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
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
Departures from Tonghua
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
8th March 2000
Sunny (mostly) and -15 to -5 at noon
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
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.
1630 QJ6086 on shed
tanks to Ranghulu
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
Songhe River Bridge (5km out of
Jianmen (15km from Da'an)
Songhe River bridge
11th March 2000
Sunny, still strong northerly wind, -8 to plus 4, ice beginning to melt
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!