The International Steam Pages
Steam in Southern China, November 2001
Bryan Acford reports:
After travelling 'oop North for longer than I care to remember a group of us finally decided to head south in search of the remaining steam and hopefully some autumnal sunshine. The overall result was very rewarding, the scenery was beautiful, the weather was clear and sunny and the locomotives work hard on some steep gradients.
The notes below describe our journey and some features of the operation of each line.
Please read this in conjunction with the report by Robin Gibbons who joined us for the
first week, and includes photographs.
The ground arrangements were made by CLSLPA of Shenyang and our guide was Xiaolan Sun who, as ever, worked tirelessly on our behalf both before and during the tour.
The Longest Journey
We arrived in Beijing on the morning of Sunday 11th November. The weather seemed unseasonably warm and with leaves still on the trees it felt as though autumn had not yet started. We were unable to secure tickets on the afternoon flight to Guilin, so we took K . departing from Beijing Xi at 1630. We finally stepped off the train at 0230 in Liuzhou on Tuesday 13th. We saw no steam en route, but for the classic traction guys, a fair few ND2 were in use between Yue-Yang and Hengyang.
At Liuzhou we were met by our driver who had come all the way from Shenyang. It was another two and half hours on the expressway to Jinchenjiang (Hechi) and we finally located the hotel at 5-00am. There was just time for a change and shower before we found a noodle stall for breakfast prior to heading off up the line.
Guangxi Local Railway
Jinchenjiang - Pingzhai / Sanchao
This seems to be this autumn's destination and there seems to be a rash of reports giving details about this line. Robin Gibbons has already reported about our trip and covered the modern traction scene in the area. The main reason for visiting the line is the chance to include the karst peaks in the photos along with the locos, but there are plenty of other features to include in photos. In the valley bottoms it's all rice paddies being worked by the peasants and their animals, even duck-herds taking their flocks for a waddle! Further up the valley, where it becomes more hilly and sugar cane becomes the main crop. For the older gricer it resembles Natal in South Africa, whist for the rest of us the feel of the area was closer to the more hilly parts of Cuba. The whole area is also dotted with watercourses, lakes, giant bamboos and the occasional palm.
The Line: One feature which hasn't previously been remarked is the gradients on the line. It is far from an empties uphill and loads downhill operation, with some significant climbs for loaded trains heading south. On the Jinchenjiang - Puluo section the summit is a Pohua, but there is also a climb for approx 2km south of Wenping (km13). The latter is photable but the climb from Puluo, although roadside is plauged by poles, wires and vegetation. On the Pingzhai branch the road beyond Dunchuan is appalling so we didn't check out the far end of the line. However, there is a climb in both directions from Dunchuan, although the section southbound to Puluo has no road access. Judging by the sound made by the mixed, the climb is steep and the line twists around as it gains height through the sugar plantations. We were informed locally that this section of road is to be upgraded by the end of 2002, so moving around up there should be easier. On the Sanchao branch there is a climb from north of Huanjiang to Puluo, but the steepest part is away from the road. On both branches there are a number of bridges, the highest of which are single arch spans - rather more attractive than the standard Ji-Tong concrete monstrosities. A final feature which has been little remarked is the spectacular gorge north of Wenping, Toorwaterpoort it isn't, but there is a steep climb for northbound trains, with steep cliffs all around. The main drawback is need to get a photo before 11-00, after which time the sun is too far around - quite a challenge given the combination of the weather and the unreliability of the timetable.
Traffic & Locomotives: The line runs basically north - south so photos in the middle of the day will always be a challenge, this is made more tricky by the way in which most trains seem to get concentrated around the middle of the day. The plan for the next 24 hours is posted on the blackboard outside the traffic office at Jinchenjiang Nan in the middle of the afternoon. Basically, all trains are taken from the working timetable, but not all are planned to run every day and some of the planned trains end up being cancelled. The reason are probably varied, on some days the line was clearly short of power whilst on other occasions the supply of empty wagons from CNR seemed to be a problem. We certainly observed plenty of late running on the single track lines in this area.
In general there seemed to be around 7 return goods trains from Hechi each day, of which 3 plus the mixed would depart during daylight. A return trip up either branch was taking from 8 - 10 hours for the loco to get back to the bottom of the line. There is probably a slight in balance of traffic due to the grades for loaded trains. We noted at least one short working returning from Dunchuan as well as a couple of tender first or light engine departures from Hechi. Trains to Pingzhai are around 30 wagons whilst those to Sanchao only load to around 18, possibly an indication of the grades on each line. Most traffic is minerals, but there is some mixed goods. The mixed was on one occasion just the 5 passenger coaches but most days also had around 10 mineral wagons. On 19th November it had a total of 18 mixed wagons plus the passenger stock. Another feature of the line is that the locos are often worked had both up the grades and on the flat - another change from the rather conservative diving styles in the north. As commented by others, this rules out chasing unless trains are heavily delayed by crossings or shunting.
There are 9 working locomotives on the line, the pilot 5706 was retired earlier this year. It is now dumped and some components are being cannibalised. The working stock is 8283, 8284, 8285, 8287, 8288, 8290, 8373, 8375, 8376. We saw all of these except for 8290 which was apparently at Liuzhou Xi for some attention (or overhaul). There are minimal maintenance facilities at Hechi, we discovered that locos have to run light to Luocheng for washout and any more significant maintenance is undertaken at Liuzhou Xi. On one day whilst we were on the line, 8288 was at Luocheng, 8290 & 8375 were at Liuzhou and 8376 had failed. This left only 5 locos available to work the line with consequent effects on the service.
The branches have some pleasant locations but provide a challenge for photographers. That said, the branches probably offer the most interesting photographs giving the opportunity to get back from the line and include the full majesty of the scenery in your photographs. The line from Puluo to Pingzhai should see 4 daylight trains most days. Southbound there is 8598 plus 45306 (an hour or two behind), whilst northbound there is 45307 (often runs late) and 8597 if it's close to time. On some days there may be an extra southbound. Given the problems of access it's probably a case of finding a spot and sitting it out.
The branch to Sanchao is more of a challenge. Unless goods 45323 (0615 ex Hechi) runs (and is on time), there will be little chance of southbound trains during daylight on the section north of Huanjiang. If it runs, follow 45323 on the way out, photo 45328 on the return (it may run early). With luck they will cross 45325 giving further northbound opportunities. This line is only worth visiting if you are sure there is a train up there, otherwise you are in for a long wait!
Tuesday 13th November (cloudy)
Service was badly disrupted and overnight 45322 was headed by 8376+8285, whilst 45302 was headed by 8373+8284
Wednesday 14th November (cloudy with rain at times)
Thursday 15th November (warm and sunny)
Friday 16th November (early fog, then warm and sunny)
Saturday 17th November (warm and sunny)
Monday 19th November (hazy sun)
Laibin - Heshan Line
We also visited this line of the Guangxi Local Railway. It proved to be a frustrating day with road reconstruction all the way from Laibin to the main road near Baiheai (30km). The other problem was the lack of daylight traffic. The trains are now goods only with the passengers being handled by a 'doodlebug', as shown in Robin's photos. The theoretical working timetable for goods trains is:
In practice it seems that 45343 & 45342 seldom run (about one day in three) with the loco from 45344 returning on 45341 (after dark).
There are 4 locos on the line, one seems to be employed on mine and power station trips around Heshan, whilst the other are available for pilot at Heshan or on line work to Laibin.
On 18th November 8286 was on the Heshan trip workings, 8355 on 45344 / 45341. Cold on shed at Heshan were 8289 & 8354. Also dumped at Heshan are 5186, together with 3 x JF6 (ex Vietnam). One of the latter I numbered 3026 whilst another has a tender number of 24-103.
As far as the line goes, there is some pleasant Karst scenery on the section between Heli - Beisi - Heshan, but this relies upon 45342/3 running. There is also a river bridge with reflection possibilities at Km 7. The branch to the Sugar Mill at Baiheai is in use and was shunted by 45344 on the day of our visit. There is also a section of street running through a village on this section. The remainder of the line is unexceptional, generally flat and often hemmed in by cane fields.
Overall the line seems to have seen better days, a couple of the passing loops are now unmanned and the coal loading point at Heli is out of use. Overall the line isn't high on my list of places to return.
Moving on to Hunan: After a successful week in Guangxi we headed off to Hunan and a couple of lines down there. We left Liuzhou (an unlovely city) on Monday 19th November with Train 1558, headed by DF4D 0543 (2000 built), as usual we lost time all the way to Hengyang where we arrived at 0637 the following morning, just in time to take us to Chenzhou on K325. En route we noted a number of 1975 built DF4 which had seen better days and had been relegated to secondary duties (hopefully en route to the breakers yard).
We arrived Chenzhou at 0845 where 2001 built DF7C 5368/9 were in use as pilots and headed off to the narrow gauge Chen-Jia line.
Chen-Jia Local Railway (20 & 23 November)
We headed to this line in search of working C4 locos. It seems that the fortunes of the line have taken a downturn in the last 18 months. Traffic is reduced to one train per day (the mixed) and this doesn't always carry goods traffic. On 20th November it comprised just a single coach, a van and a coal wagon hauled by loco 96. According to the station logs there had been no goods trains over the last couple of months. Of the other locos, 21 was spare inside the shed / workshop and 20 was undergoing a heavy overhaul in the same building. Two more locos (presumably 22 & 93) were locked in a building - apparently complete.
The line was built in 1985 and has very much of a 'mainline' feel it to it. There are large embankments and cuttings along with several tunnels and four impressive arched viaducts. The stations are sizeable structures with waiting halls and offices. Sadly it seems that the predicted traffic never actually arrived and all the stations, although manned, are falling into dereliction or the buildings are finding alternative uses - such as barns for farm produce. Sections of the line are remote from roads, but the new highway from Chenzhou - Guiyang seems to have opened up the area and taken some of the traffic from the railway. In spite of facilities at some of the intermediate stations, the only source of traffic seems to the mine at the far end of the line. One suggestion was that a new shaft was being sunk at the mine and this had reduced traffic until it is full production. That being said the line has a certain charm with local peasants using the train to bring their produce to market in Guiyang, along with a lengthy stop whilst bamboo logs were loaded by hand at one of the wayside stations.
The mixed leaves Chenzhou at 0815, with the return from Xinglang being scheduled for 1330, if however there is no coal traffic the return will be delayed. Arrival back at Chenzhou should be at 1700, just in time for glint shots in the station area. On the standard gauge JS5444 was at work as pilot. This appears to be related to the Local Railway as it shares the same loco facilities narrow gauge, but on a higher level.
On 23rd November we teamed up with Bernd Seiler and hired our own coach on the mixed train. We also arranged photo runpasts on each of the four large viaducts on the outward journey. We also arranged some extra goods wagons along with a second coach to provide a more impressive train consist. Our activities were clearly seen as a major coup for tourism in Chenzhou since we made the local TV news that evening. Happily the guy from the TV station only got in our way prior to departure and was too busy to join us for the rest of the day. The exercise was fairly successful, but we were accompanied by several tiers of railway management who were unwilling to perform false departures from selected stations. Also, they wanted more money for anything outside our original agreement. A tip for future visitors would be a to provide a 'shopping list' of the photo-stops you require (I can give you a few suggestions) when you make the arrangements. On the other hand, in the absence of the management the loco crew would doubtless be very helpful.
Nan-Ling Railway (PingNan - Muchong) - 21st / 22nd November
We set off for this line unsure of both traffic levels and whether this isolated outpost would still be steam worked. In both respects we were pleasantly surprised and after a frustrating start enjoyed one of the best days of our trip. (Bryan has supplied a map but in view of my December visit I am not posting it.)
We set off from Chenzhou on 21st November with the intention of reaching PingNan in good time for the departure of the mixed at 0815. In the event the main road was blocked by a traffic accident and we were heavily delayed so we cut our losses and headed straight for Meitan in an attempt to intercept the mixed. After a reconnaissance to search for a road following the line we drew a blank and went in search of a position for the mixed arriving at Meitan. We were interrupted at 0940 when a scruffy JS6510 stormed into town with a long train of empties. The mixed was running late this day and finally turned up at 1130 headed by JS6372.
We wanted to follow the line back towards PingNan and look of locations but the locals informed that the roads were poor / non existent in this hilly countryside. As a consequence we headed back to the main road to try to drive in from the opposite end of the line and hopefully find the horseshoe at Hulukou (km19). After much futile searching we realised that the combination of mountains and river crossings render this a pretty inaccessible area, so we cut our losses and looked for a couple of shots on the bridges outside Pingshi. At around 1500 JS6510 returned with loads, but the mixed turned up late at 1715, just after the sun had dropped behind the hills.
Our hotel was the Golden Chicken (in Chinese) or Golden Ball (in English) and the foyer was equipped with a small scale map of the area. This confirmed that the line is accessible only in sections, but did at least reveal the route to Hulukou. One confusing feature of Chinese maps is that not all of the roads indicated seem to exist on the ground.
After dinner we headed down to PingNan station and depot to take a set of time exposures. We were greeted by much activity with one arrival and two departures in the space of less than an hour. It was clear from this that the line was very busy with locos being turned around and sent out again as soon as they arrived. There are only 4 JS at PingNan and all were in use on line work. Locos seemed to do their own pilot work before departure. Inspection of the station logs suggested that there 7 or 8 return goods trains each day, in addition to the mixed. Not all trains travel the whole length of the line and some go out tender first. It seemed that a return trip would arrive back at PingNan 6 - 8 hours after departure.
Our second day on the line was 22nd November when there were four departures between 0630 and 1000, followed by four returning arrivals in the late afternoon. We finally reached Hulukou where the area either side of the station has a range of photographic opportunities. The horseshoe section is around 4km long and there is a steep climb for loaded trains, and with the neck of the horseshoe being only 100 metres across it is possible to get two photographs of most trains. The remainder of the climb towards the summit before Guanchun can only be reached on foot but should also provide photo opportunities. On this day we were treated to all four trains returning through this section between 1400 and 1630.
Sadly the station staff at Hulukou told us that they were expecting diesels to take over the line 'before Spring Festival', so the message is clearly to get there quickly if you intend to visit this attractive line.
Wednesday 21st November
Thursday 22nd November
Exit to Guangzhou
We headed home via Guangzhou on train K47 from Chenzhou. As expected we saw little steam en route. At Huanggang JS6459 was in use as a pilot, suggesting that the branch to Gedling was still steam. At Shaoguan depot a couple of JS were being cut up, whilst 5 more JS were stored / dumped including 6427 and 6463 - hopefully they will see further use on the branches?
The only other point of interest was an industrial branch to the east of the main line just north of PingShi at Baishou??
Flight CZ3109 took us back to Beijing and a trio of our party headed north to the familiar sights of Reshui and the first visit of the winter ..
Some rated a trip south as risk, ultimately it proved to be both relaxing and frustrating but ultimately rewarding. The photos are very pleasing and if you have tired of QJ's and C2's in sub zero temperatures, the trip south is to be recommended but pick your time of year carefully.
As ever the secondary message is 'hurry, it won't last forever'