The International Steam Pages
Steam in China, February/March 2000
Adrian Freeman reports on his Da'an Diversion - see also Michael Rhodes' report.
I travelled to China in February with Duncan Cotterill's group (see his report) but instead of spending seven days in the Jinpgeng area, I decided to move on after two days, and meet up with the group later on the way to Weihe. Da'an Bei was reputed to be very steamy, and since China Rail steam is becoming very scarce, a visit was deemed as a higher priority than Jinpeng, which hopefully will have steam for another couple of years at least. Having spent four days at Da'an Bei, I can confirm this reputation to be true. On the full days I spent here, I saw an average of 20 steam hauled freight and passenger trains each day.
Da'an Bei is located on the 'crossroads' of a line which runs south from Ranghulu, on the Harbin — Qiqihar main line, to Taipingchuan and Tongliao, and a line which runs from Changchun to Baicheng, which feeds in from the south-east at a point north of the station and heads west beyond a road bridge south of the station. A small but busy yard, with hump, allows trains to be remarshalled if required before onward movement. The shed is to the north of the station on the west side of the Ranghulu line just beyond the point at which the Changchun line diverges. I had hoped that the running lines in the shed would have been roughly east - west, which would have given the opportunity for morning/evening glint shots but this was not the case. Engines are turned on a wye. A double track access permits simultaneous movements of engines on and off shed.
The area has largely been ignored by enthusiasts on account of its utter flatness. A bypass around the south of Da'an Bei with bridge over the railway provides the only elevated viewpoint. A long box girder bridge takes the line across the Songhe river approx. 4km to the north of Da'an Bei towards Ranghulu, but this is guarded at each end and photography of the bridge is not permitted. A level crossing to the north of the station, now confined to pedestrians and bicycles since the opening of the bypass, provides a good (albeit not very scenic) vantage point for viewing the action.
As far as I know there is only one - the Da'an City Hotel. It cost me 175 Yuan per night. Take the road from Da'an Bei to Da'an. In Da'an turn left by the building with large clock tower. The hotel is approx 500 metres down this road, on the right. Bus numbers 3 and 5 run to/from Da'an Bei. No 3 will take you to the clock tower building, no. 5 will drop you off outside the hotel. Both services are frequent, and cheaper, more comfortable and as quick as the three wheel taxis.
There is a considerable volume of freight running on the Ranghulu — Da'an Bei — Taipingchuan — Tongliao line. The majority of this is QJ hauled on the Ranghulu — Da'an Bei — Taipingchuan section, with DF4s putting in the occasional appearance. Much of this traffic is oil from the Daqing oilfield. In addition, freight on the lines from Da'an Bei to Changchun and Baicheng, although lighter, was almost exclusively QJ. During my stay, there was no regular pattern to the freight activity observed. Every freight changed engines here.
A number of passenger workings are steam to or from Da'an Bei, again all QJ with the exception of the Qianguo — Baicheng, which was seen three times - twice JS, and once QJ. Most trains observed departed very punctually or earlier than the advertised departure times, a fact cost me at least one phot. Some changed engines here, details below.
Daylight passenger trains:
Freight & Passenger
To my surprise, QJ hauled train 952, the 0603 Da'an Bei to Taipingchuan usually runs as a mixed with three passenger coaches tagged on to the back of the train. Maybe the return working (T951, Taipingchuan 1412 - Da'an Bei 2019) is too.
All main line steam work is handled by QJs but three different JS were seen in use (all facing north) as yard pilots - two decorated and deflectorless, the other with high deflectors A further high deflector JS was seen arriving on a trip freight. Because most trains change engines at Da'an Bei, there are considerable numbers of QJ movements on and off shed throughout the day.
In total 40 different working QJs were identified (all full deflector), their external condition varying considerably. It was good to see four decorated QJ with brass numberplates, each decorated slightly differently. These engines were generally kept clean. Some of the other QJs were difficult to identify with the cabside numbers completely worn off and no number on the front. Confusingly, QJ6867 had the number 6825 on a plate above the bufferbeam.
QJs seen working: 3115, 3230, 3251, 3260, 3268, 3287, 6086, 6112, 6156, 6281, 6361, 6367, 6368, 6379, 6435, 6484, 6554, 6571, 6586, 6596, 6773, 6809, 6847, 6848, 6851, 6852, 6867, 6882, 6886, 6887, 6888, 6890, 6891, 6924, 6926, 7081, 7086, 7102, 7104, 7119.
Derelect QJs on Da'an Bei shed: 2749, 6284. Several other derelict QJs were seen stabled round the back, but not investigated.
The four decorated QJs had a motif at the top of the smokebox with Chinese characters around it, a large numberplate with Chinese characters above the bufferbeam, brass cabside numberplates and white painted handrails along the side of the boiler. Motifs as follows:
6484 Chinese flag, wheat sheaf and rising sun,
6809 Olympic games logo of five interlinked circles,
6924 Star and crossed rifles,
6926 Hammer & sickle.
6435, 6851 and 7104 had brass boiler bands.
JS pilots: 6096 (high deflectors), 6239, 6481 (both decorated - China Rail motif, no deflectors).
JS on trip freight: 6237 (high deflectors & brass boiler bands).
JS on T267: 8045 (no deflectors).
Tuesday 29th February 2000: Galadesitai - Daban
Take train 711/714 from Galadesitai to Daban. Hard seat 8 Yuan, motive power QJ7007. Arrive Daban 0800, where I disembark; decorated QJ6631 takes the train onwards. En route, cross freights at Galedesitai (single QJ), Linxi (QJs 6135 & 6375) at 0652 and upon arrival in Daban (6230? & 7041). The town of Daban is situated approx 3 km south-west of the station. Book in to the Balin hotel, which is quite pleasant but somewhat overpriced at 200 Yuan. Back at the station area, which is somewhat uninspiring particularly in harsh sunlight and warm, windy weather, the following observations are made:
Deflectorless QJ2645 is the yard pilot
QJ6878 arrived on wb freight 1110, replaced by QJs 6996 & 7143, dep. 1219
QJ7063 arrived on wb freight 1210, replaced by QJs 7040 & 6351, dep. 1325
QJs 6760 & 6828 arrived on eb freight 1320
QJs 6988 & 7012 arrived on eb freight 1503
On shed, the following QJs were dumped: 2388, 6050, 1760, 2079, 2706, 6732, QJ?
In steam: 6639, 7002, 7007, 7012, 7048.
Back in town, an excellent meal was had in the four lantern restaurant almost opposite the hotel entrance.
Wednesday 1st March 2000: Daban - Tongliao
After a rather uninspiring day yesterday, head for Daban shed for some glint shots before taking the train on to Tongliao. Sun rises at 0640. The alignment of running lines at the shed is well suited to early morning glints, and would be better still a bit later in the year.
In steam on shed are QJs 6356, 6580, 6631, 6638, 6687, 7063. Cost for a shed visit: 200 Yuan.
As yesterday, the passenger arrived behind QJ7007 and departed at 0819 behind QJ6631. The hard seat ticket to Tongliao costs 26 Yuan, which, for anyone who likes pointless statistics, is a reasonable £2 for 358km (224 miles) of QJ haulage.
Trains crossed on the way as follows:
Approx 6 QJs at Chabuga stabling point, all in steam. We have an engine change here, QJ not identified.
At Zhelimu, China Rail is joined for the last 16km to Tongliao. Two light QJs in steam here. Upon arrival at Tongliao at approx. 1600, the QJ detaches itself from the train before I am out of the carriage (scrum participation was never my favourite activity), so its identity remains a mystery.
Most of the landscape from Daban to Tongliao is pretty flat. Hillier terrain is encountered east of Lindong, and again, east of Chabuga.
I stay the night in Tongliao before taking the 0600 train the following morning to Da'an Bei. There is a hotel just across the square from the station, which provides 60 Yuan's worth of hospitality.
Thursday 2nd March 2000: Tongliao - Da'an Bei
Thick fog this morning so can't see whether there is any steam or anything else around as I leave Tongliao on train 703, 0600 to Qiqihar. Hard seat ticket 18 Yuan. Conveniently, pinyin accompanies the Chinese characters on all station nameboards on the way to Da'an Bei. Many of the stations also have attractive ironwork fences and ornamental bushes on the platforms. After an absence of refreshment trolleys on the train to Tongliao, this train is swarming with them, offering such vacuum packed delights as 'Fried and Braised Chicken with Five Sweet Smells', 'Da Yang Roasted Fish Slice', 'Harbin Refined Sausage' and chicken's feet. This, however, is sunflower seed territory and soon the floor is blathered with the husks of these tiny gastronomic delights.
Trains crossed to Taipingchuan
At Taipingchuan decorated JS8233 is shunting. A DF4 arrives on tankers from the south. Two QJs, one derelect, one in steam seen here, also four DF4s and one DFH3.
On to Da'an Bei
Da'an Bei station is situated more to the west than the north of Da'an proper, which is approx. 3km distant. Da'an Bei is a moderate sized settlement, but has no hotel. I take a three wheeler taxi, which barely fits me, rucksack, camera bag, tripod and driver to the Da'an City Hotel. This is quite a smart hotel, but my room is a bit poky. Book in for four nights at 175 Yuan per night.
It's less foggy here, with the sun just managing to break throught the murk, so I venture back to Da'an Bei to locate the shed. It wasn't passed on arrival from the south, so head north, find the level crossing, and get stuck there.
Friday 3rd March 2000: Da'an Bei
(Changchun line now out of sight)
(I'm now walking back towards Da'an Bei hence Changchun line in sight again)
I am invited onto the footplate of the pilot, JS6096, where I spend an hour whilst the engine busily shunts the yard. My doubtlessly incomplete record of observations between watching the crew at work, and showing them postcards and coins details only one train:
Back on the ground
I then walk to the southern end of the station on the road bridge
Without the murk of yesterday, the sun can be seen setting at 1720.
Back at the hotel, I find hot water available at 2130. Had I known that this would be the only time there was any during my stay, I would have made better use of it.
Saturday 4th March 2000: Da'an Bei
Optimistically wondering whether there may still be hot water this morning, I find there's no water at all.
The plan for this morning is to try to get a shot of the 0603 mixed train to Taipingchuan. Head for the road bridge, then walk south to where the Taipingchuan and Baicheng lines diverge. As the train departs before sunrise, the idea is to do a broadside, backlit against the pre-dawn sky to show off its 'mixedness' - this bit of line is quite open and hence suitable. My plan is confounded when the train departs with three passenger coaches but
no freight vehicles.
Observations around the road bridge:
Then hurry to the north end of the station to hopefully phot the Dalian - Qiqihar pass. Don't quite make it in time, but it doesn't matter as a DF4 takes the train out today. Also, the westerly wind which was light at dawn is now ferocious, a strength I've never experienced in China before. It is blowing up dust storms, impairing visibility, and making the 'mild' temperature of around freezing point seem bloody cold. Rather pointlessly, I endure these conditions for an hour and a half before heading back to the hotel.
Re-emerge mid-afternoon and head for the road bridge in readiness for the Harbin Dong - Ulan Hot passenger. The wind has subsided somewhat and JS6481 is busy hump shunting.
Wheras it was quiet yesterday at the southern side of the station at around the time of T548/545, it was a hive of activity today.
Sunday 5th March 2000: Da'an Bei
Make a second attempt to record the 0603 mixed departure, so take a motorised tricycle taxi to the road bridge. Unaccustomed to grades of any kind, it conks out on the incline up to the bridge, so bail out and make my way to the field where I stood yesterday morning. The train is indeed mixed today, but I can't see it as the headshunt which runs parallel with the main lines here is occupied at the critical moment by JS6481 about to push a long rake of wagons over the yard hump. So much for that theory - oh well, there's still tomorrow.
Loitering around the road bridge again, the following activity is observed:
Again, I then hurry to the northern end of the station for the Dalian - Qiqihar pass, but again to no avail as it's DF4.
From the level crossing at the northern end:
Seem to be an awful lot of light engine movements today.
By now the westerly wind has picked up again, so return to the hotel for a couple of hours. I return for the Harbin Dong - Ulan Hot passenger, but the sky clouds over, so go back to the level crossing area.
Cold water's back on at the hotel this evening, but as I arrive back from dining, there's a power cut. It must be bedtime.
Monday 6th March 2000: Da'an Bei - Ranghulu - Harbin
My last morning in Da'an and a final chance to get the 0603 mixed. Succeed - sort of - but the train's too bloody long. An excess of freight vehicles mean the three passenger coaches tagged on the back are out of the picture. Even that shot is a close thing - a minute later and the JS hump shunting would have been in the way again. Then head for the shed - surely something can be done in the early morning light, but the answer is still no. T267 Qianguo - Baicheng pass is a QJ this morning. Early morning sunlight gives way to cloud and a cold westerly wind brings gusts of snow. QJ6887 arrives on a mixed freight from Ranghulu with its leading two pairs of driving wheels beautifully iced up. T581, the Dalian - Qiqihar pass is QJ out of Da'an Bei again this morning.
In steam on shed
QJs 6112, 6379, 6484, 6571, 6890, 6891
North of level crossing
Then back to the hotel to guzzle a few provisions and coax my sprawl of belongings into the rucksack. I must be out by midday. I leave Da'an Bei at 1327 with T703 for Ranghulu. Hard seat ticket 9 Yuan. As on previous days, QJ7081 is in charge. Strong winds blow snow and the steam exhaust across the desolate landscape - it looks bleak out there. The carriage is full of smokers and sunflower seed husk spitters. Interestingly (I thought), some of the stations on this line have ornamental sculptures on the station platforms. At one station (possibly Lizhi) the sculpture comprises a steam engine with one coach circling a statue. Further on, at Bacun, there is a plinth with a (reduced scale) TGV look-alike train stuck out of it pointing towards the sky.
Numerous nodding donkeys visible from the northern section of this line. Our arrival in Ranghulu is approx. 15 min late at 1730. After the smoke and general filth of this carriage, the absence of these on the first coach of T 2058 to Harbin (and Mudanjiang) is a delight. Amazingly, the carriage is nearly empty. Normality returns on T505, 0131 Harbin to Mudanjiang so upgrade to hard sleeper for the short journey as far as Weihe, where we arrive at 0454, and I meet up with Duncan's group again.