The International Steam Pages
Steam in China January 1999
Bernd Seiler reports on a visit to some of the less frequented areas south of Beijing (and a side trip to Hong Kong). His visit to Tongchuan makes very interesting reading - read about my visit there too and you will indeed be well equipped to do it yourself!
It seems to be not a good idea to visit the southern part of China in the winter. According to the people the weather is best in spring and in fall for taking pictures, the summer is often rainy and the winter mostly hazy and cloudy. We had this weather and with 100 ASA film we had sometimes not more than 125 f2,8 at noon. Sun was also visible but this happened only one time together with a train..
The food is not like the northern Chinese food, dog hot pots, snails and snakes are common here. If this is not to your taste you should know what you order. Take a look in the kitchen in advance, if you can stand it ...
If you hire a taxi note that the prices are higher than in northern parts of China. A full day by taxi is about 250 to 450 Yuan, depending on the distance and your skill during the negotiations.
Province Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region or
WHAT DO WE REALLY KNOW ABOUT THE RAILWAYS IN CHINA?
It is almost a miracle that there are still railways in this country with such a photographic potential which were never reported in detail before. Or maybe I missed something. First I took my Nelles map and watched out for interesting looking branch lines. There were some in Guangxi. OK. Then I took all reports I had - nothing. Than I took the books I have. Aahhh - K. Murai ("Dragons on the Great Rail") visited some of these lines in 1993. But unfortunately - no information was found in the book about these lines. The "Steam on 4 Contents" by G. Haslbeck/D. Wardale showed the mainline south of Liuzhou - impressive, but no additional information. I have faith in the internet. So I sent a request to the newsgroups - no result. At last I got some information from: Roger Gillard. Fortunately he had some information about two lines (Heshan - Laibin and Sancha - Luocheng). Also I heard that a foreigner had been arrested in Guilin in 1997 looking for steam. So it seems there is steam, there are mixed trains and the landscape is reasonably good. No timings, no sketch maps but the hope that steam is still there. That was the point ... After I counted my money I decided to go there with the help of CLSLPA. And it was a good decision despite the weather.
Dear reader, how often do you like to go to Jingpeng? How many pictures of the Manchurian landscape in wintertime you already have? China has more than cold wind and QJ! Go to Guangxi, it's marvellous.
Because of the lack of information we spend a lot time by figure out what is happening and in one case we had a steam train let to go away to became first friend with the third manager of the provincial rly (take a lunch together). That was really a pity. But I hope I can save some of your money by providing the information.
Our base camp was in Liuzhou. From there we hired a taxi to visit the different placed. Fortunately the taxi driver worked some time ago by the railways and so he knew that the line to Ladong northeast of Liuzhou uses diesel. This line belongs to the CNR and served by locos from the depot Liuzhou. Liuzhou has no steam loco any more. One exception: In the western suburbs is a limestone factory or something similar. This company has a four km long line, three km are inside the plant and one km is outside and visible without permit. They use a SY for all duties. We didn't checked it out because we were to busy with the other lines around Liuzhou.
Some 40 km south of Liuzhou you meet Fenghuang. Nelles shows three lines, one short to the west - this is a line for military use only, trains on demand but not very often (less than one per week), one line to the southeast to Dawan - this line was abandoned years ago, the track is lifted and a third line to the northeast, ending in the middle of nowhere. This line still exists. It leaves the station at the southern end and curved north until it reached the road near the newly built highway. There would be a good shot possible from the highway if there were no fence. The line continues passing a boring landscape to a plant. It was said that this plant producing stuff to improve steel but it looks rather like a small steel plant itself. At the end of the line there is a small mine. Therefore this factory is called "mine 1". It was not possible to enter (official way would take to long time) but we saw the SY in distance, shunting some wagons. There are one to four trips per day to the so called "mine 2". Loco faced to "mine 1". The track to "mine 2" also starting in the station but opposite direction, to the northeast. It is about 1,5 km long and on this line you'll find the typical south chinese landscape with its impressive shaped rocks. There is no fixed timetable for the trains so you may have a little patience.
The way from mine 1 to Chuanshan (main road to Liuzhou) is in a very poor condition. Also the streets inside Fenghuang are terrible, they are not paved.
The Guangxi Local Railway Limited Company (GLRLC)
The GLRLC was established in Nanning on October 20th, 1995. It took over some branch lines from the CNR and built some new lines. They have 5.300 employees and a network of 613 km length. The following lines belong to the GLRLC (from north to south):
Guilin - Daxu(*)
The lines marked with * were visited by us and are described hereafter.
There is a plan to build a further new line from the Qinzhou - Beihai line to Yulin via Bobai.
Except for Guilin - Daxu the GLRLC uses class JS only. The numbers of serviceable locos are known for the following lines:
Hechi - Puluo - Pingzhai/Shangchan: 11
Some railcars for maintenance work are available on each line.
Laibin - Heshan
First "GLRLC-day" we visited Laibin - Heshan. Laibin is situated 70 km south of Liuzhou. We had fortune as we started in Liuzhou: there was a girl who know one of the GLRLC-managers. So she made a telephone call to him and an appointment for us. As we arrived in Laibin the third head manager knew already about us and gave us some details about the GLRLC. Mr. Fu from CLSLPA understood it perfectly to establish new contacts and so the manager guided us by his own car to Heshan, where the next train would run from. On the way we found some wonderful positions near Baiheai (with the impressive Hongshui He in the picture), Heli, Beisi and just before Heshan. As we arrived Heshan, JS 8354 was shunting in the station. The manager had to make some telephone calls and as he finished it was time for lunch (Mr. Fu organised a lunch together with the manager). Unfortunately JS 8354 was ready for departure to Laibin and the train left at 12.00 noon. But we had to make friendship first and pictures second ... After the meal JS 5186 appeared in the station. The manager allowed us to travel together with him to the factory (2 km to the southwest) on the loco. This is worth to mention because Heshan is not an open city for foreigners and it is closed because of the presence of these factories around the city, served by GLRLC. Mrs. Sun and Mr. Fu managed that we could leave the loco in the factory and walk along the line to where we would like to take a picture with the (funnel first) train back to the station. The manager stopped the train hereafter at the free line in the middle of the gradient to pick us up again. Then he stopped the train a second time in front of the station and told us that there is coming the next train from Laibin at 3.30 pm and if we like to take a free-line shot we should go out here. We did but, the freight from Laibin was on time so we couldn't reach the position we want to see. Only one minute was missing to get a great shot from the bridge of the new built road over the railway with the mountains in the background. Second time: such a pity! The loco was JS 8286.
A visit to the shed, where we met the second head manager - also a very kind man - produced the following sightings:
JF6 300x OOU
The JF6 300x was quoted as JF6 3001, but the last digit looked more like a rounded number at the bottom end like 0, 3, 5, 6, 8 or 9. The three JF's wasn't Chinese ones before 1979. The rest is a secret, sorry. May be it is not to much to mention that China didn't purchase them ... But, sadly, they are our of use for many years.
During our visit in the shed the cell phone of the manager was ringing: The railcar we took a picture from in Heshan at noon had an accident with a truck and blocked the line. So we had to say good bye to the kind managers of GLRLC. The problem was that we missed the mixed train from Laibin to Heshan in the evening: The third not made picture of the day.
The timetable of the mixed is:
Heshan dep 7.00 am
Laibin dep 4.00 pm
This is not a public service and therefore the times are only approx. times. Goods trains are running on demand. The mixed contains two YZ-wagons in the middle or at the end of the train. It doesn't stop at every station.
There are three lines to the industry of Heshan: one to the north with a length of 7,8 km, one to the south with a length of 5 km (we guess this line is out of use, the track was rusty) and one to the southwest with a length of 2 km and a triangle to an other industrial complex.
From the station Baiheai there is an other track to a factory west of the station, about 4 km long and passing an old pagoda, Chinese style. Unfortunately this track was also rusty.
Sancha - Luocheng (Dongmen)
Sancha is situated 54 km west of Liuzhou on the line to Guiyang. There is no good road to Sancha but a train connection, arr. Sancha 9.36 am. (Trains 831/832 and 834/844 timetable book 98/99 page 227).
The line goes north to Luocheng (Dongmen) where the shed and the main terminal is. A good road from Yishan (Nelles: Yizhou) to Luocheng followed the line between Siba and Luocheng. In Siba starts a worth mentioning gradient in an outstanding karst rock landscape. The gradient becomes weak behind the level crossing about four km before Luocheng. At the southern end of Luocheng is the shed (one JS dumped). The daily mixed has two YZ-Passengers at the end of the train. The timings according to the Luocheng staff are:
Luocheng dep. 7.00 am
Sancha dep. 10.00 am
These timings are not very accurate, the train reached Luocheng already 12.15 am, so we were not able to reach a reasonable photo position - we didn't expect the train so early. We made a shot, but the line was lined (hemmed) by trees and so it was darker than dark and the mountains were not visible. The loco went to the shed and around 3 pm the train minus coaches continued to the mines at Jiaotou, about 8 km north. It dropped some empty wagons at the first coal mine near km-mark 55 (if I remember correctly). This is the summit of the line. The first three km's behind Luocheng to the mentioned mine are quite good but then the line runs steeply down to Jiatou, crossing the road four times by curving around through three hairpin bends. All this is surrounded by impressive karst rocks. Unfortunately the loco faced north so the trains climbing up the hairpin bends are tender first. But even that is impressive! The train came back at 4.20 pm.
Luocheng may be an open city but it is very hard to believe that further to the north it should be an open area. The number of police cars patrolling on the road increased rapidly behind Luocheng. The first mine (near km 55) is served by prisoners, the camp is really good in the picture if you are standing on the top of the dump. Landscape is fantastic there - but your are also very good visible if you climb up the dump. Be careful if you don't like to see the prison from inside. It may be a not so happy experience. If you follow the road than you meet the next jail directly by the fourth level crossing. Because of this we didn't continue to the final end of the line and decided to disappear in the countryside and wait for the train. The loco crew was kindly and didn't cause any problem, also the staff of the railway station had no objections as we took pictures of the "Golden Eagle", a railcar standing in the station. The light was so dim that we went back to Liuzhou early.
There are only two JS on this line so it is hard to believe that the mixed from Luocheng arrives at 10.00 am and the other mixed to Luocheng depart at the same time. I guess that the train arrives earlier and the loco back to Luocheng is the same. We had JS 8377.
Compared with Laibin - Heshan this line has a similar photographic potential but steeper gradients and less trains. Also you may accept tender first operation behind Luocheng. Between Heshan and Laibin al trains running chimney first.
We stayed in the Liuzhou Nanjiang Hotel, some 100 m far from the railway station. The normal price for a double is 220 Yuan, but Mr. Fu bargained it down to 140 Yuan because we stayed there out of the season. For that price you get really a good value. The only disturbance were the frequent calling girls who want to offer the horizontal business. But there is a dialling code which locked the telephone to arriving calls.
Hechi (Jinchengjiang) - Puluo (Luoyang) - Pingzhai/Shangchao (the so called Jingchengjiang - Hongshan line)
The railway station of Luoyang is named Puluo. This line is a busy branch to the coal mines north of Hechi. Hechi by itself is located 161 km west of Liuzhou. The line starts in the western end of the CNR station, the shed is a little bit hidden and we guess it is located northeast of the station. In this direction was a not identified line beside an other to a factory. Small taxis you can find at the rly station, larger ones (VW Santana) in the centre of the city near the bus station, where also the only good hotel is. Hechi is an open city surrounded by karst rocks.
If you go the road to Luoyang you can't miss the rail, there is a level crossing about 10 km north of Hechi. It is nearly impossible to make boring ore ordinary photos here, at least if you lift the lens cab before your press the shutter button. Where ever you may fall out of the car you have an outstanding view on the railway, for some positions you must even not leave the car: you can take a picture out of the window. After about 20 km the line comes into a not so interesting area (compared with the rocks you saw before - it is more "Manchurian standard" than) despite good shots are also possible here.
On the first day we went this road, we were stopped by the police on the road. To hide our long noses was impossible and so they realised us. Oh dear - this is the end of our journey, we thought. But what was happen: They distributed calendars and slips of paper with hints how to behave in a case of traffic accidents. It was the traffic police and for them it is not important, who is sitting in the car even if this would be a closed area! We were a "POP" (problem of other people) for them. So we could continue, now equipped with the first gift of a policeman I ever got. Usual they always like some gifts from me ...
The station of Pohua (village's name is Shiyuan) has semaphore signals.
The line continues with only some photographic potential - don't waste time there. In Puluo -colour light signals - (village's name is Luoyang) the line separates into two lines. West it goes to Pingzhai. As far as Duchang (Chuanshan) the road is tarred and good - but afterwards it becomes bad and worse. The up till here frequent bus service dropped down to only two or so per day. Duchang is also equipped with semaphore signals. The road crosses the rail near a bridge about two km beyond Duchang and rejoins the track again in Hetuncun. Here really starts the backward area Chinese officials don't like you to visit. In Hetuncun also the steep gradient starts, but don't stop at the tunnel in Dashapo - it is not the summit. The scene becomes better behind the tunnel, one of the best parts of the line starts here. The road crosses the line at a small watch post at Dashapo once again - around this level crossing you find many places worth a picture. River, hills, rocks and if you are lucky, the train will just stop in front of you because the loco is running out of steam. We saw this with the mixed train. After a few more kilometres all at once the road improves - this is the border with Guizhou province. Unfortunately the police refused us - we couldn't continue to Pingzhai. Just north of the borderline there is a path to the west. If you walk this way for about 500 m you will reach another great photo position. After a tunnel the line swings over a concrete bridge, but the shape of the bridge is not the normal one, it's more interesting. The scenery is surrounded by big karst rocks - skyscrapers in our case, the clouds were very close to the ground. From Pingzhai to Dashapo there is an other steep gradient, we couldn't see it but we heard the hammer exhaust sound of the uphill train.
Until here we were guided by the very helpful CLSLPA - Mrs. Sun and Mr. Fu. The rest of our tour we did on our own. CLSLPA will now try to organise an official permit for the described lines and areas. What concerned the GLRLC I'm sure they have no objection, but there are the government police, the foreigners police, the army, the security and who knows who else. To work in a travel agency for special tourists like us seems to be a hard job.
The other line from Puluo we visited on the next day - it crosses a bridge some km behind Puluo and follows the river valley. It first becomes interesting at Huashanlinchang. There you can get a good shot from a hill west of the road with the train from the side and the fascinating (Guilin-like) rocks in the background. But go further! In Yamaicun there is a factory with its own track. Thereafter you cross the railway and climb up a pass. From the top of this pass you have an panoramic-view over the valley of Yaoda. The railway has no pass, it uses a tunnel. The road then goes down to the track and crosses it once again. Road and rail continue close beside each other to the north. Five km before Shangchao the tarred road leaves to Pingzhai and you have to follow a dirt road to Shangchao. Shangchao has already some houses with the common white tiles but the dirt road is still the real backward China.
There are more tunnels along the line, not reported by this article.
Locos running always funnel first. We saw the following JSs: 5706, 8373 and 8375. The shed is not in Puluo and not in Shangchao.
We were able to get the full timetable of the line. It was unavailable to foreigners when Mrs. Sun asked for it, but the next day (we were alone) we were able to write it down at a level crossings shack.
The 997/998 is the only sure train, all the others running if there is a need. 997/998 has six coaches plus post & parcel-wagon at the end of the train. Timekeeping is only accurate when the level of traffic is high. Otherwise the timings are plus/minus 1,5 hours. Also minus, be careful!
Because of the frequent trains and the countryside this is the best railway of the reported ones. It is possible to chase a train on the good roads, but impossible on the dirt roads. Unless you have a jeep and a Pakistani or Indonesian driver. An off-road bike would be the best, I guess.
Don't forget the wide angle lens, it is useful because of the height of the mountains close to the rail.
Guilin - Daxu
This line was checked out by Mrs. Sun and Mr. Fu (we paid the taxi). This railway also belongs to GLRLC. It is diesel worked. But there is an extension of about 6 km, surrounded by the typical Guilin landscape. This extension, belonging to a factory which carries oil wagons on it, is served by steam. This area seems to be closed for foreigners (they are only allowed to see the hills around Guilin - nothing else; please spent your money there, where the government likes, not where you like ...). From Guilin Bei (old station) several coal mine railways start, all together about 15 km. These lines also have steam. But there are few trains only and trees hide the lines.
The flight ticket Liuzhou - Xi'an should cost 1200 Yuan per person - so we went 33 hours by train 316/317. Observations:
QJ 6300 loco shed Xinyang, spare loco
A lot of SS4 and SS8 we found around Luoyang and Zhengzhou. In Luoyang we saw also plenty of Mitsubishi-built 6K locos.
The next steam centre we found was in Yima, 6 locos under steam together with a steam crane in Yima and the following station to the west (maybe Qianqiu), where a steep branch line started, served by these steam locos. The landscape is the typical terraced loess, like that at well known Mengyuan. The viewed line must be an industrial line because it is not shown in any map I have. It went to the southwest. Locos we saw were very clean.
Mengyuan: Only a cold QJ were seen in the shed, else DF4 doubles and electric locos.
Why did we go all the way to Xi'an? Well, we got a hint from Mr. Fu that there are still JF locos in use. There is a new report about this line starting in Tongchuan Nan in the web by Bruce G. Evans (January 18th, 1999) so I want to give only some additional information. Pictures of the line you will find in the book of K. Murai "Dragons on the Great Rail" page 144 ff.
Tongchuan is linked with Xi'an by a new highway. By taxi it takes you about 80 minutes for the 100 km. We paid 260 Yuan from Xi'an to Tongchuan and in the opposite direction 200 Yuan. The train from Xi'an is very slow. A taxi in Tongchuan was 260 Yuan all day including all miles and petrol but without tollgate fees. But our driver always avoided the road with the tollgate.
The QJ in Tongchuan are used for suburban duties and for shunting. Stokers are removed. From Tongchuan Nan, where the shed is and the goods trains start from, to Tongchuan city there is a 17 per thousand gradient. It is always a spectacle if the train tries to accelerate from the station. You can watch it from the (good) hotel between these two stations. This sound sometimes stops you sleeping at night.
From Tongchuan city the line curves eastwards, passing the suburbs by gaining height and, after 9,2 km from the station the 740 m long summit tunnel is reached. After the tunnel is the station Qiaoziliang ("small strong bridge"). To the south is a 1,8 km long line to Wangshiwa (Nelles: Wangshi'ao). For that line the summit is not in the mentioned tunnel, the summit is located just before the mine and is in a second tunnel. At Qiaoziliang there are two stations, one where the line to Wangshiwa leaves the mainline with a second track along this mainline and a second station some 500 meters further, where an unused track to the former mine of Qiaoziliang starts, plus two other tracks. The line continues, losing height in gradients of 15 to 25 per thousand to Hongtu, where another mine is located. This mine is still in use and gets regularly loads wagons with coal.
After Hongtu the line once again climbs up, but the gradient is not so steep. The second summit is in another tunnel. The last served mine is located near Baishui. From Baishui to Pucheng there is a newly built railway, but the JF's and the Tongchuan DF7 don't run this far. This section was not checked. After the second summit tunnel on the mainline the road condition becomes poor, especially inside the villages. It seems that the unemployment rate around the closed mines is very high, so you will find some poor areas there. Tongchuan is an open city, the further you go away the more you risk entering a closed area. But who really knows what is closed and what is open ...
The roads along the railway are in such a state that you can follow and overtake trains with a good driver. Minibus service is frequent, so you can save money if you like.
The most scenic part of this line is the first ten kilometres and the area around the first summit. Trains which run tender first are going to Hongtu or Baishui, trains with chimney first locos are going to Wangshiwa. There are three to ten trains per day of which at least two where hauled by the DF7. All three days we stayed there, there was only one train for sure: JF with one caboose tender first dep. Tongchuan Nan about 8.00, Qiaoziliang about 9.00 am and back with a full coal train around noon at the summit. We didn't see a banked train.
Locos we saw:
QJ 6550 shunting and suburban train
There should be two more JF's according to Mr. Fu. All locos have Boxpok driving wheels. Last overhaul date we saw was May 1998.
We stayed in the Tongchuan Binguan near the south station (Tongchuan Nan) but on the other side of the river. They offer doubles for 120 ... 360 Yuan. We stayed in a 150 Yuan room with bathroom, hot shower, TV and fresh, tasty apples in the room. If we removed one of the apples and left the hotel a new one always appeared when we came back. Nice service.
That was China with only one picture of a QJ. Because of the very limited time we had there all the information may not be 100% complete and absolutely correct (esp. the spelling of the village names) however I hope I could give you a look at some other fascinating railways beside the Jingpeng area.
Despite Hong Kong being a part of China the border works in the same way as before. We went by the X2000 high speed train between Guangzhou Dong and Kowloon (Jiulong) Hung Hom station. The price of this train is hot: 250 HK-$. If you want to leave your luggage you need enough coins. We missed the last possible airport bus while we had to organise coins to open the locker. So we had to take a taxi and this is also not cheap anymore: 270 HK-$. Coins you need also to pay for buses and the famous tram in Hong Kong Victoria. The drivers have no change. Only by the ferry it is possible to pay at the counter and get change back.