The International Steam Pages

Steam in China, February 2004

Michael Rhodes reports on Extreme Steam team China trips, February 2004

The first two week trip was made by Vernon and I, guided by Li Weishu

31st Jan – BA 039 to Beijing

1st Feb (temp -3 to -16)
Beijing museum in the afternoon and then the Lufthansa centre where a new QJ and a new SY were duly purchased – good stocks of Bachman China stuff here on the 6th floor.
Then took CA1111 to Hohot and drove to Zungheer (only passed one dead body on the roadside on this short drive!). Stayed in the Zungheer Hotel which was quite plush and run by the local power plant. Hence there were one or two power station engineers from Europe in the hotel.

2nd Feb (-18 to -10, sunny and windy, clouding over in 2nd part of day)
Sunrise on the depot at Zungheer – QJ 6907 & 6565
Spent all day in and around the loop at Fuxincheng which is free from electrification masts for 2-3 km either side of the station. Enjoyed the company of a delightful bunch of Ozzies, messrs Rittson, Arnot, Roberts and Hogan.
0930 7054,6563 loads
1040 6907,6565 empties
1110 6613,6555 loads
1200 6954,7067 light engines to mines
1220 6573,6759 loads
1400 6555,7054 light engine to mines
1540 6995,7058 loads
1700 6573,6759 empties

3rd Feb (-23 to -6 and windy)
Depot – QJs 7054, 6563, 6944, 6946, 6907, 6827
Fuxincheng loops
1000 6945,6944 light engine to mines
1020 6555,7067 loads
1250 6565,7054 light engine to mines
1450 6827,7067 empties
1510 7058,6573 loads
1510 6827,7067 65 empties
1630 6565,6995 loads
After dinner as guests of the Ozzies we did a spot of night photography on Zungheer depot which was well illuminated and there was no objection by depot staff.

4th Feb (-20 to -8)
Again spent the morning at Fuxincheng – chatting quietly with the Ozzies and all set up for a shot when Bernd Seiler and 20 or so people descend. Bernd did his best to control them with a train whistle but special mention must go to the manic Swiss man in a white jacket who ran in and out of everybody's pictures and then the German gorilla (1.9m and 100kgs) who stood 20cm (yes 20cm) in front of Dennis Rittson and myself and when we objected uttered the immortal line “do you want to fight with me?” Can I just say to him – whoever you are – you are a credit to your country.
0900 6555,6613 empties
6759, 6573 light engine to mines
In view of the melee we decided to retire to Zungheer for lunch and hence on to Hohot for an overnight in the newly commissioned Holiday Inn.

5th Feb
Caught the A272, 1110, Hohot to Tongliao diesel as far as Jinpeng which was reached at 2200 and at a temperature of -23. I dread to think how much alcohol disappeared down the necks of 4 Ozzies and 2 Brits but the journey flew by. 

5th to 8th February
Stayed in the new hotel in Reshui and had the company of Brits, Americans, Japs, French and Dutch – good company too.
Three days on the pass were quite busy and there’s nothing new to report really – weather variable and windy on 2 of 3 days and temperature varied from -24 at dawn to -6 at noon.

Drove to Chifeng on the evening of the 8th and it only took 2 hours and 50 mins.

9th Feb (-20 to 0)
After a night in the Chifeng Hotel
JS8246, mixed at 0715
JS6544 & 8246 Yunbaoshan station
JS6245, 8216, 8218 on depot
JS8249 missed going up branch! Second time we missed this
JS6245 (footplated it from Majiawan to Yunbaoshan CNR

Drove to Jinzhou via Chaoyang and with the new expressway it took just 3 hours and 45 mins.

10th Feb (-13 to +2)
The day was spent on the Nanpiao system (thanks again to Louis Cerny for his fantastic maps). A few general comments – the system is reminiscent of the South Wales valleys in places and also works on the same basis in that there are 5 major deep mines but just two major washeries at Weizigou and Zaojiatun. The passenger timetable has already been published by Rob and others and is correct except there are not parallel departures at 1500 – they are in fact 5 minutes apart. There are coal trains up both branches morning and afternoon and traffic may be busier on one line or the other if one washery is out of action. In addition there are 3-4 trips from Xiamiaozi to the new local power station each day – these were propelled by the systems aged diseasel when we were there. The driving time from downtown Jinzhou to Bajita is 20-30 minutes so for those who don’t want the Nanpiao Hilton, stay in Jinzhou.
In terms of the day we saw the following:-
0730-0900 SY1299 passenger at Linhe and Linhe viaduct
0930-1100 SY0638, SY1092, BJ3241 shuttling around Zaojiatun
1115-1145 SY1478, SY0366, SY1017, SY1299, SY0973 – on Xiamiaozi stabling point and in the workshops 500 yards south of here
1200 DF4 arriving ex-Jinzhou with CNR empties
1330 SY1092 shunting Weizigou
1430 SY1478 dep Xiamiaozi to Sanjiazi
1510 SY0366 passenger at Weizigou and all the way to Sanjiazi
1600 SY1478 leaving Sanjiazi with freight
There is an excellent restaurant called literally “The Red Building” on the other side of the river to Xiamiaozi station. The Nanpiao colliery system is in decline and it is the smallest “colliery bureau” in Liaoning province with an output from all five deep mines of less than 2 million tonnes per annum (how much less nobody would say). It is however really brilliant and quite a charming system.

11th Feb (-13 to +4)
0730 SY1299 at Choupigou passenger
0900-1100 BJ3241 and SY0368 around Zaojiatun
1215 BJ3241 propelling to power plant
1430 SY1092 and 1299 top and tailing 15 empties to Weizigou – awesome sight
the banker was dropped off at the summit 5km from Xiamiaozi
1600 SY1092 shunting Weizigou
SY1299 passenger at Weizigou
1630 SY0638 loads at Xiamiaozi

12th Feb (-5 to +5, sunny)
The day was spent on the Huludao-Yangzhangzi limestone railway which again is just brilliant – it was almost designed for railway photographers.
The shed at Huludao is in the shadow of the Bohai cement plant and contained SY1415, 1514 and JS6305, 6307, 8207. The line is visible throughout most of its length from a good modern road. Train leave Huludao at 0900 and 1300. The trip along the line takes 70 minutes to Yangzhangzi where the locomotive reverses for a short trip to the limestone quarry and crushing plant. Trains return from here to Huludao at 1100 and 1530 and generally timekeeping is good.
We saw JS6243 at Yangzhangzi and had the pleasure of seeing it stall on the way up to the summit (again may I commend the maps by Louis Cerny – they are very accurate) and then JS6307 on the afternoon trip. I hope to include some pics for Rob in the next few days but it really is a great 1 day visit for any photographers/video guys and fits in very well with Nanpiao.

We then drove to Shenyang overnighted and departed on 13th for Tiefa.

13th Feb (-5 to +5, rain and wet snow, howling gale)
Well we parked at the north end of the tunnel on the Faku branch which is a great location and the weather was atrocious – between 1030 and 1215 we saw three trains of empties heading for the mines beyond Faku with 57, 37 and 33 wagons in tow. There seems to be increased traffic on the branch since the new mines beyond Faku have come on stream. It was just too grim to get out of the bus so we retired for lunch and a bit of photography in the snow and then at night around Tiefa station.

14th Feb (-5 - +10, sunny)
Spent the morning around Daqing and were horrified to find the Faku emties run past at 0900 behind DFH3 2609 and SY1225 behind it doing not a lot on 62 empties. On top of that there was DF5 3187 shunting the yard at Daqing adjacent to the stabling point – the diesels are coming here too.
SYs seen during our visit were 1767, 0665, 1749, 0860, 1758, 1215, 1412, 1183, 1751, 1771, 0435,0393, 1147, 1225, and JS5029
We then drove to Shenyang airport and flew to Beijing for a last night at the Holiday Inn and time enough to buy lots of work shirts for $5 each and Levis for $10 each.

15th Feb
Home on BA038

For me it was a very hectic work week before returning for part two in the excellent company of Steve Le Cheminant, Nigel Harris, Chris Schilling and the most remarkable Mick Thurlby. I say this because he survived with good grace for a 7 day intensive, hard core narrow gauge grice and he isn’t even interested in trains but just wanted to see the “real China” – we have awarded him honorary “Extreme Steam” status!

21st Feb – BA039 to Beijing

22nd Feb
CA4108 to Chengdu and then two and a half hour drive from Chengdu airport to Qianwe.

23rd Feb
Spent 0445 to 0530 on Shibanxi station until taking the 0530 to Bagou – then walked to Huangcunjin after a dumpling breakfast at Bagou market and found the human worked mine railway here has closed. We were told that it may reopen in “2 weeks” under new ownership but the weighbridge has been removed and the track is unusable. There were just three residual employees “guarding” the system.

Because of this there are no separate freights although bricks and pigs are still added to the regular passenger services which run unchanged.

We did visit a mine in the valley below Bagou with 30-40 meters of ng line shunted by humans at Xingda, but there was great consternation about us taking photos. There are 6 or 7 further mines along the dirt road here all with short narrow gauge systems but all the coal is trucked out. Whilst discussing this through the intermediary of our ever enthusiastic guide “Zebedee”, (so named because he insists on showing off by walking on his hands at the age of 54) we were told that there is an as yet undiscovered narrow gauge railway in northern Sichuan at Guangyuan but it is a prison railway. (This was actually reported by Bernd Seiler in late 2000, no-one should attempt to visit without official permission. RD)

Anyway we returned to Yuejin on the teatime train after a good day up the line

24th Feb (+5-+16)
Again caught the 0530 and had dumplings at Bagou. Walked the line to Xianrejiao, photing the 0900 passenger and settled down for a bit of sun bathing here as well as a local lunch where we helped chase the chosen chicken into the kitchen and saw it slaughtered and also saw our vegetables picked from the lineside plots – to my palate the food was delicious. During this reverie we were rudely interrupted by Vic Allen who had hired a “special” with some English gricers and seeing us having the temerity to point our cameras from the platform at Xianrenjiao, in the direction of his train demanded money with menaces – fortunately Nigel Harris was able to put things in context and peace was established that night in the hotel over a cigar and a whiskey!

Again home to Yuejin on the teatime train which picked up pigs at two stations!

Staff say closure may not be March but maybe May 2004 – if you can go then just do it as this system has a charm that is addictive.

25th Feb
Got up at 0530 for the drive to Weiyuan – almost unbelievably bad roads – worse than the coal road to Dongsheng. Finally got to Weiyuan at 1030 where the daily coal train to the cement plant had been held pending our arrival for a small consideration. We were also treated to a carriage on the back of it with two wicker sofas and an open backed truck from which to chase along the road if we so wished. The line is delightful, running 6km from Huangjingou mine to a cement plant, with a power plant unloading point midway along the line in the middle of the mainline. The system was opened in 1958 as part of the “Great leap forward” and used to own 6 0-8-0s, just one remains operational, with one under repair and three derelict. The line used to progress beyond the cement plant at Nihe to other industries and there is a very striking brick viaduct about 400 yards beyond Nihe cement works – it would have been a great location.

There is also no turning triangle as illustrated by Bernd Seiler but just a spur to the mine loading chutes. The mine used to produce 1.1 million tonnes per annum but now manages just 110,000 tonnes. As for closure – they reckon it will be at least 12 months before closure as it has not yet been discussed with staff and they are sure they will out last Shibanxi.

Again if you get the chance for 2500 yuan (or £35 each for us), the staff are charming helpful, let you round the shed and terminal compound and redo any runpasts where you didn’t get enough steam. I know Rob – its not “real”, but hey with one train per day in the morning, imminent closure and so many good locations why not????

We then drove to Chengdu for an overnight before flying to Harbin.

26th Feb
CA4628, 0715 Chengdu to Harbin – excellent flight – the cabin crew even asked the captain to point out Zhelimu stabling point as we flew over it (no steam there from 35,000 feet!)

Then a 6hr 45min bus ride to Huanan (including a breakdown)

Stayed at the Huanan Hotel

27th Feb (-22 - -6 and deep snow)
Again we had to resort to a charter (the coal railway proper had been off for most of January and all of February and didn’t plan to run again until the second week in March, so having come all this way they had us over a barrel. That said the asking price was reduced to one third of the starting price and the crew of the railbus that ran in front of the train (044 and 5 empties) were fantastic. They did double sell the excursion to us and 2 Japs who were as surprised as we were but after a little negotiation we settled down to an excellent day to Lixin and back with 10 runpasts all chosen (except one) by the crew. This included the railway director, camera in hand who had clearly done this before. Not only did we get a very good day out, but as GW tours were arriving the next day with a group of 40 the line had been especially cleared of snow (3 foot deep in places) for the charter. One certainly can’t complain and whilst I plan a visit with Steve and Vernon at the end of September for autumn colours and real trains, I’m glad to have got my deep midwinter pics all in one day

28th Feb -6 to +4
First an amazing change in temperature, the arrival of a strong wind and flurries of snow.

Second the arrival of GW tours and for me the end of an excellent week as I hitched a ride courtesy of Tim Littler to Harbin on their luxury train and after a short night in the hotel caught the 0800 Harbin Beijing on 29th and the BA038 home.

There is still lots to see in China and certainly there is much not yet discovered if recent web postings are correct. I would very much recommend Nanpiao and Huludao as worthwhile places to visit. I read River at the centre of the World by Simon Winchester during the second trip and he describes loads of steam engines tipping slag in Panzhihua, so maybe that is worth a visit. Shibanxi may be gone by next autumn but Weiyuan is definitely very much worth a visit and whilst Huanan does not have the charm of Weihe or Yabuli, it is very photogenic and staff couldn’t be friendlier.

I am already planning one north and one south trip for later this year!

Rob Dickinson