The International Steam Pages

Steam in China, January 2000

Duncan Cotterill reports on his latest China trip between 11th and 23rd January 2000


Flights from London to Beijing and return with British Airways were booked through Regent Holidays of Bristol (Tel: 0117 921 1711, Fax: 0117 925 4866, e-mail: Arrangements within China were made through Sun Xiaolan of China Liaoning Steam Locomotive Photography Association who also acted as our guide.

Beijing - Xi'an - Tongchuan (11-12 Jan)

We travelled on train K75, the 15:10 Beijing to Lanzhou express, hauled out of Beijing by an SS8 electric. The only steam seen en route was on shed at Anyang. In the dark it wasn't possible to tell whether it was a QJ or a JS but it was in steam. There was also a dumped QJ at Xinfengzhen. Arrival at Xi'an was 90 minutes late due to snow and thick fog en route. From Xi'an to Tongchuan, we travelled by road taking less than 2 hours in spite of the poor visibility in the Xi'an area.

Tongchuan Mining Administration (12-16 Jan)

What a wonderful, yet totally frustrating railway. I thought I'd seem my last JF on line work many years ago and was resigned to having just a few shed or shunting shots in my collection. The re-discovery of the Tongchuan system seemed too good to be true and to some extent that proved to be correct. It was good to see the old mikados alive, well and hard at work but frustrating not to get any shots in good weather. In almost 5 days on the line we only managed to photograph 3 chimney first uphill workings and they ran in appallingly dull light. Snow made travelling difficult on the steep and twisty roads leading over the hills from Tongchuan towards Hongtu. On our first day we travelled by road to Qiaoziliang but spent much of the journey pushing the cars up the hill! A minibus equipped with chains made the travelling a bit easier on subsequent days.

Scenically, the line is excellent, running through hilly terrain with steep gradients. Several locations on the Tongchuan side resemble the best of the upper section of the climb out of Chengde on the steelworks branch. Beyond the summit at Qiaoziliang the landscape is more open but equally photogenic. Locomotives are worked hard and fast on both empties and loaded trains.

A total of 6 JF were seen, out of 8 thought to be based on the line. All were in steam, and 5 were actually seen working trains. A 7th JF was at Meijiaping (see below). Both diesels were working and were actually seen in use at the same time on 15 Jan when one worked a Dongpo turn while the other worked 2 trips to Wangshiwa. Railway staff reported that 2 new diesels were expected to arrive shortly, not brand new DF7B from Feb 7th works as had previously been rumoured but second hand "shunting" locos ex Beijing Bureau. They didn't know what type but thought the locos were fairly old (early DF7?).

Traffic levels were erratic to say the least with most trains running at night (8 or 9 return workings most nights). On alternate days, very little ran in daylight. On the busy days, about 5 return workings would run in daylight but the combination of diesels and tender first workings minimised the photo opportunities. Staff indicated that traffic was much less than usual at this time of year due to a slump in the demand for coal and as a result they were on reduced pay.

One banked train from Hongtu to Qiaoziliang was seen and a couple of others arriving Tongchuan early morning were heavy enough to have required assistance out of Hongtu. A so-called passenger train ran to Hongtu or Dongpo every morning. This consisted of a caboose attached to a train of empties or hauled on it's own when no empties were available. On one occasion it was a light diesel with the passengers crammed into the cab or freezing on the rear platform.

The appeal of JFs on line work in the year 2000 was irresistible, particularly with the locos being worked hard over a steeply graded line through excellent scenery. Hopefully there will be another chance to photograph the line in decent light but there seems to be a real risk the JF will be displaced by diesels before the opportunity arises.

Locos: JF 2113, 2182, 2368, 2369, 2371, 4025.

Around Tongchuan

Three CNR QJ appeared to be based at Tongchuan for shunting and local trip work. All had Zhengzhou Bureau, Xian Sub markings on the tenders. One loco, although in steam was not seen to move at all during our visit. Possibly a standby machine. When not in use, the QJ (and JF) were stabled on the east side of the line at the south end of Tongchuan Nan station. Servicing of both classes was carried out at the loco depot on the east side of the line a short distance to the south but locos returned to the station area to be stabled. The depot was also used for servicing and stabling the DF4/4B used on CNR freights.

Locos: QJ 6532, 6550, 6552.

Our driver said he remembered seeing small steam locomotives at a cement works just south of Tongchuan. We checked it out but only found 2'6" gauge diesels. Staff said the operation had dieselised 6 months earlier but the lack of dumped locos or other steam infrastructure indicated steam may have finished a lot earlier.

We made one visit to Meijiaping works. This site gives the impression of working well below capacity with only 2 locos receiving overhauls in the extensive shops, SY 0369 and DF4 3978. Another 2 locos were in steam, QJ 6650, thought to be works pilot and JF 2365 from the Tongchuan system. QJ 3216 was in the main depot area minus one of its con rods. In spite of this it appeared to be stopped for repairs rather than withdrawn. Neither QJ carried the 4 character depot code on the tender so are assumed not to be in CNR stock. Elsewhere on site several other locos lay around in various states of dismemberment. There appeared to be extensive cannibalisation of withdrawn locos to keep their classmates in service. QJ 6594 and 6651 looked to be virtually intact but shared sidings at the edge of the site with well cannibalised hulks so are assumed to be withdrawn.

Locos: JF 2365, QJ 3216, 6650

Dumped: JF 2151, 2456 (tender only), 4027, QJ 2239, 2479, 3326, 6594, 6651 plus at least 1 unidentifiable QJ.

Xi'an to Baotou (16-17 Jan)

This journey served to demonstrate just how little steam operation remains on CNR. Only one loco was seen in steam during the entire 26 hour, 1440 km marathon and that was in industrial service.

We travelled on train 476/473 at 14:20 from Xi'an. SS1 1151 was in charge to Huashan where a pair of BJ took over for the run to Taiyuan. Taiyuan's DF4 0630 took us to Datong where it was replaced by an orange livery DF4B to Hohohot where a green DF4B took over for the final leg to Baotou.

QJ 6591, 6595 were cold on shed at Xinfengzhen but appeared to be complete. There were probably a number of dumped locos at Houma but nothing that could be positively identified in the dark. The next steam loco seen was QJ 3037 in steam at what appeared to be a steelworks at Gudian, just north of Datong. QJ 332 or 322 (we couldn't agree on the number) was also dumped on the premises. The only other steam loco seen was a dead SY 0934 on shed at Hohohot.

Locos: QJ 322/332, 3037, 6591, 6595, SY 0934

Bao-Shen Line: Baotou-Dongsheng-Daliuta (18-20 Jan)

This independent operation remains 100% QJ worked with approx 3 coal trains or empties each way in daylight plus the Baotou-Shenmu Bei-Baotou and Hohohot-Dongsheng-Hohohot passengers. There should also be a Dongsheng-Daliuta-Dongsheng passenger but it ran in darkness both ways and wasn't seen. Most, though not all, loaded trains seen at Aobaogou were double headed and took a banker (tender first) up the hill from Shashagetai to Dongsheng. In spite of recent comments, the trains we saw were worked hard on this section.

The 3 days we spent on the line were blessed with brilliantly clear light, sub zero temperatures and voluminous exhausts.

Locos: QJ 1611, 1891, 1969, 2586, 2670, 2938, 2977, 3162, 6017, 6018, 6194, 6247, 6249, 6289, 6348, 6711, 7044.

QJ 1891, 1969 were high deflector machines. QJ 3162 had an 8 wheel tender, all others had 12 wheel tenders.

CNR Around Baotou

Bad weather dissuaded us from spending long on the Shiguai line but we did see JS 8320 on the morning passenger on 21 Jan. JS 8321 was Wanshuiquan pilot on 22 Jan and another JS was seen double heading a deflectorless QJ at the same location later in the day. None of the circle line passengers were seen so we were unable to confirm whether 941 & 943 remain JS worked.

All other traffic seen in the Baotou area was diesel worked by DF4B (Hohohot depot codes) and DF4C (Baotou depot codes). A number of DF5 were seen on shunting turns.

Locos: JS 8320, 8321.

Baotou to Beijing (22-23 Jan)

Due to heavy demands for travel in the run up to the spring festival we were unable to get sleepers on our preferred trains, 542/543 or 358/355, so had to travel on the earlier 484/481 leaving Baotou Dong at 14:05. DF4 7058 was in charge leaving Baotou. Loco changes took place at Hohohot and Datong. The journey was largely in darkness and no steam was seen apart from the dumped SL at Hohohot.

Rob Dickinson