The International Steam Pages

Steam in China, March 2000

Michael Rhodes reports on his trip to Tonghua and Daan Bei: (see also Adrian Freeeman's report of his Da'an visit at about the same time).

"This was a one week trip designed for two of us who suffer under the delusion that "they can't do without us at work" and with the express aim of catching the very last of China Rail mainline steam at Tonghua and Da'an Bei. Vernon Murphy and I, were also privileged, to be accompanied by Li Weishu on his last China trip before he and his family emigrated (just 5 days later) to Canada.

4th March 2000

BA039, cattle class but food and comfort levels good

5th March 2000

17.37 Beijing-Tonghua sleeper (pretty clean really)

6th March 2000

Sunny but a bit windy. Temperature at dawn -6. Temperature at noon 0
Arrival at Tonghua at 11.45
12.20        JS5761         ft4530 Hunjiang-Tonghua (arriving Tonghua)
12.30        JS8158         ft4463 Tonghua-Hunjiang (leaving Tonghua)
Tonghua Dong 13.00-13.30
Pilot         JS 8211

1625        JS5858         ft to Daoqing
1630        JS8155         Tonghua tripper
1700        JS5480         Tonghua-Hunjiang

Picked up the timetable for the line between Tonghua and Tonghua Dong from the crossing on the road about 3km out of Tonghua Dong before the hill up to Tonghua.

I have listed all the trains from the crossing and also denoted passengers with a P and also put in bold those trains which may be steam. This is a very unpredictable science as there are several spare reconditioned DF5 diesels at Tonghua and should there be crews then these will run in the steam turns. The contrast of service levels is very striking as on 7/3/00 we saw just 3 mainline trains with steam as compared to 10 on 8/3/00. Interestingly on the 8th a visit to the depot revealed 4 DF5 locos idling around the turntable and the depot foreman explained that all the crews were not yet passed out on the diesels and hence the idiosynchratic pattern for steam working.

Departures from Tonghua Dong
0010, 0037, 0149, 0331, 0419, 0511, 0554, 0651P, 0706, 0749P, 0829P, 0915P, 0942P, 11.57, 1236, 14.00, 1425P, 1446, 1456, 1511P, 1548P, 1710P, 1749P, 1801, 1815, 1844, 2122P, 2139, 2250, 2327, extras or conditional paths:- 0624, 0747, 1109, 1949

Departures from Tonghua
0115, 0135, 0247, 0302, 0336, 0404, 0449, 0610P, 07.20, 07.33P, 0813P, 0841P, 0856, 10.00, 10.30P, 1123, 1215, 1440, 1530P, 1600, 1616P, 1630, 1651, 1725P, 1740, 1830P, 1934, 2000, 2109P, 2230, 2349, extras or conditional, 2003, 2153, 0800, 1702.

As regards Tonghua shed itself, it still has 20 active JS locos. There are a mixture of at least 2 high deflectored, and an equal split then between non-deflectored (used for shunting) and normal deflectors. This compares with an allocation of 45 JS at the height of steam in 1990 at which time there were also 70 QJs allocated to Meihekou.

The trains that leave Tonghua yard with steam frequently serve destinations such as the steelworks yard at Dong Tonghua, the collieries and sidings at YaYuan and Daoqing or the lightly trafficked branch to Jian. The point of mentioning this, is that many will never get as far as Hunjiang and therefore observations at the popular summit area just west of Daoqing may yield far fewer steam hauled trains that observations nearer to Tonghua.

As for Hunjiang, it keeps to deflectorless pilots employed and there is still a steam turn for the 0800 departure along the Baihe line to a nearby colliery, this however used a DF5 one day on our visit. The turning Y and stabling point at Hunjiang were all but deserted during out visit and held just 2 JS locos.

7th March 2000

Sunny, -14 to 2 degrees at noon
0800        JS5731         Hunjiang to Baihe line
0830        JS6104         yard pilot
0945        JS8234         power station trip
1130        JS5880         depot
1130        JS8231         depot
1200        JS5480         Daoqing-Tonghua
1220        JS5485         Tonghua-Daoqing
diesels ALL afternoon inspite of brilliant sun!!!
1700        JS5751         tender first, Tonghua-Dong Tonghua

8th March 2000

Sunny (mostly) and -15 to -5 at noon
Hunjiang - no steam at all at 0730 except for the two JS pilots
Tonghua Dong
0915        SY0311    steelworks pilot
0920        SY1477    steelworks pilot
0930        JS5480 & JS5858     double headed freight from Tonghua
0935        JS5855         passenger from Jian branch to Tonghua
1145        JS5751         Daoqing-Tonghua, shunting yard
1150        JS8158         Tonghua-Hunjiang
Dong Tonghua
1320        JS5855         Tonghua-Dong Tonghua
Tonghua depot
1400        JS8201         Tonghua town-Tonghua
On shed
8211, 8232, 6315, 6306, 6557
Withdrawn:- 5771, 6037, 5678, 5413, 6103, 5691, 5663
Tipped off that both freight and 1530 passenger were rostered for steam so off to summit.
1605        JS5751         Tonghua-Hunjiang freight
1640        JS6366         Tonghua-Hunjiang passenger

The dreadful 2147 sleeper to Changchun was then taken after a good dinner. It arrived in Tonghua behind JS5751! Things went downhill from there and I spent the night on a freezing top bunk with a fat Chinese gentleman coughing and gobbing all over me from the other side - an experience I don't want to repeat and the cause of a nasty chest infection!

Anyway, once in Changchun on 9/3/00, we took a car to Da'an Bei. It should have been a 3 hour drive but turned out to be longer due to a puncture along the way.

9th March 2000

-12 to -2 sunny but strong northerly wind
Da'an Bei is just a great place - really the last fully functional steam oasis on China Rail. The depot has 56 active steam locos, made of 47 QJs and 9 JSs. Nine DF4s arrived at the end of last year and another nine are due in May of this year. The shed foreman envisages the next nine DF4s will have a big impact on steam working and that the depot will close completely by August 2001, when the mainline from Harbin to Beijing is electrified. This will free up hundreds of DF4 locomotives which will be cascaded to all corners of the China Rail network and maybe also to other areas such as the Jinpeng pass (food for thought).

Anyway, the pattern of working at Da'an Bei is that all freights and nearly all passenger trains change engines there. The heavy freight flow is along the line from Ranghulu to Taipingchuan/Tongliao. This is because this is used as a distribution route for oil from the Daqing oil field which is one of the biggest in China. The freight flows to Baicheng and Changchun are much lighter with 2-3 trains per day on each of these routes. On our first day we saw no fewer than 19 mainline trains hauled by steam between 1130 and 1700! Admittedly the next two days were not quite so busy, but this is steam heaven (at least for the next couple of months).

The station itself has an 8 track hump yard with a JS hump pilot and six lengthy freight lines where through freights change engines. There is the bonus of a wonderful overbridge at the west of the station and a crossing at the east - certainly I would recommend anybody who likes non-stop steam action to get to Da'an in the next nine months or so.

0930        JS6906         freight near Qianguo bound for Changchun
1130        JS6481         Da'an Bei hump pilot
1135        JS6239         Da'an Bei yard pilot
1140        DF3         ex-Baicheng
1145        QJ3115    tanks ex-Tongliao
1150        QJ6887    light ex-shed
1155        QJ?          Freight to Changchun
1203        DF4 3315    freight ex-Ranghulu
1210        QJ6887    freight to Ranghulu
1220        QJ6825    light off shed
1225        QJ6361    light off shed

QJ6368, QJ2749, QJ6435, JS6237, QJ6112, QJ6886, DF4 2162

1240        QJ6112    passenger ex-Ranghulu
1250        QJ6361    tanks to Ranghulu
1330        QJ6112    passenger to Ranghulu
1410        QJ3251    freight ex-Tongliao
1420        QJ6838    freight to Tongliao
1450        QJ6086    freight ex-Tongliao
1500        JS6481     humping
1512        QJ7119    tanks to Tongliao
1525        QJ6571    freight to Tongliao
1540        QJ6886    tanks to Ranghulu
1612        QJ6891    tanks ex-Tongliao
1616        QJ3251    tanks to Tongliao

1630        QJ6086    on shed

1645        QJ6554    tanks to Ranghulu
1650        JS6096     freight ex-Changchun
1655        QJ6143    light ex-Tongliao
1700        JS6481     light to Qiqihar for repair (no big repairs done at Da'an)

What a day!

10th March 2000

Sunny with very strong northerly wind, which blew up a dust storm in middle of day, temps -10 to 0 at noon

0710        QJ6280    freight to Changchun
0720        QJ6086    light off shed
0715        QJ6924    tanks to Ranghulu
0720        QJ6361    light to shed
0720        QJ6891    freight to Ranghulu
0722        JS8045     passenger to Baicheng
0750        QJ6086    freight to Tongliao


Songhe River Bridge (5km out of Da'an)
0915        QJ?         16 coach passenger towards Ranghulu
0940        QJ?         Tanks ex-Ranghulu

Jianmen (15km from Da'an)
1045        QJ6805    freight ex-Ranghulu
1100        QJ6361    freight to Ranghulu
1150        QJ6112    Ranghulu-Da'an local passenger
next two trains DF4 hauled

Songhe River bridge
1300        QJ?         Freight to Ranghulu

Da'an Bei
1455        QJ7086    tanks to Tongliao
1455        JS6096     humping
1540        QJ6282    oil ex-Tongliao
1540        QJ6484    freight ex-Changchun
1545        QJ3115    freight ex-Ranghulu
1610        QJ6368    tanks ex-Tongliao
1620        QJ3268    freight to Tongliao
1650        QJ6888    Harbin Dong-Ulanhot passenger

11th March 2000

Sunny, still strong northerly wind, -8 to plus 4, ice beginning to melt

0920        QJ6112    Dalian-Qiqihar express
0930        QJ6773    light to shed

Depot visit (impromtu)
QJ6379, QJ…., DF4 , three locos on shed but slung out before could get the second QJ's number!
QJ6281, Qianguo-Da'an trip freight (1100)

The traffic levels on Saturday 11th were well below 50% of the previous days and we therefore retired to Changchun and a good hotel for a wash and brush up, a decent meal and a good sleep before the morning flight on 12th to Beijing before taking BA039 back to London. Certainly Tonghua is a risky place to visit as there are enough diesels around to finish the steam tomorrow if their were enough crews trained. As for Da'an Bei - I'm sure several others will go here this year and if our experiences are anything to go by, they won't be disappointed!

Rob Dickinson