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:

Train No Loco Origin Arr Dep Destination Arriving Loco Departing Loco
705 Da'an Bei 0620   Ranghulu ? (Presumed QJ)  
267 Qianguo 0733 0738 Baicheng JS/QJ (no loco change)
212 Baicheng 0834 0842 Changchun DFH3 (no loco change)
581 Dalian 0854 0906 Qiqihar DF4 QJ/DF4
648 Baicheng 1119 1134 Changchun DFH3 (no loco change)  
704 Qiqihar 1213 1225 Tongliao QJ DF4
703 Tongliao 1315 1327 Qiqihar DF4 QJ
647 Changchun 1408 1422 Baicheng DFH3 (no loco change)
548/545 Harbin Dong 1636 1648 Ulan Hot DF4 QJ
211 Changchun 1722 1734 Baicheng DFH3 (no loco change)

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).

Day-to-day account

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:

QJ7002 Bayantala 0910
QJ ?   0955
QJ ? Dariqiga 1014
QJ6884 Lindong 1101
QJ6125 Chabuga 1130

Approx 6 QJs at Chabuga stabling point, all in steam. We have an engine change here, QJ not identified.

QJ6358 Daode 1233
QJ ? Zhunshariwusu 1257 westbound passenger
QJ6349 Jinjiadian 1440
QJ ? Fuju 1506
QJ ? Zhelimu 1532

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

DF4 Xiliahohe 0643 mixed freight
DF4 Gaolintun 0705 mixed freight
DFH3 0251 Shijianfang 0725 T890 0540 Taipingchuan - Tongliao pass
DFH3 Baolongshan 0748 unidentified pass
DF4 0532 Sijingzi 0825 mixed freight
DF4 0655 Xingshugang 0903 mixed freight - this train overtaken

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

QJ3251 Changqing 0940 mixed freight
QJ3268 Jubao 1030 T952 0603 Da'an Bei - Taipingchuan mixed
QJ6571 Youzijing 1045 light engine
DF4 Zhende 1053 mixed freight
QJ3287 Gongnongou 1106 mixed freight - overtaken
QJ6891 Nazijing 1142 tankers
QJ ? Haituozi 1231 mixed freight
DF4 Qianyu 1250 T704 0510 Qiqihar - Tongliao pass
QJ6156 Jianshe 1300 mixed freight
QJ7086 Da'an Bei 1315 tankers - departs upon our arrival.

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.

JS6239 pilot duties    
QJ ? southbound 1526 mixed freight arrival
QJ3115 southbound 1544 mineral wagons arriving
DF4 3284 northbound 1555 tankers departing
QJ3251 on shed 1605  
QJ6852 off shed 1607  
QJ3260 on shed 1627  
DF4 southbound 1634 T548/545 Harbin Dong - Ulan Hot pass arrival
QJ3287 off shed 1700  
QJ6852 northbound 1640 tankers departing
QJ6867 northbound 1655 tankers departing
QJ6886 southbound 1702 light engine -then went on shed
DFH3 0246 southbound 1720 T211 1355 Changchun - Baicheng pass arrival
QJ ? off shed 1740  
QJ ? southbound 1750 mineral wagons arriving

Friday 3rd March 2000: Da'an Bei

QJ ? to Ranghulu 0725 tankers
DF4 1472 ex Ranghulu 0819 tankers
QJ6887 to Ranghulu 0828 tankers
DFH3 to Changchun 0841 T212 0638 Baicheng - Changchun pass
QJ6809 ex Ranghulu 0858 mixed freight
QJ6484 to Ranghulu 0910 T581 1800 Dalian - Qiqihar pass
QJ ? ex Changchun 0927 freight
QJ ? to Changchun 0937 tankers
QJ6367 ex Ranghulu 0946 tankers

(Changchun line now out of sight)

DF4 3284 to Ranghulu 1040 mineral wagons
QJ6852 to Ranghulu 1106 mixed freight
QJ6809 to Ranghulu 1144 mixed freight
QJ7081 ex Ranghulu 1207 T704 0510 Qiqihar - Tongliao pass
QJ6867 to Ranghulu 1220 mixed freight
DF4 3315 ex Ranghulu 1248 mixed freight

(I'm now walking back towards Da'an Bei hence Changchun line in sight again)

QJ ? to Changchun 1301 mineral wagons  
QJ6773 to Ranghulu 1302 mixed freight  
QJ ? ex Changchun 1317 mineral wagons  
QJ7081 to Ranghulu 1329 T703 0600 Tongliao - Qiqihar pass  
DFH3 0073 ex Changchun 1349 T648 0920 Changchun - Baicheng pass  
QJ3230 on shed 1353    
QJ6571 off shed 1353    

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:

QJ6379 northbound 1415 departure on freight

Back on the ground

QJ6361 southbound 1453 arrival on tankers; departs 1520 behind QJ ?
QJ7104 northbound 1454 departure on mixed freight
QJ6924 northbound 1504 departure on tankers
QJ7086 northbound 1516 arrival on mixed freight

I then walk to the southern end of the station on the road bridge

QJ6869 ex Taipingchuan 1555 tankers departs for Ranghulu 1622 behind QJ ?
DF4 ex Ranghulu 1642 T548/545 0930 Harbin Dong - Ulan Hot pass, departs 1650 behind QJ6888
QJ ? to Ranghulu 1645 mineral wagons (seen depart from the distance)
DFH3 0184 to Baicheng 1735 T211 1355 Changchun - Baicheng pass

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:

QJ ? to Taipingchuan 0605 T952 0603 pass from Da'an Bei
JS6239 yard pilot, hump shunting    
QJ ? to Taipingchuan 0647 mixed freight
QJ ? ex Baicheng 0725 mixed freight
QJ ? to Taipingchuan 0733 tankers
JS ? to Baicheng 0724 T267 0613 Qianguo - Baicheng pass
DFH3 0076 to Changchun 0828 T212 0638 Baicheng - Changchun pass
QJ7119 to Taipingchuan 0843 tankers

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.

DF4 1549 to Ranghulu 0907 T581 1800 Dalian - Qiqihar pass
QJ6773 off shed 0910  
QJ6825 on shed 0935 (arrived from south)
DF4 1472 ex Ranghulu 0953 tankers, believed to depart south behind QJ6886, which was off shed at 0943
QJ3230 off shed 1004 departs 1030 on Changchun bound mixed freight
QJ7104 ex Changchun 1010 trip freight, tender first arrival
QJ6924 off shed 1016 departs 1037 for Ranghulu on freight brought in by QJ7104
DF4 3315 ex Ranghulu 1020 mixed freight

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.

QJ ? ex Ranghulu 1545 tankers
QJ ? to Changchun 1610 tankers
QJ6586 ex Taipingchuan 1632 mixed freight
QJ6435 to Taipingchuan 1643 mixed freight
QJ6848 ex Baicheng 1645 mixed freight
QJ6890 to Baicheng 1659 T548/545 0930 Harbin Dong - Ulan Hot pass
QJ ? to Taipingchuan 1707 tankers
DFH3 to Baicheng 1734 T211 1355 Changchun - Baicheng pass
QJ3115   1750 waiting to take southbound freght

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:

JS8045 to Baicheng 0738 T267 0613 Qianguo - Baicheng pass
QJ3251 to Taipingchuan 0758 mixed freight
QJ3115 ex Taipingchuan 0835 tankers
QJ3287 to Taipingchuan 0845 mixed freight

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:

DF4 1549 to Ranghulu 0908 T581 1800 Dalian - Qiqihar pass
QJ6886 to Changchun 0920 mixed freight
QJ6851 on shed 0934  
QJ6926 to Changchun 0939 tankers
QJ3115 off shed 0949  
QJ6596 on shed 0957  
JS6237 ex Changchun 1010 trip freight - arrives tender first
QJ ? ex Ranghulu 1014 mixed freight
DF4 1472 to Ranghulu 1021 mixed freight
QJs 7104+6851 off shed   1037  
QJ7102 off shed   1041
QJs 6571+6156 on shed   1101  
JS6237 on shed 1106  
QJ6888 off shed 1110  
QJ6847 ex Ranghulu 1115 mixed freight
DF4 1098 to Ranghulu 1126 tankers
DFH3 0073 ex Changchun 1136 T?????
DFH3 0224 to Changchun 1141 T648 0850 Baicheng - Changchun pass
DF4 2163 off shed 1142  
DF4 3283 off shed 1147  
DFH3 0073 on shed 1151  
QJs 6890+6733 off shed   1154  
QJ6586 off shed   1158
QJ6882 off shed   1210
QJ7081 ex Ranghulu 1207 T704 0510 Qiqihar - Tongliao pass then on shed 1207
QJ6809 off shed 1220 then mixed freight to Ranghulu 1244
QJ6086 on shed 1230  
QJ6891 on shed 1255  
QJ7081 off shed 1300 then T703 0600 Tongliao Qiqihar pass 1329
QJ ? to Changchun 1314 mixed freight
QJ6887 ex Ranghulu 1316 mixed freight

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.

QJ ? to Ranghulu 1600 tankers
QJ ? southbound 1620 mixed freight departure
QJ7119 off shed 1635  
QJ6847 to Ranghulu 1656 mixed freight
QJ6886 off shed 1745  
QJ6112 ex Ranghulu 1753 mixed freight
QJ7086 to ? 1745 mixed freight arrival from south

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.

QJ ? ex Taipingchuan 0550 mixed freight
QJ ? to Taipingchuan 0605 T952 Da'an Bei - Taipingchuan mixed

In steam on shed

QJs 6112, 6379, 6484, 6571, 6890, 6891

North of level crossing

QJ ? ex Ranghulu 0724 mixed freight
QJ6848 ex Qianguo 0729 T267 0613 Qianguo - Baicheng pass
QJ ? to Ranghulu 0736 trip freight - 3 mineral wagons
QJ ? ex Ranghulu 0815 same train? QJ pushing 3 mineral wagons
QJ6886 on shed 0835  
DFH3 0246 to Changchun 0840 T212 0638 Baicheng - Changchun pass
QJ6554 ex Ranghulu 0842 mixed freight
DF4 2120 ex Changchun 0854 T581 1800 Dalian - Qiqihar pass
QJ6887 ex Ranghulu 0902 mixed freight
QJ6112 to Ranghulu 0908 takes over the reins of T581
DF4 3283 to Ranghulu 0920 mixed freight
QJ6926 ex Changchun 0930 mineral wagons
QJ6367 off shed 0950  
QJ6809 ex Ranghulu 0954 mixed freight
QJ6281 moving around shed 1000  
QJ3230 ex Changchun 1002 tankers
QJ6484 to Ranghulu 1008 mineral wagons

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.

QJ6281 Da'an Bei 1330 waiting to depart on nb mixed freight
QJ ? Laodongtun 1435 mixed freight, crossed
QJ ? Lizhi 1500 mixed freight, crossed
DF4 Lizhi 1502 tankers, crossed
DF4 Xiangyangcun 1522 T548/545 0900 Harbin Dong - Ulan Hot pass, crossed
QJ ? Xinhuatun 1537 timber, crossed
DF4 Xingwu 1550 tankers, crossed
QJ6809 Xingwu 1550 freight, overtaken
DF4 Linyuan 1615 tankers, overtaken
DF4 Dulitun 1700 tankers, crossed
QJ ? Dulitun   light

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.

Rob Dickinson