The International Steam Pages
Steam in China, New Year 2003
Adrian Freeman reports on his independent trip with Gordon Edgar and Don White. Rare specimens these days!
The plan for this visit had been a week at Pingdingshan, then to the North-East for Beitai, Fuxin, Pingzhuang and Yuanbaoshan. However, when we got to Pingdingshan, we thought it was quite good, so we abandoned plans to go to the North-East and stayed for 14 days, calling at Handan steelworks for two days on the way back to Beijing.
This narrow gauge line sometimes has a cool reception, but today that would have been totally unjustified. Conditions were sunny with fresh snow, which had even penetrated the centre of Beijing. We got there at 1330 and found the line working at full tilt, there being eleven uphill trains of empties until operations finished at 1600. A Japanese enthusiast (the only railway enthusiast we met for the whole trip) informed us that the line was currently running trains from 0930 instead of the well reported start time of 1400. Don was especially pleased - on both his previous two visits, the line had not been operating.
29.12.02 - 11.01.03 Pingdingshan
As I am lazy, I shall call it PDS in the rest of this report. Thanks to the following for useful references: Peter Odell for report, excellent map and passenger train times; Duncan Cotterill for central area map, and Bernd Seiler for map of 13th Mine line.
It had snowed a few days prior to our arrival (see Dave Longman's report), but much of that had disappeared by the time we got there. Out of 14 days, we must have 'lost' three to cloud, otherwise it was sunny. The clearest conditions tended to be accompanied by winds. Temperature always below freezing at night and sometimes for the whole day. It never got warm enough for the steam exhausts to disappear.
PDS city is pretty flat, although there are slight grades from the east and west up to the central Zhongxin station. Pingdingshan (flat topped mountain) presumably derives its name from the mountain immediately to the north of the city. The mines branches off the main line to the north all climb steeply, on embankments for much of their length. The 13th Mine branch is predominantly flat up and beyond the junction with the Yuxian line, only the last few kilometres are amongst hills. Similarly, the line west to Gaozhangqian is largely through flat countryside until Dazhuang. The power station branch in PDS makes a short steep climb onto the main line.
The most convenient hotel is adjacent to Zhongxin station, but was chained closed when we arrived so, as there were no obvious signs of other hotels in the immediate area, we jumped in a taxi and stated 'binguan'. We were taken to the Pingdingshan Fandian, a two-star establishment on Jianshe Lu, which was quite satisfactory and, usefully, had an electric kettle in the room. The cost for a three-bed room was 208 Yuan. An excellent cake & bun shop was close to the hotel entrance. Various other hotels are in this area.
Railway infrastructure and operation
The lines are substantially laid and colour-lighted. A considerable amount of permanent way activity was taking place all over the system and it had the feel of a busy working operation - this place is definitely not on its last legs. There are two yards, only 2km apart - Zhongku yard, which has a passenger station simply called West Station (despite being east of the central station!), and Tianzhuang yard to the east. Tianzhuang is the bigger of the two, and sees continual activity. At the eastern end, Tianzhuang receives and despatches lengthy trains to and from the China Rail yard at PDS Dong. Trains to and from 13th Mine also work into this yard rather that direct to PDS Dong. A greater number of freights work to/from the west and the spur to the depot and maintenance shops if off the west end of this yard. This is busy with engines going on and off shed around shift changes. Photographically, Tianzhuang is the more interesting of the two - at the east end, the lines pass through a large coking plant and there is a washery on the northern side of the yard. The yard at Zhongku appeared to be mainly used for making up freights for the mines branches running north-west from the yard, and also for the power station shunt to the south-east.
Previous reports have suggested that the system's QJs predominantly operate the long trains between PDS Dong and Tianzhuang yard but we did not find this to be the case. Our observations showed more JS than QJs on these trains and on one occasion we saw an SY performing this duty - with 64 wagons in tow. The use of JS/QJ appeared to be indiscriminate in the 'core' area, but only JS/SY were seen west of Baofeng and on the 13th Mine branch beyond Renshiguang.
No consistent traffic patterns emerged to any of the individual mines, with the possible exception of 13th Mine, which received a train of empties each morning, the loads leaving the mine between 1100 and 1300. From our observations, I would estimate approx. 3 - 4 trains per day (in daylight - 0800 - 1700) each to mines 1, 4 and the mine immediately north of Tianzhuang yard. The line to mine 6 serves a further mine. This line saw 4 - 5 trains per day. Mine 2 was served by one train an afternoon on two out of three days. Trains heading west to mines 7, 5 and 9 and beyond probably amounted to approx. 6. During a day at Dazhuangkuang on the line to Gaozhuangquan, two outbound freights were encountered.
QJ6450 made its first appearance of our visit on 07.01.03, pulling a long train of empties out of Tianzhuang yard. It was clearly ex-works, gleaming fresh paintwork with the rivets around the smokebox door picked out. The crew were evidently pleased with their steed - as the engine passed us, they were leaning out of the cab punching the air with delight. Two days later we had our first sighting of SY1209, on shed, similarly outshopped to 6450.
PDS Maintenance shed
Despite having no guide and speaking no Chinese, we were allowed access to all areas of the maintenance shed and servicing areas. The maintenance shed is a 5-road concrete structure and was very busy and business-like inside. JS8122 was a recent arrival for overhaul and was being pulled apart before our eyes. The cab, boiler cladding and motion had already been removed and we watched the tubes being flamecut from the end plate prior to removal and the boiler insulation being hosed down with water and peeled off. A new set of motion was waiting on the floor.
This is a separate operation working in and out of PDS Dong, and shares the PDS system's line between 8th Mine and Renshiguang. It uses QJs on the infrequent trains, nos. 6650, 6690 and 6786 being seen - presumably they are shedded at Yuxian, but we did not investigate. These engines were not seen on the PDS system other than for occasional attention at the system's works. The workings we did see on this line were mostly light engine movements. Seen at 8th Mine, they always laid over for approx. 3/4 hour for no obvious reason (there are no watering facilities).
Details generally as reported by Bruce Evans. This is a further separate operation, which has a completely different feel to the mines system. The depot for this line is at Tieshan and the SY-hauled passenger workings detailed below spend little time at Bailou (Pingdingshan). Arrivals and departures observed to/from Bailou were generally 15 - 30 minutes late. The line passes mostly through flat agricultural landscape but the Sipo area is hillier and there is a viaduct just south of Sipo station. Unfortunately, train 83 terminates short of this viaduct. Approx. 1 km further south is a steel plate rolling mill, where SY 0483 and 0548 were seen carrying out infrequent shunting activities. It is believed that morning and afternoon SY-hauled passenger services operate south from Tieshan, but they run before and after trains 83 & 84, and we did not see them. The covered mineral wagon used for general goods in the trains below was well used, and seemed to be the main source of delays to the trains. At Sipo, it was seen being loaded with, amongst other things, 5 cows, and some decorative furniture. Engines seen at Tieshan depot on the same day were 0337 in light steam, 0380 in steam, 0779 receiving attention in the repair shop, 0780 and 1059 withdrawn.
Approx. 7 km south of Bailou station, there is a river bridge. It can be accessed by walking down the line, or from the main Zhengzhou to Nanyang road, where it crosses the river and then following the river embankment to the railway. We planned to phot the late afternoon arrival and departure here and attempted to walk from the main road. This was a serious misjudgement of distance, and after an hour and a half of brisk walk, the line was still not in sight and we had run out of time. The correct procedure is to take a three-wheel tuk-tuk from the main road, as taxis can't get down the track. The distance is approx. 15 km with the river meandering considerably.
82 84 83 85
12 - 13.01.03 Handan steelworks
Following Dave Longman's glowing report, we called in here on our way back to Beijing. After checking in to the Hangang Hotel, we took a taxi to the steelworks' South Gate. Here we made our mistake. We approached a security guard, and showed some photos of steam locomotives, but he pointed to an office block. We went in and found the only occupant (on Sunday) to be the head of security. He made a lot of phone calls, but being Sunday, no-one was in so told us to come back the following day at 0900. We spent the afternoon at the crossing by the South Gate, which spent most of the time closed due to the high levels of shunting activity. In addition to the SYs, there were also several different diesel types at work. The following day, we duly reappeared at the allotted time. Then Chinese bureaucracy stepped in. An interpreter was turned up, the local area manager was called, then the site manager, then a representative from the city council. Eventually, they all sat down and had a meeting. At the end of this, no-one wanted to take responsibility for our being on the site, so permission was not given. After this announcement had been made and the officials dispersed, the security head effectively indicated that everyone on site was very friendly, and if we just wandered in, then we would probably not be challenged. Obviously, we should have done this in the first place.
At least I obtained some details of the steelworks system from a map in the building. The extent of our exploration was to walk to the west exchange yard, where nothing was happening, then round the road to the slag tipping branch, where only a diesel was seen on mineral wagons. Steam activity appeared to be largely confined to the area around the blast furnaces and some shunting up to the east exchange yard, but all workings south out of the blast furnace area are smokebox-first.
SY seen correspond with previous reports.
We had some difficulty in getting tickets to leave PDS. At Handan, we were also unable to obtain tickets for our chosen train on to Beijing, but instead got some for L622, an additional train, which left Handan at 2152 and crawled to Beijing Nan arriving at around 0700 - but agreeably giving us three hours longer in the hard sleeper than any of the trains that appear in the timetable.