The International Steam Pages
Riding behind Steam in China, May 2002
Roger Blundell reports on riding behind steam... No need for short, cold mid-winter days when your priority is not photography.
Friday 03 May
1630 British Airways flight to Beijing. 30 late start stuck behind a failed plane in the queue. Fairly comfy journey with some sleep. A better way of travelling than KLM with its long connection waits in Amsterdam, cramped seating and attempts to bump you off busy services. Ticket cost £557 giving a total cost for the bash of a little over £1000, similar in fact to all the previous trips.
Saturday 04 May
Beijing arrive 5 late at 0935, just miss 1030 flight to Harbin. Change some traveller's cheques (rate 12.04). Note rate was 11.76 against 11.63 in London a few days earlier. Take 1130 flight to Harbin, 830 yuan + 50 yuan airport tax (£76). I was made to pay the tax even though I was transiting. The plane was a large Airbus 330 on a Xi'an - Harbin service and 85% empty. Avoided sitting under the two ceiling panels which were caving in. Quite cold in Harbin. Go to main station for overnight to Qitaihe, not on departure board. Purchase timetable from unofficial bookseller outside station (2 yuan mark up) and find that train now runs only from Harbindong. So number 6 bus to Dong, purchase soft sleeper for 150 yuan then a few hours doss in a cheap 'hotel' above the booking office for 10 yuan (£0.85). The train was lightweight by Chinese standards, 8 vehicles, and the soft sleeper almost empty.
Sunday 05 May
As Derek Jenkins found out it is difficult to locate the mine railway. The map in Qitaihe station waiting hall is not clear, it shows the main intermediate station near the city but not the terminus. I managed to get it over to some youngsters who spoke just a few words of English that I wanted to go to the station where I could catch a train to Longhu. A dumb bloke who was hanging around knew the directions and I was placed in his care. We took a bus down the long approach road then at the end a larger (number 4?) bus which went (eastwards?) through real grotty Stalinist industrial China with dirt, coal dust, general filth and dilapidation. We then passed under the mine railway, through a modern city centre, turned right then left where we alighted and walked down about half a mile to Taoshuan station, which is the second station out on the mine railway.
At the station was a timetable showing all trains. In addition to the two pairs of steam turns mentioned below there is an electric worked service from Jipei onto another branch leaving after and arriving back before the steam services. There is also a shuttle, 0553 Taoshuan - Jipei with a return at 1910 but I got the impression from the friendly staff that these trains were either not steam or not running.
1012 Taoshuan - Jipei 1031, SY 1014
A fast downhill run with the 8 bogie rake.
At Jipei find my way back to Qitaihe CNR by walking along the track past the diesel depot. This was to be the first of five long and tiring walks with a heavy bag. Its about 1½ miles and took 35 minutes
1427 Jipei - Longhu 1550, SY 1014
The character of the line varies, at first semi urban and industrial but becomes rural and hilly with mines here and there all the way, including a large complex at Longhu. The line undulates with steep grades and the loco is flogged along well. The final section into Longhu is not electrified.
Whilst sheltering in a small shop from the fierce wind blowing dirt and coal dust into everything I was introduced to the barrister daughter of the owner, visiting her mother on holiday and definitely not the usual type of person you would expect to meet in such a place. She told me that when the weather turns really cold in winter bears come out of the forests and wander into town.
1651 Longhu - Jipei 1817, SY 1014
Hauled up onto the footplate by the crew and given a ride to Taoshuan. With five people it was very crowded.
Back to Qitaihe CNR. The area around the station is very quiet but there is a decent restaurant with a Fandian above. A room with facilities here cost a whole 20 yuan (£1.72 !) best bargain ever in China. I thought at first the girl said 200 yuan and prepared for a long bargaining session.
Monday 06 May
0640 Jipei - Longhu 0810, SY 3002 + SY 1014 pilot to Fuchang and electric on rear to Taoshuan
The third loco was distinctly unwelcome as it pushed to Taoshuan. 1014 came of at Fuchang and attached itself to the rear of a freight hauled by SY 1456. Good thrash up into Longhu, train very crowded with miners.
0906 Longhu - Jipei 1031, SY 3002
Much of the journey is downhill in this direction but there is some good noise on the odd uphill bit. One section of embankment permanently smoulders.
At the depot QJ 2552 was dead and QJ 3142 was out of use behind a row of wagons. No other steam locos were seen on the railway. The system is very busy but most traffic is electric worked.
The railway is a very professional operation with masses of staff on the trains and at the bigger stations. The YZ22 rakes are well kept.
Hegang is not that far from Qitaihe but it was a tedious and convoluted journey, made more so by my vow not to use road transport unless it was essential to do so. 108,000 people were killed on China's roads last year.
After a final walk back along the track to the CNR station I took the 1449 to Boli. This train is actually a through service to Shenyang, which would have been worth knowing beforehand. Pulls out of Qitaihe to the sound of Auld Lang Syne over the loudspeakers.
Rest in cheap doss house place outside Boli station for 2½ hours (10 yuan) then excess into soft seat coach on the new fast evening Mudanjiang - Jiamusi service leaving Boli at 1831. Like first class the world over it was full of railwaymen.
Stay in the railway hotel at Jiamusi, just the left of the station entrance. This place is becoming very run down, chairs down to their springs, no lights working in bathroom, toilet would not flush and bath was full of water. 120 yuan (£10.30) for a suite.
Tuesday 07 May
It was only with some difficulty that I managed to get it over to the night staff that I needed to be called at 0345 and let out of the hotel but the system worked and I was duly woken and the front door was opened. 0424 express (from Harbin) calling most stations, passed 0600 ex Jipei very full with miners. The whole city of Hegang was enveloped in a black smog as the sun rose, a weird sight. I have never anything quite like it before and I speak as one who recalls the London fogs of the 1950's. Despite its many modern buildings Hegang is a very traditional Chinese city. Arrived 2 minutes late at 0612 and walked round the back of the train and across the tracks to the mine railway station, this route via the south end is very quick.
Let the 0620 to Gingshi go and catch:-
0640 Jipei - Xingshan 0709, SY 0905
This is a short but quite fascinating industrial line heading out round a curve with the track hemmed in by trees, shacks, small houses & palings. At one station the platform is so narrow that waiting passengers have to cling to the fence to make sure the train does not hit them. Train is very busy with commuters to the mine at Xingshan.
0709 Xingshan - Jipei 0747, SY 0905
Note on left two big open pits plus rows of the DDR's finest electric hardware dumped whilst the railway purchases new steam locos.
Noodle breakfast in shop at top of stairs then quickly back for:-
0815 Jipei - Junli 0905, SY 1498
Formed off 0808 arrival, which turns up at 0815.
Loses path to crossing station so is held at second station out to cross 0801 ex Gingshi. Further time lost by long 6 mph p.w. near Junli
0918 Junli - Jipei 1008, SY 1498
Eventually rolls back into Jipei some 30 late.
On arrival at Jipei the exterior cleaning gang of women pounce on the train and clean the coach bodies and windows using just ladders and small dry cloths.
Book into hotel across square from CNR station. Price for same room down from 80 to 60 yuan (£5.15) since last year. Good value, full facilities in room including warm water. They even put a clean sheet on the bed.
1335 Jipei - Nanshan 1343, SY 1498
This was fotted leaving Nanshan.
I then attempted to get back to Jipei for the 1444 departure using the number 3 bus from the crossroads just up the road but this veers away from the railway and into Hegang city centre so I bottled out and returned to Nanshan. I was later to find that this bus route continues on to Hegang station. Interesting food market at Nanshan with street stalls, a bit of oriental colour at last in drab China.
Fot inbound tippler train at Nanshan with SY 0498
1451 Nanshan - Gingshi 1544, SY 1030
Alas, this train no longer runs to the last station at Shanzhuang, a short but very pleasant section. Gingshi is quite an attractive spot though and SY 1030 made for a good fot with a background of almond blossom.
1605 Gingshi - Xing'an 1634, SY 1030
Ran well to time so easily made the + 4 connection. There was even time enough for another photo of 1030.
There are no platforms at Xing'an, passengers scramble about risking broken ankles amongst the ballast and shale and endeavour to avoid falling down the steep embankment as trains approach.
1638 Xing'an - Junde 1653, SY 1498
This was my second attempt to cover the lines to Junde, a Chinese version of the Kepno idiot's triangle. It proved to be a pleasant rural line, uphill with some good noise (All daytime trains on this route load to 5, evening and night services are load 2.)
1709 Junde - Jipei (via Junli) 1815, SY 1498
Departed at 1705. The 1539 Jiamusi - Hegang local, due off the adjoining CNR at 1709, was in by 1703 but would not have made the connection.
Another rural section to Junli but downhill this time. This time watch the sun set through the smog over Hegang.
1835 Jipei - Junli 1920, SY 1030
Good climb out through the Hegang suburbs, past mines and hutongs with dust and dirt everywhere whilst in the background on the skyline are ultra modern buildings, the slums of the future perhaps.
In the warm evening the hutongs were coming to life with people arriving home from work and families sitting outside talking.
1930 Junli - Jipei 2015, SY 1030
Runs back in the dark (sunrise 0410, sunset 1845). Arrival at Jipei 15 late.
Dinner at one of the kebab stalls in front of the hotel. In addition to the usual delicacy of zha tie que, crunchy sparrows heads, big fat live maggots were cooking on a griddle plate. I decided not to indulge in this gastronomic delight although my barbecued squid was cooked with the same set of chopsticks.
Wednesday 08 May
It was my intention to again travel on the 0640 to Xingshan. I got the station at 0615 just in case it was electric, and sure enough it was. Glad I covered it the previous day.
0620 Jipei -Gingshi 0732, SY 1030
A wedged train so boarding at the last minute meant no seat, at least until I was invited into the guards cubicle at the front complete with big open window. Good thrash up into Gingshi.
Breakfast in small shop with traincrew. Much horseplay between male and female staff, as is often the case in China.
0801 Gingshi - Fuli 0839, SY 1030
A downhill trundle. Early into Fuli but 0815 ex Jipei late again so the crossing is made at the next station.
0844 Fuli - Junli 0905, SY 1498
30 late at Junli after more time lost on the long p.w.
All around Hegang the smallholdings were coming back to life with the ground being prepared and seedlings planted out. This and the blossoming fruit trees brought some colour to the drab housing and the grim industrial scene.
0918 Junli - Jipei 1008, SY 1498
40 late back into Jipei after signal checks.
Taxi round to CNR for 1115 semi fast to Jiamusi. Book ticket then once on platform find that train is a through express to Dalian, the train I was intending to connect into at Jiamusi for Tieling. All rather annoying, I could have booked through but instead had the hassle of doing it on the train with a male attendant who first attempted to overcharge me and then was extremely reluctant to give me the change due. I was also charged an extra 20%, although I did see documentation to support this.
Thursday 09 May
Tieling arrival at 0405. No buses were running to Diaobingshan and the bus station was still locked up at 0530 so decided to visit the Shenyang Local Railway before Tiefa.
0634 local to Xintaizi, arrived 0705. The local railway 'station' and sidings are at the southeast end of the CNR station. SY 1247 was in steam and SY 0537 arrived on the one coach train sometime before 0745 whilst I was in the town.
0837 Xintaizi - Husitai 0950, SY 1247
Note the departure time, some 28 minutes earlier than when last reported.
When I first visited China in 1990 and 1991 I spent a lot of time around Tianzhu, bashing double headed QJs on 795 ton expresses blasting up grades of 1 in 50 over a 10000ft mountain pass.
Little did I imagine I would end up in 2002 bouncing across the plains of Northern China on a one coach local hauled by an SY. But actually the line is quite attractive, similar in style to an ex German Nebenbahn in Western Poland, trundling across wide open fields broken by lines of trees and passing interesting villages. It had far more character than I expected and I even considered covering it again 2 days later. The line runs more or less in a semi circle.
Good street market at Xintaizi, which you pass through on the 15 minute walk to the CNR (along the track is quicker). 1114 local Xintaizi - Sanjiazi.
1334 Sanjiazi - Diaobingshan 1344, SY 0063
A first run over the valuable double track 'suburban' section. Good noise from the tender first loco.
1411 Diaobingshan - Dongguantun 1541, SY 0860
Some more fine tender first thrash on this pleasant line on a sunny afternoon with peasants out working in the fields.
I was joined at the front of the train by an attractive lady who helped me open the window, bought me a hot soya milk drink and became rather friendly, then very friendly and soon very very friendly. After a good deal of explicit sign language and suggestive lip movements the proposition was made that perhaps I might like to accompany her back home. Sure enough at Xiaokang she picked up my bag and beckoned me to follow. (Did you follow??? It wouldhave had to be a realquickie.... RD)This was the first time in my bashing career (since 1959) that a naughty lady has attempted to seduce me on a steam hauled train. Has anyone else enjoyed similar attentions on this train?
1550 Dongguantun - Daqing 1806, SY 0860
Full wedge ex Xiaokang with miners and a fair number of commuters from Diaobingshan. Not such good thrash as on the way out but an enjoyable run on a very real and busy train.
Loco makes a fine sight simmering at Daqing with the sun setting behind.
1840 Daqing - Diaobingshan 1906, SY 0860
Good tender first thrash into the dusk.
Stay at the usual hotel just to the right of the station. Charged 100 yuan (£8.60) this time rather than the bridal suite price of 126 yuan. Visit internet café on station and pick up news of the revised Fuxin Mine Railway passenger service as of the previous Friday, such is modern technology. Watch workings at station and from hotel window in the busy 2200 - 2300 slot.
Friday 10 May
0628 Diaobingshan - Wangqian 0752, SY 1255
Runs via Xiaonan. Very busy around Diaobingshan/Sanjiazi 0620 - 0710. One passenger arrives Diaobingshan 0622, we leave 0628, pass another passenger just outside and at Sanjiazi there is a meet of three passenger trains plus another 3 SY in the yards!
Good thrash on the final section into Wangqian. This line is very pleasant, scenic and rural beyond the triangle.
0802 Wangqian - Diaobingshan 0845, SY 1255
More of a trundle but quite a good flog up into Diaobingshan
0911 Diaobingshan - Daming 0958, SY 0860
The least interesting of the routes hence only covered it once. It is very flat with more mines and their associated waste than the other two branches.
3 boring hours to while away in dreary, hot and dusty Daming. Noodle meal in small shop then back to station. Invited to wait on comfy sofa in police office. There seems to be many more police around this year on the Tiefa system, at main stations and travelling on trains but they are no problem. At Daming there were four of them in the office, what do they all do? Perhaps they run a prostitution racket.
1258 Daming - Diaobingshan 1344, SY 0860
A quiet trundle until Sanjiazi then very good thrash up into Diaobingshan.
1411 Diaobingshan - Dongguantun 1541, SY 0393
No on board at seat services today and the thrash wasn't as good either.
1550 Dongguantun - Daqing 1806, SY 0393
A fairly quiet run but o.k. on the banks
1840 Daqing - Diaobingshan 1906, SY 0393
Once again not up to the previous days standard, at least until Sanjiazi.
Saturday 11 May
0628 Diaobingshan - Wangqian 0752, SY 1147
Runs via Xiaonan. A pleasant trundle on a fine sunny morning and again good thrash nearer Wangqian.
0802 Wangqian - Diaobingshan 0845, SY 1147
Quite a busy train this. A damper put on the run with an attempted suicide approaching Diaobingshan as a young woman walked into the side of the train. She was moved onto the four foot and a policeman stayed with her. The train was delayed ten minutes, in Britain the police would have shut the line for hours.
0911 Diaobingshan - Sanjiazi 0921, SY 0393
As usual a very fast finish downhill into Diaobingshannan, the driver only braking after entering the platform with clouds of dust enveloping waiting passengers.
The system still seems very busy with coal traffic buoyant but passenger loadings are less than last year. The 8 coach rakes are now down to 7 with noticeably fewer people travelling out of Diaobingshan on the 1411 to Dongguantun and the 1726 to Daqing. I suspect the best years here are now gone.
JS 5029 was noted in steam at the servicing point near Daqing.
0951 box local to Shenyangbei, arrive 1215 then 1243 passenger to Ajin. The latter is a short wedged train with no soft seat coach but kindly policeman puts me in empty staff coach at rear. Passes through fierce storm, almost in darkness
To reach the mine railway at Ajin walk back along the platform towards Xinqiu, turn right at level crossing and the mine railway platform is just to the right of the next crossing. Long wait for evening train, almost two hours, but this was the best connection possible. Storm returns and soaks me despite being under cover.
1815 Ajin - Xinqiu 1828, SY 1397
A wedged commuter train. Good noise from the tender first loco.
Quick turnround at Xinqiu then away again as:-
1840 Xinqiu - Wulong 1915, SY 1397
Only the rear two coaches in use, clatters along hard up against the small houses. System very busy around Taipang and Wulong, locos on the move everywhere including an SY on a train on the 'electric' line (same direction as us) which included at least one passenger carrying vehicle. Another SY pushed a set of wagons diagonally over the main line as we waited at a signal.
The road into Fuxin was flooded in two places, just manage to clamber round the edge without getting drenched. Hotel outside CNR station used again, price down from the 30 yuan of 1999 to 25 yuan (£2.15) and they even changed all the bedding!
Bottle out of walking back to Wulong, take motorbike taxi. Water up to base of taxi body in middle of road but it gets through o.k. In between two flooded sections wait whilst SY crosses from CNR interchange, some real third world atmosphere.
2114 Wulong - Xinqiu 2158, SY 1397
Note passengers in each direction on pit service, both electric. Still plenty of SY activity though.
2215 Xinqiu -Wulong 2300, SY 1397
Load 2 only. Plenty of local colour with the clientele on these late night services.
Taxi back to hotel, 5 yuan (usual fare in smaller Chinese cities). Flood starts to subside.
Sunday 12 May
Fot SY 0391 on 3 coach 0620 to Xinqiu.
0643 Wulong - Wangying 0706, SY 1397
An empty train (on Sundays?). Quiet run to Minzu then opened out for the climb to Wangying.
0859 Wangying - Xinqiu 1020, SY 1397
Some good tender first noise and a well loaded train.
Market visit and lunch in far from exciting Xinqiu on a day that was becoming a little too hot.
1339 Xinqiu - Wangying 1453, SY 1397
Slow and tedious until the climb from Minzu.
Yet another boring wait, these long droons are the curse of Chinese mine railway bashing.
1659 Wangying - Xinqiu 1828, SY 1397
A wedged commuter train. Full thrash tender first starts all the way and some fast running. The best train of the day.
1840 Xinqiu -Wulong 1915, SY 1397
A gentle trundle in the twilight with some good local colour.
The Fuxin hard sleeper allocations for the 2202 to Chifeng had all been taken. Pleased to be able to excess into the soft sleeper as I felt very knackered.
Monday 13 May
Arrive Yuanbaoshan 0529. A connecting bus into town waits by the exit but it does not connect with the 0505 from Chifeng which arrived with a DF4 just as the bus pulled away at 0535. Get off bus at the T-junction with the road to Chifeng. This is the first major stop in Yuanbaoshan and many people get off here. A road to the right leads downhill to the mine railway yards and station where the stock for the morning passenger was waiting.
0700 Yuanbaoshan - Fenshuigou 0730 JS 8249
Load 2 tipplers and 7 passenger vehicles, the first 2 or 3 of which were locked out of use. Loco fitted with full length deflectors
A very slow exit past a body on the lineside surrounded by police before we accelerated to trundling pace for the remainder of our journey.
Tipplers shunted into mine. Loco crew then invite me up for footplate on light engine to Anqingqou.
0745 Fenshuigou - Anqingqou 0755 JS 8249
Runs alongside CNR into Anqingqou.
0810 Anqingqou - Fenshuigou 0825 JS 8249
We return with 10 empty wagons.
0953 Fenshuigou - Yuanbaoshan 1025 JS 8249
Load 7 passenger bogies + the 10 empty wagons, 515 tons gross.
Again dreadfully slow. Apart from good views to the mountains on a wide river bridge little else can be seen on this predominately rural line due to massive amounts of tree planting.
I had wondered what I might do for over 4 hours whilst waiting for the afternoon train but the problem was solved in a rather pleasant way. As I walked away from the station one of the train's lady conductors took me under her wing. We lunched together and then I was taken on a sightseeing tour of the new town by taxi (at my expense), and yes I really did want see the Central Power Station!.
1500 Yuanbaoshan - Fenshuigou 1535 JS 8250
This loco also fitted with full length deflectors. Load 24 wagons + 7 bogies, at least 815 tons gross.
With the heavy load the running was even slower than on the morning trains, glad to be occupied in a different way en route. I rate this line as the worst of the mine railways for bashing.
I was accompanied on the train by my newfound friend who was excused her gripping duties by the train chief, a fat evil looking moustached Mongolian, a sort of film star caricature version of Genghis Khan.
With some regret I had declined the offer of an evening date with the excuse that I needed to be in Chifeng by evening. I was taken the short distance to the CNR halt where after a short wait I set off on 6800, the Tongliao - Chifeng day passenger that is booked to call at 1605.
Arrived Chifeng 1710. I was lucky enough to obtain one of Chifeng's allocation of hard sleepers for the Baotou - Hailaer 'Mongolian King' express which departs at 1738 & calls Tongliao at 2130. As always this train was very crowded with would be hard seat 'customers' being made to form long queues at right angles to each door prior to a thorough gripping.
At 1748 QJ 7115 backed light through the station from south to north. ? had it worked in on 6753 passenger, 1404 from Yebaishou, due Chifeng at 1735.
At Tongliao go to the usual hotel across the square. Room with facilities + small suite bargained down from 120 to 100 yuan (£8.60).
Reject entertainment offers from two very attractive young slappers in a massage establishment by the corner of the square and return to the hotel for an unusually long sleep.
Tuesday 14 May
Tongliao booking office computer now fixed to issue tickets to Jiningnan via JiTong line. At the start of the journey two of the attendants stood to attention in the corridor and recited the company mission statement. On train policing has taken a turn for the better on this line with the recruitment of a squad of elegant and charming Mongolian lady officers, together with a somewhat fiercer boss woman. The train is still well kept, even soap and toilet paper were provided. Diesel to Zhelimu, where a QJ without deflectors was shunting.
6052/6053 1200 Zhelimu - Benhong 1120 QJs 6751, 7010, 6992, 6912 & 6304
What an amazing train for 2002. 6751 was the first of 10 QJs I was to value backing down onto the trains within the following 47 hours. The hard sleeper was very empty from Tongliao but gradually wedged up. The hard seats were also fairly full. The day was hot, sunny and windy. Just the thing for covering everything inside the train with a layer of sand and dust. Good food in diner staffed by a crew of young girls, plenty of attractions inside and out on this line. Meal service better than in past with trolley serving hot meals 3 times daily including lunch before terminating at Jiningnan + Tongliao on return.A mostly quiet run, unfortunately with the later departure from Tongliao the fine section out of Daban is now covered in darkness. Good noisy climb up from Reshui.
Wednesday 15 May
Up before 0500 to value the fine wild desolate and typically Mongolian section before Baiqi. This section either side of Haoluku is now traversed at night on both passengers which is a great pity. One day I really must spend some time travelling on the freights here and doing some photting around Baiqi. Good climb round the 110º curve out of the station just east of Baiqi but then weather became dull & gloomy for remainder of journey to Benhong. Box on to a very wet & miserable Jiningnan where the station clock now has Big Ben chimes.
Train staff were rather surprised to see back on the train after just one hour.
6054/6051 1504 Benhong - Zhelimu -1418 QJs 6304, 6564, 6992, 6911 & 7048
This was my sixth run with 6304 on the Benhong section. 21 late start waiting connection with the 1501 arrival from Erlian on the Mongolian border. This is quite a meths train by modern Chinese standards. With lively running the lost time had been recovered by Baiqi.
6764 noted piloting deflectorless 6354 on a freight to Benhong. In total 7 box and 2 steam freights were noted on this section. Decline invitations to an evening Maotai party in diner. As on outward journey train seemed to be busier than on past visits.
Thursday 16 May
Thrash reasonable only up the pass, nothing like as good as being on a freight. 2 pairs
of light engines went westbound over the summit in quick succession.
Book hard sleeper on the 1735 to Hohhot, excess on train into a rather crowded soft sleeper.
Friday 17 May
Arrive Beijingnan on time at 0737. Despite having to walk some distance to get a taxi, heavy rush hour traffic and ticket window confusion I was through the barrier at Beijingxi by 0830 and relaxing in a soft sleeper on train 2567, the 0843 departure to Nanyang. This is a semi fast which gets looped for several swish expresses. Quite a smart well appointed train, fairly empty out of Beijing but filled up during the day. Note narrow gauge line in use at Xinzheng. At Anyang the stock of the evening branch line train which was recently steam was in the platform but I was unable to see if there was a loco attached. Arrived Nanyang on time at 2351, stay at hotel to left of station.
Saturday 18 May
Investigate narrow gauge line. Seemed well and truly closed with few traces remaining. To make doubly sure I took a minibus to Fenchang where I found all track had been lifted and piles of scrap rails dumped by the station.
I was helped to find a bus to Pingdingshan by a couple who were on the bus from Nanyang. We walked from one bus terminal to another without success and eventually were told to go out to the bypass. The lady took me out there on a scooter taxi & saw me onto the right bus, just one of the very many examples of Chinese people going out of their way to help a foreigner in trouble. This aspect of visits to China is often forgotten and one tends to remember the occasional rip off but the friendship and helpfulness of the average Chinese is the trait which really stands out.
Bus takes about an hour and a half to reach Pingdingshan bus station, which is near the CNR and far from the mine railway station. Take taxi onward, driver gets lost despite me pointing out the destination on the town map so I have to navigate.
The station is hemmed in by buildings and has 3 platform roads only, the stock blocks two platforms so the third is needed to get the freights through. JS 8065 was on the other passenger diagram.
1340 Pingdingshan - 13th Mine 1450, JS 6292
The single line section through Pingdingshan city sees the line crammed in amongst footpaths, tiny vegetable plots, shacks and factories. A grim place, with many mines on the outskirts as well but the line soon becomes rural and attractive passing several nice villages. This area is much more 'Chinese' like than the areas north of Beijing.
Little noise from the loco (load 7) with much trundling, arrived 15 late after delays crossing a very long JS hauled freight. No platform at the mine, you just jump down onto the ballast.
The town at the end of the line seems primitive and poor.
Inbound trains do not start at the mine but at a proper station a couple of hundred yards towards Pingdingshan. The ECS runs in up to 45 minutes before departure time. This train makes for a good fot from the fields above the platform.
1700 13th Mine - Pingdingshan 1810, JS 6292
A pleasant but slow run on a nice sunny evening, again about 15 late. The busy shed on the outskirts of Pingdingshan makes a fine sight. As we arrived in Pingdingshan a JS was waiting to get onto the single line with a long freight, it blasted through at walking pace and got the road just in time to avoid stopping. A superb sight, load was 45 coal wagons, estimated at 2050 tons gross. Each road through the station had a JS hauled train in it.
As I needed to phone home and my phone card kept being rejected I decided to go to the slob Pingdingshan Bingguan where a room in the cheaper building was bargained down to 200 yuan (£17.20), somewhat lower than the printed rate shown. Make 2 phone calls from room (56 yuan) after paying deposit at reception. This hotel is quite a way from the mine railway station, best to get a taxi. For those not covering the overnight to 13th Mine there is plenty to do in the evening with lots of kebab stalls and a very up market massage establishment just round the corner.
Sunday 19 May
0740 Pingdingshan - Gouzhongquan 0945, JS 6292
The line is fairly flat and uninspiring as far as Baofeng but beyond here there is some good thrash on uphill grades through a part rural and part industrial landscape.
0955 Gouzhongquan - Pingdingshan 1200, JS 6292
A rather quiet downhill run. Some 4 or 5 locos were active on freight east of Pingdingshan.
1340 Pingdingshan - 13th Mine 1450, JS 6292
This train got screwed up badly, arriving some 30 late. Long delay at Tanzhuang waiting a crossing. Here it was very busy with QJ (no deflectors), SY and JS all in the yard then 2 further JS arrive.I rate this line as the better of the two with its mix of industry, busy yards, locoshed and traditional style villages and rural life.
SY arrives t/f at 1600 on coal empties at 13th Mine.
1700 13th Mine - Pingdingshan 1810, JS 6292
Another pleasant and rather late run. Held for a tender first QJ to roll through to the exchange sidings with 66 x 60 tonne coal wagons, estimated weight at least 3750 tons. 15 late arrival again.
A different room at the Bingguan featured several jumping spiders.
Monday 20 May
0740 Pingdingshan - Gouzhongquan 0945, JS 6292
As on the previous day some good noise later in the journey. Stations towards the end of the line feature platforms where shacks have been built and mini bazaars set up leaving just a small space for passengers to cram into as the train rolls in.
0955 Gouzhongquan - Pingdingshan 1200, JS 6292
At Gouzhongquan the loco is nicely framed at the head of the train between 2 rows of tall trees.
Becomes very cold and wet, window has to be shut. Unmade roads which had been covered in coal dust turn into a mass of black slime which gets churned up by lorries, motorbikes, vans taxis and 4WDs. Friendly grippers refuse fare (often the case on mine railway return journey) then they all gather round for a long interrogation. Feed them with expensive western style chocolate which costs me far more than the fare saved.
Fot JS 8065 leaving at 1330 for Gouzhongquan, very dull & wet.
1340 Pingdingshan - Tanzhuang 1410, JS 6292
Off at Tanzhuang to watch the working for a couple of hours. Quite a lot of activity, up to four locos of all three classes present. Becomes very wet as I walk back past the shed to the nearest main road.
Take van taxi along flooded and mud covered roads to Pingdingshandong station. 1754 express to Luohe arrive 1853. This was a long distance a/c express, well filled but managed to get a seat.
At Luohe book hard sleeper for the following night to Beijing with some difficulty. First choice train T78 was not available and I was eventually given a berth on the 2136 departure, a semi fast train which started its journey 100 miles south of Luohe. No soft sleeper was available on either train.
Book into bingguan at south end of station square. After a lengthy confused bargaining session I ended up in a smart suite with clean bedding and comfy chairs for 140 yuan (£12).
Tuesday 21 May
0715 to Fuyang. The CNR don't want anything to do with this scruffy old train. They don't sell tickets for it, you get them from two girls who sit by the food stall in the northwest corner of the booking hall and entry to the platform is via the station exit.
We depart with DFH3 to Jieshoushi and cross QJ 7091 on freight then DFH3 on the express before Zhoukou where QJs 7000, 7011 and 7161 plus DF4 0373 are on shed. Cross QJ 6548 on freight at 1045. Train is far from full, a dreary journey on a dull cold morning. At Jieshoushi there is a long dither and delay as an eastbound freight arrives with QJ 504 just at the moment when our train's locos are to be changed. Locos of daytime trains on the Jieshoushi - Fuyang section use full beam headlight.
6071 1113 Jieshoushi - Fuyang 1335, QJ 519 to Fuyangxi then QJ 1271
A slow and lumbering performance. Maximum speed appears to be 36 mph on this section
(the box runs at 47 mph). Weather still very dull, fitted in well with the flat,
uninspiring countryside, although at this time of year everything was green and lush. This
is another grossly overstaffed line. At the small crossing stations six staff would line
up along the platform as the train pulled in to oversee the transfer of a handful of
passengers between themselves and the attendant in each coach.
A bodged paper ticket for Luohe was issued by the main booking office.
6072 1420 Fuyang - Jieshoushi 1623, QJ 1271 to Fuyangxi then QJ 519
Not only does this train have a slow schedule but we dropped 50 minutes on it as well. Firstly we had an unscheduled engine change at Fuyangxi then a 40 minute wait to cross QJ 504 returning on a lightweight freight. This section has just one passenger train a day and a handful of freights yet they manage to screw up the operating in both directions. Despite the lateness no attempt was made to pick up time. Running was painfully slow with drifting for long distances into stations, the coal consumption savings bonus outweighed all else. At Jieshoushi the same box off the morning train couples up, having sat there for six hours - why use one loco when three will do. My connection at Luohe was + 51 but luckily we regained 25 minutes with the help of a short stop at Zhoukou (instead of 20 minutes) and some good fortune at crossings, even the express was put inside for us. There are at least 4 DFH3s on the line; we crossed one on a freight near Luohe.
I was in a rather knackered condition on this train, feverish with a very bad cold. The conductor ladies fussed round me getting hot water and lecturing me about medicine taking. At Luohe two of the girls took me to a chemist where I bought some cough medicine. At 19 yuan (£1.65) the cost was a pittance to me but a sobering thought was that one of the girls who took me there also had a bad cough and had she bought the same medicine it would have cost her a quarter of her week's wages.
My escorts took me to the train & attempted to get me into the soft sleeper, but to
no avail as it was full, the first time ever I think that this had happened to me.
Wednesday 22 May
Beijingxi arrival at 0955, some 15 late on a very slow schedule. After about an hour sitting in the station take taxi to Hademan Hotel, my usual stopping place in Beijing, near to main station and airport bus. Despite negotiating a considerable reduction in the published tariff I still had to pay 350 yuan (£30), as opposed to 320 yuan last year. Flake out for several hours then recover somewhat by the evening when I am taken out to dinner by the barrister lady who I met earlier in the bash at Longhu. We went to a speciality duck restaurant. One of the courses was a famed delicacy - duck tongues, or rather duck beaks.
Thursday 23 May
0800 bus from International Hotel. With bad traffic the journey takes about 50 minutes. Good reasonably priced English breakfast at airport. British Airways flight left slightly late but with some strong tail winds arrived so early at Heathrow that its berth was still occupied. Eventually we terminated some 15 minutes before time.