eThe International Steam Pages

Steam in Northern China, November/December 2001

Duncan Cotterill is determined to extract the last drop from mainline steam:


This report covers a private group trip to Baotou, Dongsheng, Jingpeng and Lindong in late November and early December 2001.

Travel Arrangements

Flights with British Airways from London to Beijing and return were booked through Regent Holidays (Tel: 0117 921 1711, Fax: 0117 925 4866). Arrangements within China were made through Sun Xiaolan of China Liaoning Steam Locomotive Photography Association (Tel: +86 24 2252 9901, Fax: +86 24 2252 8719).

Passenger Train Retimings

Some train times have been altered from 1 December. 

Bao-Shen Railway

The stopping passengers 7401 and 7402 have been retimed to run later. 7402 runs approximately 1 hour 30 minutes later than before, leaving Dongsheng around 09:00. Returning, 7401 runs about 50 minutes later, leaving Wanshuiquan Nan around 12:30 and Dongsheng around 16:00. Official times were only obtained for Guannianfang (7402 @ 10:41-55, 7401 @ 13:30) and Aobaogou (7401 @ 16:09). The other passenger trains are unaffected. 

Ji-Tong Railway

The Huhehaote-Daban DMU has reverted to operating every other day. It was running west from Daban on odd dates, returning east from Huhehaote on even dates in early December. The steam workings are unchanged.

Dahuichang Limestone Railway 27 Nov 2001

We made a short visit to this line before leaving for Baotou. Operations started at 14:15 as expected but a derailment caused a break of around an hour while the mess was sorted out. Locos 2 and 3 were in use.

Beijing Xi to Baotou Dong 27 to 28 Nov 2001

Train K217 took us to Baotou. The only steam locos seen were a QJ and an SY dead on shed at Huhehaote. Between Baotou and Huhehaote all freights seen were DF4B hauled, passengers were a mixture of DF4B and DF4D with DF5 on shunting and pilot work. 

Bao-Shen Railway 28 Nov to 02 Dec 2001


Time is rapidly running out for steam on this line. There are now at least 7, probably 9 DF4B in traffic. DF4 9496 and 9497 are in traditional green livery with Shenhua corporation logos on the nose in place of the normal Chinarail symbol. DF4 9498 has also been reported but we didn't see it. DF4 9501, 9502, 9503, 9504 and 9506 are in a smart blue and cream livery, similar to some of the Dalian built DF4C but with richer tones. They also have large wing mirrors on each cab. DF4 9505 is also probably here.

The new locos are having a significant impact on the level of steam working. North of Dongsheng, the expresses K993 and K994 were always diesel when we saw them. The stoppers and freights could turn up with either steam or diesel, around 50% each. South of Dongsheng, there were some diesel workings but most trains remained steam hauled, double headed and banked. No mixed steam/diesel combinations were seen on uphill trains.


Traffic levels were reasonable with 3 or 4 southbound trains of empties in daylight at Singing Sands and 3 or 4 northbound loaded trains in daylight at Aobaogou, plus the passengers. As before, it was possible to get information on the schedule at stations, including the motive power expected. This is considerably easier than before at Singing Sands now that Guannianfang, a few km to the north and beside the main road is now open as a staffed passing loop.

Booked Daylight Train Paths from 1st December 2001

Aobaogou Southbound: 31025 @ 07:13, 31027 @ 08:07, 31029 @ 09:11, 4695 @ 10:01 (DMU), 31031 @ 10:39-48, 31033 @ 11:47-56, 31035 @ 12:43-51, 31037 @ 14:21, 31039 @ 15:08-15, 7401 @ 16:09 (Psgr), 31041 @ 16:30, 31043 @ 17:24

Aobaogou Northbound: 31022 @ 07:18, 31024 @ 08;11, 31026 @ 09:16, 31028 @ 10:44, 31030 @ 11:52, 31032 @ 12:48, 4696 @ 13:49 (DMU), 31034 @ 14:18, 31036 @ 15:12, 31038 @ 16:01-16:33, 31040 @ 17:13-17:27.

Guannianfang Southbound: 4696 @ 08:48 (DMU), K993 @ 10:51 (Psgr), 30031 @ 11:34, 7401 @ 13:30 (Psgr), 30033 @ 12:15, 30035 @ 14:09, 30037 @ 15:47-16:01.

Guannianfang Northbound: 30030 @ 09:12, 7402 @ 10:41-10:55 (Psgr), 30034 @ 12:17, 30036 @ 12:55, 30038 @ 14:14, 4696 @ 15:06 (DMU), K994 @ 15:57 (Psgr), 30040 @ 16:57-17:08

All freight trains run as required.

Locos Seen: 

QJ 2977, 6088, 6169, 6171, 6178, 6194, 6247, 6452, 6551?, 6567, 6740, 6784, 6785, 6863, 7053, DF4.9496, 9497, 9501, 9502, 9503, 9504, 9506, NYJ1.4012. (QJ 6551 was only seen once from a distance and may not be correct).


Generally cold and sunny although visibility was poor at times. The last couple of days at Singing Sands were incredibly clear. From the hillside above the viaduct, Baotou and the mountains beyond were clearly visible and the exhausts of trains could be seen all the way from the Yellow River Bridge. 

The Coal Road

This is probably academic given the arrival of diesels. The road journey between Baotou, Singing Sands and Dongsheng was a real nightmare on a road clogged with coal lorries driven by homicidal lunatics. This is still the case from Baotou to Dalachiqi but a new 4 lane road is now open for cars and buses from Dalachiqi to Dongsheng, making the journey a refreshingly pleasant experience. One day we travelled from Aobaogou to Singing Sands in just over an hour. The coal lorries continue to use the old road for the time being but are expected to transfer to the new road shortly when the work is finally complete.

Baotou Dong - Galadesitai 03 to 04 Dec 2001

The idea was to take train 2004 early from Baotou to Huhehaote then the DMU from Huhehaote to Galadesitai. On arrival at Huhehaote, we found that the DMU had reverted to operation every second day and had to make alternative plans. We caught train 1456 to Jiningnan and continued on train 6051 to Galadesitai. This had the advantage of providing 516 km of steam haulage but we didn't get to see as much of the western end of the line as hoped and had to endure a night in hard sleeper. The coaches may be new and better than before but the berths are still very hard and uncomfortable compared with soft sleepers.

Nothing unusual was seen between Baotou Dong, Huhehaote, Jining Nan and Benhong, only the expected DF4B, DF4D and DF5. The DF4D were from both the 05xx and 31xx series. There was no evidence of any steam working around Baotou. 

On the Ji-Tong line, a number of trains were seen between Benhong and Baiqi. Some were diesel worked but the majority were QJ hauled, including our train which had a very clean QJ 6633 in charge. 

Locos Seen Benhong-Baiqi: 

QJ.6633, 6849, 6987, 7141, 7162, DF4D.4055, 4071.

Ji-Tong Railway - Jingpeng Pass 04 to 11 Dec 2001


The DF4 has returned to Baiqi and freight traffic over Jingpeng Pass is now 100% QJ operated again. We saw DF4D 4055 working between Baiqi and Benhong on 3rd Dec.


We found traffic levels little changed from last year. On most days there were 5 eastbounds and 4 westbounds over the pass in daylight. There were also a couple of quieter days when slightly less traffic ran. Light engine movements were rare. There were a couple of westbound moves over the 8 days we were there but that was all. On several occasions an eastbound double header stopped to detach a loco at Shangdian before continuing to Daban single headed. The loco would return to Jingpeng light engine and assist the next eastbound over the pass. A few trains ran single headed but the vast majority were double headed as expected.

New Loops

The new loops at Sandi and Hatashan have made operations over the pass a lot more fluid. In the past, the sight of trains waiting for long periods to cross opposing traffic was common. Now waits seem to be minimal.


The locos seem to be in better mechanical condition than before as well as noticeably cleaner. Bad steam leaks were fewer and spirited running more common. There were some very fast ascents of the pass on heavy trains with both locos working hard but entirely within their capabilities. No new locos were seen during our visit, all 27 QJs seen have been reported before.

Locos Seen: QJ.6110, 6230, 6274, 6351, 6356, 6388, 6389, 6517, 6577, 6638, 6639, 6735, 6760, 6828, 6876, 6878, 6905, 6925, 6981, 6986, 6998, 7009, 7012, 7040, 7041, 7112, 7143.


Generally cold and crystal clear with a strong westerly wind but no snow. This was a surprise as most of northern and central China received a heavy snowfall during our visit. We got a few flakes overnight but it had all blown away by daybreak.

The Second JiTong Railway Steam Locomotive Festival

Our trip was planned in the summer, long before the festival was announced. It sounded a bit too much like a "Thomas the Tank Engine" weekend with extra trains, a special timetable in operation and specially clean engines. I was also concerned that the hillsides would be crawling with brightly clad bodies and even considered changing our itinerary to avoid the festival dates but that was impractical. I needn't have worried. There only appeared to be about 10 participants, most of whom hadn't even done sufficient research to realise that northern China gets cold in winter. They were all squeezed into a small minibus, complete with their hurriedly obtained standard issue bulky green greatcoats and hats. I don't think they strayed far from the main road to get their shots and we hardly saw them at all. The extra trains and special timetable never materialised. It appeared that the railway was just running normally throughout. The only exception to this was in the run up to their shed visit. Westbound traffic was very heavy overnight and continued through the day with 5 up the hill in daylight. A cynic might say that the railway was doing everything in its power to reduce the number of locomotives on shed at Daban during the steam festival visit, but I'm not a cynic .... honest.

The Men in Leather Coats

Unfortunately, the rip off continues. The KeQi Tourism Bureau must be the only such organisation in the world that fines people for visiting their area. The grip is RMB 50 per person per day. The grippers have changed their tactics though. They now patrol the Jingpeng to Reshui road around 10:30 to 11:30 every morning in a maroon Volkswagen Santana, reg no D 20374. We saw them on the main road and also the old road through Xiakengzi. It isn't clear whether they just go as far as Shangdian or all the way to Reshui. We never saw them in the afternoon.

Independent travellers should be aware that even if they stay away from the roads, they won't necessarily escape. Hotels have to inform the police of anyone staying overnight and this information gets back to the KTB very quickly. One evening we decided to extend our stay at Reshui by one day. The following morning they knew we had changed our plans and were demanding more money.

Ji-Tong Railway - Lindong 12 to 15 Dec 2001


Compared with Jingpeng, traffic levels were very disappointing. We needed westbound (uphill) trains in the afternoon to avoid wind blown smoke problems but there were none, absolutely none, over the 4 days we were there. The latest we ever saw a westbound was 12:50 and on 2 days the last westbound of the day passed around 10:00! On average there were 2 westbound and 3 eastbound freights plus the eastbound passenger each day in daylight. The train register at Yamenmiao showed 12 to 13 trains each way in any 24-hour period but the vast majority ran at night.


Our move to Lindong coincided with the passage of a cold front taking temperatures down towards minus 30C and wind speeds up to force 7. For 3 days we endured dust storms and almost unbearable wind chill before the wind finally dropped on our last day.


Most locos were reasonably clean and seemed to be in good mechanical condition. The regular passenger locos QJ 6631 and 6911 were still highly embellished. 

Locos Seen: QJ.6125, 6375, 6572f, 6576, 6580, 6631, 6911, 6925*, 7002, 7037, 7038, 7048, 7063
* = Loco also seen on Haoluku-Daban Section. 
f = Loco only seen on shed at Chabuga. 
Daban Pilot: QJ.6984 no deflectors.


Steam working on the Bao-Shen line is unlikely to last more than a few months, leaving the Ji-Tong line as the world's last bastion of true main line steam operation. Fortunately, Jingpeng Pass looks to have weathered the latest threat from the infernal combustion engine. The locos are cleaner than I can remember and seem to be in excellent mechanical condition, traffic levels are holding up and the scenery is as good as ever. Long may it continue. 

Rob Dickinson