is therefore history.
The names of the stations/halts from the south are: Dongliang/Wangying, Minzu, 611, Hongwei, Wulong (Pingan), Taipeng, Gaode, Miapu, Chennan, Ajin, Xi (=the West) & Xinqiu. All these names were given by a local while travelling in the train and the spelling may not be correct! Also, Wulong has been named only Pingan in another report on the CR-homepage.
The centre of the industrial system is Wulong (or Pingan) which is only 1 km east of Fuxin CNR station; to get to here follow the road crossing the CNR-line just north of the station area. Beside the steam depot and workshop-area which are not visible from outside, the main shunting-yard is located north of Wulong (Pingang) station. As a result of intense traffic the line is even double tracked from Wulong to the north for several kilometres. Just before the first station to the north of Wulong (Taipeng - distance app. 4 km) the coaling and water facilities are located. Here there are more sidings to a power-plant also served by steam. As many people live in small houses in this area lots of locals just walk around in the track or on small paths beside the tracks. From Wulong station an electrified line branches of to the north-east into a mine-area and this line is also served by steam. To reach the shunting-area all trains from this branch has to propel the last distance from Wulong station to the shunting-yard.
The number of steam trains we saw in Wulong around noon on April 1st was extremely high. Within 30 minutes no less than four freight, one emergency-train and a passenger together with several light engines to and from the shed-area passed by.
It is worth to notice that we had absolutely no problems with taking pictures. We were even invited on the engines and also offered tea by other railway staff.
We did not explore the electrified lines, but to illustrate the quantity of coal-traffic it shall be mentioned, that there is also an electrified double tracked line, which close to Taiping runs parallel to the "steam-line". For fans of odd trains the passengers on the electric lines really can be recommended. Older freight cars rebuild for passenger-service are used, and these trains can be compared with a similar service on the Hershey-lines on Cuba. We saw two such passengers taken by a Bo-Bo electric within a few minutes at Taipeng station on April 1st around 16 o'clock. Also, at Taipeng station we found SY 0002 on heating-duty.
Maybe the best spot in the area is Minzu where the CNR and industrial-line run beside each other. Minzu town has a church to the east of the line which is visible from the station and the Wangying branch, although many wires and poles make photos of the church together with the train quite difficult. On April 2nd we spent 2½ hours in the early morning around the cabin in the south end of the station and enjoyed the following steam-movements:
We were quite impressed!
Transportation in the Fuxin-area is easy as there are very many taxis available. On most locations one has to wait less than a minute before a car is available. More basic guesthouses are located just opposite the railway station. Locals are looking for costumers outside the station.
We left Fuxin on April 2nd at noon as our next destination was the forest lines around Yabuli.
Saturday April 3rd:
Arrived in Yabuli with F. T. 505 from Shenyang at 5.15 just after sunrise. It had been snowing during the night, but now it was total clear and very cold. A short transfer to the NG-station 2 km north of the CNR station by motorcycle-rickshaw with the hope that the season had not already ended. We were not disappointed, as three locomotives were in steam and started to photograph (125/5.6 with 50 ASA before 6 o'clock!) the following:
At 6.30 a loaded train with Loco 02 arrived followed half an hour later by loco 10 which had been the banking engine on the hill-section between Hwongwei and Shinfu. By now all locomotives in steam on this system were in Yabuli.
We then had a visit to the locoshed where the following five cold locos were seen: 01, 03, 04, 06 & 161. Outside the shed was loco 05 minus tender derelict.
As no more trains on the main-line were expected before noon we decided to visit the nearby forest-line in Weihe some 20 km west of Yabuli. This transfer is easily made with one of several minibuses connecting the two towns to the fair price of five Yuan.
Weihe may be the last forest-line with steam hauled passenger service. Two pairs of passengers serve this line between Weihe and Liushan with the following timings:
Besides, there are also several railcars in use.
We arrived at the NG-passenger station in Weihe at 10.15 to find only one locomotive in steam, No. 033, which left as light engine shortly afterward to the timber yard in the south some 1½ km out on the line. Therefore, we decided to go on the free-line. As a road serves more of the villages on the line we went by minibus to the first station which is Zhenzu in km 6. Arrived here just to see the rear end of an empty train and decided to continue to the next station by foot. In Yingly (or Xinlu in some reports) further 4 km to the south we overtook the same empty train which was hauled by No. 33. Just south of Yingly are two smaller bridges and here we saw:
Then walked up to the road and went back by minibus to the rock-formation beside the halt Wulidi in km 3 which has not been mentioned in other reports and saw:
With another minibus back to Weihe where No. 055 was on shunting duty at the timber yard less than 15 minutes upon arrival with its passenger. No. 053 took the return passenger which left the passenger station in Weihe at 16.35 where after we went to the loco shed. Outside No. 030 & No. 032 were in light steam. Inside the shed work was going on with the warm No 034. Besides No. 31 minus tender together with a loco without number (claimed to be No. 035 according to the staff) was waiting attention. The only locomotive not found was No. 054 which the staff told us was out on the line.
For both the Yabuli and Weihe forest lines it has to be mentioned that logging only takes place in a few months during the year (the winter period). Yabuli started the 1998/1999 season on December 9th according to earlier reports and we were told that Yabuli will closed down total in May when this season is over! However closure-dates on such lines may not be correct
Stayed overnight in Yabuli in a private guesthouse - 50 Yuan for a double
Sunday April 4th:
Another early start as the loaded trains coming in to Yabuli seemed to arrive rather early. By taxi to the summit between Hwongwei and Shinfu, where we met our first train still in the car at 6.10. No. 07 in front of a heavy train banked by No. 10 worked very hard to climb the summit where No. 10 left and went back to Hwongwei.
Apart from two railcars passing the summit at 6.50 (northbound) and 8.20 (southbound) nothing happened before 10.20 when the next loaded train could be seen some 10 minutes before No. 02 assisted by No. 10 as the banker passed the summit. This time the banker went on the front of the train in Shinfu and double headed the train its final run into Yabuli. In Shinfu this train crossed an empty train at 11.10
The afternoon should have produced three empties out from Yabuli, but in fact only one train departed in daylight - at 16.30. We left Yabuli with F. T. 452 at 18.55 to Shenyang.
Monday April 5th:
Arrived Shenyangbei at 6.25 and changed to a local train which we left in nearby Sujiatun.
A brief visit to the railway museum in Sujiatun with the usual 13 steam locomotives still parked outside in a rather poor condition. A ticket is 10 Yuan and all kinds of badges etc. are sold also for 10 Yuan a piece.
Afterwards we walked through the depot area to the workshop. At the depot only scrapped steam locomotives could be seen, so steam service from here may have ceased. To our surprise we found the little engine GJ 1018 still in service outside the workshop. It seems that overhaul of CNR steam locomotives has either ended or is at a very low ebb. We noticed only several SY's having either finished overhaul or awaiting repair.
At 11.00 we continued to Anshan with the intention to visit the steelwork. As the weather became terrible together with the lack of any information about the location of the loco shed and the well known Furnace No. 9 our visit to this huge industrial area can be described only as a failure. Nevertheless we were not that depressed, at it was impossible to do anything outside due to heavy rain. Instead we had the cheapest and one of the best meals on the trip in one of the many restaurants just outside the station - four tasty different dishes on a plate together with the compulsory bowl of rice for 5 Yuan. Left Anshan with F. T. 550 at 19.15 to Beijing.
Tuesday April 6th:
Arrived at Beijing Main at 5.15 and did some shopping in the morning in the hutong-area south of Tianmen before we went to the China Railway Publishing House which is now located in the Xuanwo district near the Grand View Garden at 8 Youanmenxijie. To reach this place take the bus 59 (price ½ Yuan) to the last stop and then continue app. 100 metre.
The numbers of books about Chinese railways are very high, but unfortunately no books in English are available. Nevertheless a few books have a preface written in English and we found such two very interesting books. One is the history of the Mao Zedung Locomotive Group, including many exceptional pictures with the groups locomotives carrying the portrait of the chairman. The other book is titled "Railway Transportation Atlas Of China" and contains much information about all the twelve bureaus of the CNR together with a lot of very detailed maps.
At noon we left central Beijing with a taxi for the airport. As the road system in Beijing is totally out of time comparing with the number of cars we ended up in total traffic jam on the highway. Expect much time for transportation to or from the airport if travel is not done at odd times a day.
Left Beijing with Swissair and arrived back in Copenhagen in the midnight hour. It had been a great trip, and we hope to be back soon again.
Copenhagen, Sunday April 18th 1999
Johs. Damsgård Hansen