The International Steam Pages
Bernd Seiler's Spring 2002 Tour to China
Bernd Seiler reports on his fourth public tour from March 23rd - April 8th, 2002
Although the weather conditions weren't optimal we had at least one nice shot with sunshine every day. Only on one day, we couldn't manage a sunshine shot. Beside some dumped locos we saw 86 steam locos in action (the places mentioned here plus JiTong and Tiefa). It was possible to investigate some unknown parts of "well known" lines.
Steam is running down very fast, so I had to change the itinerary twice at short notice before we left. With the help of Mrs. Zhao Yang from CITS Harbin we could spend nearly every day from (before) sunrise till dusk on the line or in sheds. The normally closed off blast furnace area in the Anshan steelworks and night visits in the loco sheds of Daban and Hegang (highly recommended) were easily possible with her help. She tries hard to keep away all the trouble you may experience if you're not familiar with China, so we could fully concentrate on photographing.
Many other details made her a perfect guide and I can recommend the use of her service warmly. You may contact her via firstname.lastname@example.org.
The tour was organised as a "Full Steam - China Cheapie" and so we sometimes slept in hard sleepers or guesthouses. The one at the station in Shahezi is reasonable and offers the use of hot showers, the other in Dongfeng is rather something for the hard gricers but also with a hot shower just opposite the Lüdian. Both kinds of sleeping facilities were available, Chinese kuangs and berths.
The efforts of the Chinese Government to offer a green and clean China in 2008 for the Olympic Games are visible at many places now. Along big railway stations they have begun to cut down all the small houses and replace them either by new buildings or by plantations. Although the owner of the houses seem to get compensation (at least those who dwelled there "officially") that could lead to social conflicts within the population which can also affect foreigners. See the reports of Florian Menius and Till Mosler.
Business as usual. Three SY and two JS operated 8 trains during daylight, of which four were with one banker and the others with two bankers. Locos: SY 1753, 1029, 0532, JS 5643, 6227. All in good external and technical condition. No sign of dieselisation, staff still takes care of their locos. At two trains policemen were aboard the banker and denied a cab ride. The forbidden area in Chengde Xi covers only 350 meters along the front of the prison. The police station is in the station building, therefore it would be wise to follow the advice not to take pictures in the station itself.
High aims, they like to cover a quarter of the ground of Anshan Steelworks with greener pastures. Many new tree plantations and grass mats could be noticed, several buildings were taken down already. At the place were once the roundhouse for electrical locos stood, you'll find only grass and trees. The old locoshed for steam locos has also been taken down.
Anshan now owns only 21 SY, it was said that all PL2 and YJ are scrapped.
We found 17 locos in steam:
SY 0131, 0306, 0428, 0433, 0436, 0440, 0571, 0833, 0836, 0902, 1035, 1036, 1038, 1505, 1555, 1566, 1588.
Many new second hand diesels appeared; we saw: DFH7 7008, 8001, 8003, GK (I believe GK1GB) 6001, 6002, 6003, 6006, 6008, 6009, 6010, 6027, 6029. No change amongst the many different electrical locos and the GDR-V100 (NY17). The Chinese-built electric locos were not seen. None of the workers could say how long the steam operation will last. The technical and external shape of the SY is still very good. Two locos were freshly painted during our stay. Both were in steam!
Shanhetun Forestry Railway
Shanhetun is a difficult place for taking pictures of trains during daylight, although not impossible. The management does not like steam enthusiasts very much. We wanted to hire a railcar for visiting the line. Negotiations with the management were difficult because of the high price they asked for. Finally we were successful. The discussion with the manager was supported by pictures from my last visit. We had to assure him that we wouldn't take pictures of the poor inhabitants of remote villages and all the other things which could show an underdeveloped China. Travelling on the branch lines by railcars wasn't permitted due to the regulation that only one train can be on the line without a train order system. On the main lines they are running with token rings.
The closure of the system is still undecided. It will be neither made by the Shanhetun Forestry Railway nor by the Harbin Forestry Bureau. They both can only offer suggestions to the central planning commission in Beijing. And it seems that the decision depends on many other facts and persons. The railway officials are interested in operating their railway as long as possible. Two years ago they got the order to run down the railway with a closure date in 2001. Therefore they stopped all maintenance work on the track and took only the absolute necessary measures to keep the public railcars running. These railcars (4-4) are privatised and run with a small additional wagon for heavy luggage, motorbikes, pigs and so on.
The decision to have another logging season came too late in 2001 to repair the tracks and prepare the locos for the next season. Because of the lack of maintenance the track condition is very poor today and derailments often happen. The speed for steam trains is limited to 15 km/h on the main line and 5 km/h on most of the branches. The railcars can run faster. Finally there is a project to build up a dam behind Shengjiaying (km 61). Harbin is running out of drinking water and therefore they like to establish a new water reservoir. The water reservoir will affect both lines, the line to Baishila and to Dongsheng. The water reservoir will be funded by the province Heilongjiang and by the central government in Beijing. All affected inhabitants and corporations will get compensation. So Shanhetun Forestry Railway will also get money but only in the case that the track is still in place and in use when the dam project will harm the railway. Therefore the chances are not too bad that the Shanhetun management will do everything to maintain their railway for at least one more year. But, as I wrote before, the final decision is not made in Shanhetun. With the compensation money there are plans to introduce a tourist train to Dongsheng on a new line, north of the old line. Perhaps, this is rather wishful thinking. They planned to start with the maintenance works for the track in May 2002, although the decision of the further existence of the railway is not expected till Summer 2002. The manager said that they have to fulfil the contract with the private operator of the railcars and so they have to start with track repairs anyway.
In my opinion the chance for a further logging season is about 50/50. The wood we saw was mostly not worth to cut the young trees for. Sometimes they load only branches of the trees.
As expected, once we reached the free line, we had free hand to organise our tour and to say which line we like to see. We could stop wherever we want and take pictures of the railcars. We had to tip the drivers and the man from the railway office who was sent with us, in advance. The man from the railway office was very helpful as he was allowed to give train control advice.
On the first day, there were two loaded trains on the southern branch to Baishila and one loaded train on the Dongsheng branch. The next empty train left Shanhetun. All trains were scheduled to reach at least Shahezi (km 53) during daylight. To cut things short: not a single train met the schedule. The first train derailed beyond Sanrenban, the second in the loading area and the train from the Dongsheng branch arrived in Shahezi 15 minutes after sunset.
The trains carry no equipment for re-railing. After a derailment the loco crew has to ask for help from the next station. We saw a special railcar with some re-railing equipment. On Romanian forestry railways the procedure took between a few minutes to two hours for heavier derailments because they were always carrying the necessary equipment on the loco, here in Shanhetun it can take ages. The first derailed train arrived Shahezi around 23.00, the second around midnight.
New day new hope. Three trains were on the line, two left Shanhetun one after another around 5 am, the other was the train from the previous afternoon. The first empty train arrived in Shahezi at 07.30, the second around 08.10 (and of course we got our shots). The latter one was scheduled for Hongwei. We decided to follow this train with our railcars just as the order from Shanhetun reached us for to return the railcars.On this day the wages for the recent month arrived in Shanhetun and had to be delivered to the staff along the line immediately. Because of the two lines they needed both railcars and we had to cancel further train chasing by railcar. However, we managed to go up to Shiliu ("Kilometre 16", 69 km - this is the place to where the Japanese built up the railway), just a station in the woods, far from any village. We got a nice shot about 1 km before Shiliu. For loaded trains the departure from here to Shahezi is very hard, a scenic incline in a wide cutting has to be climbed. We went back to Shahezi and took our bus. We went to Hongwei, but there were no trains visible. So we took another road and found the train in the middle of a field, waiting for loading. On both sides of the track the timber was stored. Workers loaded the timber, mostly only branches of trees, by hand. The loco was waiting with the train, until it was loaded. This wasn't planned to end before dusk. So we left for Weihe.
The logging season in Shanhetun will end on April 14th, 2002. Locos in use, all class C2: 004, 005, 006, 506; in the shed: 007 under repair and 008 dumped. Another boiler plus frame was found in the depot.
Weihe Forestry Railway
Similar to Shanhetun: no date for the closure is known yet. But one important difference could be seen: the track maintenance never stopped and repairs were seen everywhere with quite a lot of new sleepers. Chances for survival are no better than in Shanhetun.
According to the staff the logging season in Weihe should end in mid April. The passenger train will run till May 1st, afterwards it will be replaced by a railcar. From the beginning of the next logging season the steam train will run again. But only if there is a next season ...
The average number of trains was three timber trains per 24 hours plus the two passenger return trips. Two trains we saw needed about 2 hours for the way from Dongfeng to Pinglin and were banked (once by the loco by the passenger trains, once by loco of an empty train). Timekeeping of the passenger was not as good as earlier in this season. The road conditions were better than expected, no mud on the roads along the railway. The unpaved roads following the line at least up to Yülin. It is possible to chase the train all the way up to Yülin, except the part between Dongfeng and km 58 (before Chonghe). However, in this part you'll find about 10 km without any photographic potential (approx. km 41 to km 51). Even at the very end of the logging season there was much to do and it was difficult to find any time for a lunch break.
Locos in use, all class C2: SW 21030, 035, 053, 055; under repair SW 21034 and 054, other locos in the shed, but invisible from outside.
The local guide (Mr. Song Zhe Chi) told us, that there might be still steam in Shuangyashan up to Tudingshan. Two days before there should have been a QJ-hauled train to Tudingshan. As it was impossible to figure out the up to date situation via telephone we decided to go to Shuangyashan personally. The officials in Shuangyashan threw us out of the train control room and weren't happy about steam gricers at all. Fortunately we found some kind railway workers who could provide us with the information we needed. The last steamloco left Shuangyashan on March 26th towards the loco shed. All steamlocos are stored there now with two exceptions. One SY and one QJ are still in steam at Shuangyang. The locos are used to bank heavy trains from Shuangyang to Liujing or to Tudingshan on demand. The SY also serves the power plant near Xin'an.
It was said that all steam locos are still serviceable and won't be scrapped soon. The management will wait for at least three months to see how the diesels will work out. They have some hassle with the elder DF1s, they are not strong enough and often need repairs. However, a re-introducing of steam power seems to be unbelievable.
Hegang Mine Railway
Nothing new. We found two more narrow gauge systems, one in Dalu (762 mm) and another one in Xing'an (either 900 or 1,000 mm). Both are short mine railways and need further investigation.
We were able to stay in Xing'an, a fascinating mine of the old kind, for hours without any hassle. On the other hand, we had some trouble to enter Fuli this time.
We found the following locos:
Steam: SY 0498, 0499, 0635, 0683, 0799, 0905, 1030, 1498, 3024.
China is still worth a visit for steam gricers but how long this statement will be true is as unsafe as never before. If you have sufficient time and money, go to China as soon as possible and stay as long as you can stand it. Weather conditions are reasonable even in March/April with cold mornings and pleasant temperatures around noon. The longer days are also nice but, if you like to use ALL possibilities (as I prefer to do), it reduces the available time for a sleep somewhat.