The International Steam Pages
Steam in China, November 1999
Adrian Freeman reports a successful trip to Xihe, Anshan, Tonghua, Tiefa & Jingpeng, November 1999:
This is a summary of the visit made by a small group to the above areas. The trip was organised and led by John Tickner, with land arrangements and guide services provided by the reliable and ever buoyant Mrs Sun. Intended to incorporate industrial and landscape photographic opportunities, the arrangements originally included local and industrial operations only on the pessimistic assumption that there could have been little steam activity left on China Rail by the time of this visit. Tonghua was a late addition and amazed the group by the level of steam activity surviving. All in all the trip was regarded as very successful by the participants with good levels of steam activity in all areas visited. Somewhat less welcome, however, were the increasingly frequent demands by 'leather jackets' for money for 'permission' to visit and photograph steam at various places visited.
Sunday 14th November 1999: Dahuichang
Arrival at the new terminal of Beijing airport on flight BA39. Apparently rain a day or so earlier had cleared the air and we were greeted with blue skies and warm temperatures. Since we were not catching a train until late evening, the obligatory visit to the narrow gauge Dahuichang Limestone Railway followed. On the standard gauge nearby, SY 251 was in light steam with YJ 287 out of use in a dilapidated shed with, rather alarmingly, what appeared to be pieces of blue asbestos blowing around. Narrow gauge trains commenced running punctually with the first train of empties departing at 1400 and frequent workings were observed until our departure after the light had faded at around 1700. Nos. 2 and 4 were the working engines.
Back in Beijing new non-articulated single decker trolleybuses were seen in addition to the older articulated vehicles on the route near the main station. Our train was the 2234 departure to Qingdao. Brand new soft sleeper coaches with respectable toilets!
Monday 15th November 1999: Xihe
The Qingdao train has been speeded up, so we arrived at our disembarkation point, Zibo, at 0435 and proceeded to the Wan Bo hotel a few hundred metres away on foot. From there it is approx. 45 minutes drive to the metre gauge station at Dakunlun on the Xihe coal railway. As reported elsewhere, this is an excellent operation which uses 0-10-0 tender engines. Empties are taken smokebox first from Dakunlun, the exchange station with the main line to the coal mine at Xihe, roughly four miles distant. For almost all of the journey the locomotive must work against stiff gradients and this invariably necessitates at least one stop for a blow up. As the engines are not turned, the loaded return working is tender first. A fairly new road runs close to the line most of the way from Dakunlun to Xihe, which makes the line easily accessible and train easily chaseable but has the disadvantage from a photographic viewpoint of being rather obtrusive in places. Our first train sighting was a loaded working arriving Dakunlun at approx. 0730, so the empties are presumed to have departed at around 0530. We observed trains of empties at 0820, 1000, 1210, 1450 and 1700. Two engines were seen in use, identifiable to us only by the overhaul dates painted on the back of the tender, 960908 and 97712. These are believed to be numbers 3 and 4 respectively.
Tuesday 16th November 1999: Xihe
A hard frost overnight and still, clear and sunny conditions for most of the day meant optimal weather conditions for photography, the only snag being that the cold emphasised the number of steam leaks on the engines, no. 4 being particularly bad. Uphill workings seen today were at 0810, 0945, 1150 and 1400. After two days of clear and mostly sunny weather, the conditions started to deteriorate at approx. 1500 and at 1600 we departed in the murk for Zibo and a restaurant before boarding the 1829 to Shenyang.
Wednesday 17th November 1999: Anshan
This was our only train journey which involved any daylight travel, arrival in Shenyang being at 1119. Steam was observed from our coach window at Jinxi (one clean, dead, SY), Dahushan (four QJs in steam), and, on the outskirts of Shenyang, JS, SY and several QJs in what appeared to be a scrap line, with one QJ in steam nearby.
It had snowed in Shenyang a couple of days earlier and although clearing was in progress, much of the streets were covered in a layer of compacted snow and ice, making our progress in the minibus to the motorway for Anshan rather slow. The motorway itself had been cleared, but conditions were even worse in Anshan. We had to drive past the steelworks entrance and through the city centre to pick up our steelworks security guard from the hotel where we would be spending the night, the 'Dong Shan at Angang'. Gangs of children just out of school were out in the traffic in the middle of the roads breaking up the ice with picks and shovels. Our security guard was required at the steelworks to help locate two foreign visitors who had disappeared out of bounds in the complex, so it wasn't possible to make the planned visit to see any slag tipping that afternoon. Instead, the opportunity was taken to get some tram shots, before enjoying an excellent meal in the 'Familiar Place' restaurant near our hotel. In the evening a round trip of the tram 'system' (i.e. the one route) was made, much to the bewilderment of the lady driver and conductor. End to end journey time with quiet roads was just short of an hour.
Thursday 18th November 1999: Anshan
Clear sunny weather with the snow progressively melting. We were informed that the steelworks now only permits visits to the area around the coaling and watering point (from the yellow buildings by the engine servicing facilities to the grey building beyond the pipe bridge further away from the blast furnaces). The slag tipping areas, the loco repair/running shed and the area by blast furnace no. 6 (?) (where visitors used to walk past to get to the engine servicing area) are all out of bounds for safety reasons. Apparently a visitor had been injured in the slag tipping area. We were also informed that most steelworks do not now allow visitors at all.
The operation remains very impressive with several decorated/super clean SY in use, along with PL 244 and YJ 290. The following SYs were seen in steam: 0090, 0114, 0115, 0131, 0307, 0433, 0438, 0571, 0838, 0838, 0900, 0902, 1035, 1037, 1038, 1505, 1560. One new diesel was noted in this area and we were told that steam is to be phased out in the next two to three years. This seems crazy given the apparent excellent condition of many of the engines. Lets hope that this timescale is an exaggeration.
Our minibus journey back to Shenyang was much quicker, most of the snow having melted. We passed a colossal new building in the centre of Shenyang - just built for the Security Department! After dining we took the 2145 train to Tonghua.
Friday 19th November 1999: Tonghua - Hunjiang
Arrived Tonghua 0545. We were unable to obtain permission to visit the shed so instead went to the footbridge at the Hunjiang end of the station until moved on by a leather jacket demanding money. JS 8155 (no deflectors) was shunting and a freight arrived behind JS 6485 at 0640. We were amazed to see an unidentified high deflector JS arrive with a passenger train at 0711. This, we were told was a short working, train no. 792 from the station beyond Dongtonghua (the name of which I failed to note) where it departs at 0638, and is scheduled to arrive Tonghua 0701. The return working should be train no. 791 which departs Tonghua 1725 and arrives 1749 but there is the possibility that it continues to Guosong on the Ji'an line. As we were not in this area at that time (and with sunset at approx. 1600 it would have been in complete darkness), we never saw this working.
A cloudy and dull start to the day gave way to sun by late morning.
Workings observed today (wb = from Hunjiang direction, eb = towards Hunjiang):
* high deflectors
0640 wb freight
JS ? Tonghua
We then went to Hunjiang and observed
The 0723 passenger departure from Hunjiang (with destination boards on the carriages) was a Baihe to Shenyang train which was diesel hauled as far as Hunjiang. The 1543 Hunjiang to Songshuzhen passenger headed north-east out of the station and was a viable 'red ball' shot at this time of year.
Whilst at Dongtonghua, the following SY were seen on the steelworks branch: 0065, 0534, 1362.
The stabling point at Hunjiang was located approx. 1 km from the station towards Tonghua. Facilities were minimal with engine turning presumed to be done on a wye. JS 5383 was dead at the stabling point, and a solitary JS was in steam.
Hotel for the night was the Baishan City Hotel, (Baishan being the name Hunjiang prefers to call itself). If staying here, the hotel guide is recommended reading.
Saturday 20th November 1999: Tonghua - Hunjiang
The 'classic' shot at Hunjiang is a morning north-east departure crossing the bridge over the river Hunjiang. After an early session at the level crossing between the stabling point and the station, during which time a freight arrival was observed from the Tonghua direction at 0630, we went to this bridge for the 0833 departure and then took the old road in the direction of Guyuan.
There are several tiny mines on the old road near Guyuan with narrow gauge wagonways. Two of these fascinating operations were duly griced before returning to Hunjiang.
1550 wb freight JS ?
Hunjiang (train 3716 1432
Wangou - Hunjiang)
Sunday 21st November 1999: Tonghua - Hunjiang
A slightly leaner day with less traffic and two anticipated steam workings diesel.
0725 wb pass JS 6315 Hunjiang (train 808 0723 Hunjiang - Tonghua)
Having climbed the hill by the river for the 0833 Hunjiang - Songshuzhen freight, it scandalously departed at 0810 behind a DF5.
Three days of observations are hardly enough to get an full and accurate picture of normal workings, but we saw steam handling the majority of freight working between Tonghua and Hunjiang. In addition to the through trains, there were also short workings from Tonghua to Dongtonghua, for the steelworks and possibly for some of the mines en-route to Hunjiang. Levels of activity seemed highest in the morning and early afternoon, although we doubtless missed some workings later in the afternoon as we returned to Hunjiang to see the 1543 passenger. Diesels put in random appearances on the freight workings. At Hunjiang, it is believed that approx. four workings are made in daylight hours to the power station. How many head north-east out of Hunjiang we can't say as there was a large gap in our observations between 0900 and 1500.
After the 1543 passenger departure from Hunjiang, we headed back to Tonghua by minibus to take the 1902 departure to Shenyang. At Meihekou, where the train did a reversal, two unidentified steam engines were heard in motion.
Monday 22nd November 1999: Tiefa (Daqing Coal Company)
After a fully revitalising night's sleep, we were woken at 0150 by the carriage attendant in advance of our disembarkation at Shenyang at 0230. Weather incredibly mild. Driven to Tiefa/Diaobingshan where we dined prior to visiting the station, which is at the hub of this industrial operation. We spent roughly an hour at the station before moving on. The lines at the station run roughly north-south, but in the overall scheme of things the line in this area is east-west. Observations here as follows:
0615 eb pass SY 1183
(decorated engine; train in station when we
arrived. Departed 0635)
It is believed that (contrary to Quail) there may be five lines radiating from Tiefa, four of which with SY hauled passenger services. The passenger services operated were well patronised and did not seem to be solely for the use of miners (or maybe Tiefa has some of the smartest dressed miners around). The town itself looked quite prosperous and not what one might expect of a mining area. After leaving the station, we located the stabling point at Daqing which, not unusually, comprised a minimum of facilities, with no under cover accommodation. An overhead gantry and two steam cranes were available for coaling. On the stabling point were the following SY, all in steam: 0393, 0665, 0979, 1147, 1255, 1683, 1764, 1767, 1770 and 1771. Whilst we were there, 1769 passed heading east with a train of hopper wagons. It was good to see 1769 and 1770, which I had last seen at Tangshan Works in March 1997 in primer, but better still was the sight of 1771 proudly bearing its September 1999 builders plates! In a yard to the east of the stabling point, JS 8242 was busy shunting.
The landscape in this area is pretty flat, but the line which goes west to Faku and Dongqantun goes through some hillier landscape, and passes a large lake. We headed out there, and whilst doing so saw a doubleheaded empty coal train heading in the Faku direction at about 1045. On the stretch of line that we saw there was a summit in a short tunnel, then the line fell, quite steeply in places as it headed west. Over a three and a half hour spell near the lake, our observations were confined to the following:
1145 wb pass SY 0435 (believed to be train 407, 1130 Daiobingshan - Faku - Dungqantun)
Needless to say, considerable further investigations would be necessary to work out the pattern of operations and the geography of the roads and lines of this system. Hopefully, the acquisition of new SYs will mean steam here for several years to come, and hence the opportunity in future for such investigations.
At 1430 we set off in the minibus for Shenyang. On the outskirts of Shenyang two QJs were seen in steam at a yard. Took the 1844 to Chifeng from the old station in Shenyang. The journey was via Fuxin, and it was here that one of our group disembarked, preferring the industrial flavour of this area to the agoraphobic conditions of the 'Ping pong' line.
Tuesday 23rd November 1999: Reshui/Jingpeng
Our arrival in Chifeng was at 0640 in clear warm weather, and from there to the Post House Hotel in Reshui by minibus, arriving 1100. We then spent six days here, leaving at lunchtime on Monday 29th November.
During the early afternoon the temperature was so high that there was no visible exhaust from the climbing engines. It clouded over later and the temperature started falling.
Wednesday 24th November 1999: Reshui/Jingpeng
It snowed overnight and was still doing so most of the morning.
0830 wb LE QJs 6358+7041 Reshui
Thursday 25th November 1999: Reshui/Jingpeng
Grey start, but cold and sunny for the rest of the day. -12°C in the early afternoon and strong south-westerly winds.
0740 eb QJs 6639+6687 Brickworks
Friday 26th November 1999: Reshui/Jingpeng
Grey start again, brightening up before cloud from the west moves in from the west. The wind seemed stronger than yesterday making it bitterly cold.
0910 eb QJs 6110+7012 Tunnel 2
Saturday 27th November 1999: Reshui/Jingpeng
Cloud, murk and some watery sun. Not quite as cold but just as windy.
0850 wb QJs 6274+6687 Brickworks
Sunday 28th November 1999: Reshui/Jingpeng
Bright and sunny, it seemed less windy on the eastbound climb side than the westbound climb.
0710 wb QJs 6388+6389 Tunnel 5
Monday 29th November 1999 Reshui/Jingpeng
Bright and sunny, still windy.
0750 eb QJs 6638+7137 Shangdian
Whilst it was nice to get snow and sun at Jingpeng, the strong winds certainly made photography difficult, particularly so as the wind held up in the same direction for several days. This meant a small number of locations almost being done to death whilst many others were just not possible. Although not entirely accurate, it was felt that the forecast workings obtainable from Shangdian station were more useful than trying pot luck.
Departed Reshui in the minibus at 1325 bound for Chifeng. After a hearty meal adjacent to the station, took the 2031 to Beijing Bei.
Tuesday 30th November 1999
Arrived at Beijing Bei 0628. This is a lovely small old station with loads of character, and an interesting approach down a narrow street. Only disadvantage was the long walk with the luggage down this approach to get to the pick-up point. Very much warmer in Beijing and beautifully clear. After a sprucing up and breakfast at a hotel by the airport, we took flight BA38 to Heathrow.
After two and a half weeks away, it was nice to be back in the UK. One of our group travelling on to Manchester was faced with riots at Euston causing the station to be closed, and three of us hoping to travel from Kings Cross to Leeds found the 1850 and 1930 trains cancelled and wires down on the ECML, resulting in over three hours delay. Welcome home!