The International Steam Pages
More Steam in Northern China, November/December 2000
Duncan Cotterrill reports on his latest trip:
This report details the observations of a privately organised group visit to the Baotou and Jingpeng areas of Inner Mongolia. Flights with British Airways were booked through Regent Holidays of Bristol. Arrangements within China were made by China Liaoning Steam Locomotive Photography Association based in Shenyang.
October 2000 Timetable Change
Train numbers have been revised again! Express passengers continue to use "K" numbers etc. Other passengers now have 4 digit numbers. Generally, the lower the number, the higher priority the train. For instance, the overnight Chifeng to Beijing fast, formerly numbered 256 is now 2560. The Jining Nan to Tongliao all stations is 6051/6054 and the Baotou to Shiguai locals are 7411 and 7413.
The Huhehaote (Hohhot) - Dongsheng workings are now K-993 and K-994, having been elevated to the rank of expresses. Are these the world's last regular steam hauled express passengers?
Freight trains now have 5 digit numbers. Coal trains on the Baotou - Shenmu line are numbered 31xxx. Freights on the Ji - Tong line have 22xxx and 44xxx numbers. Light engine movements have 51xxx numbers while 56xxx trains seen were track maintenance railcars.
Beijing Bei station is currently being rebuilt. The overnight train from Chifeng is shown in the timetable as leaving Chifeng at 19:15 and running to Beijing Bei. It actually leaves at 20:20, arriving Beijing Nan at 06:43. Other services shown as serving Bei are probably similarly affected.
Dahuichang Limestone Railway
Visited 30 Nov. Operations appeared similar to previous reports apart from a later start after lunch at 15:00, possibly a one-off interruption.
Beijing to Baotou
30 Nov - 01 Dec. Travelled on train K-217, 17:06 ex Beijing Xi. There was no sign of the SYs previously seen just east of Xi station. The power station they were thought to shunt appears to have been demolished. Several diesels of an unknown type were seen at Fengtai. They were large, double-ended machines of angular design with full width bodies and slanting slab faced cab fronts. They were definitely not DF11. As it was virtually dark, no more details could be determined.
Steam was seen at Xuanhua, probably a steelworks loco, possibly a YJ as it didn't appear to be as big as an SY. Again, the darkness prevented a clearer view.
01 Dec. Stepping off the overnight from Beijing at Baotou Dong, we were greeted by the fine sight of two JS worked local passengers waiting to depart. As well as the expected Shiguai train, 7411, 7471, the 06:30 circle line train was also steam.
05 Dec. Train 7475, the 15:16 circle working was DF4 but 7469 at 16:25 was JS leaving only a JS on Dong depot to work 7473 at 18:34. It is likely that the DF4 also worked either the 18:55 or 19:15 train with the other being JS as no other locos were present at Dong depot. We were told that we were unlucky to find 7475 diesel as it had also been JS worked recently.
06 Dec. One of our group rode on 7475, which was DF4 again, but 7469 was confirmed JS.
See below for current timetable.
05, 07, 08 Dec. All trains seen were JS hauled. The passengers continue to run as before but freight traffic seems somewhat reduced from a couple of years ago. Morning trains appear to be a rarity these days. We saw none on any of the three days we were there. There did seem to be a regular train of empties into Houba around 14:00 which we saw twice and was predicted to run on the third day. Remarkably, two trains of empties ran within half an hour of each other on 07 Dec with the first returning loaded just before sunset, banked as far as Houba. Station staff at Houba don't get much warning that a freight is running. They are only told once it reaches Erdaoshahe. The working timetable is displayed in diagrammatic form at Houba but bears little relation to what actually runs.
08 Dec. At least 4 JS were in steam on Baotou Xi depot as we drove past around 13:00, one more was shunting in or near Xi yard and another to the west of the depot. Later the same afternoon at Dong, another JS ran eastbound through the station on a shunting move while still one more was seen shunting the sidings west of Dong.
Locos seen in traffic: JS-8001, 8004, 8005, 8008, 8009, 8279, 8320, 8328.
JS 8280 and 8325 have also been reported recently.
08 Dec. We only spent a short time at the slag tipping area near Xi depot where one SY hauled tipping move was seen. Several other SY were seen around the steelworks area.
Locos seen in traffic: SY-0711, 1264, 1727, 1731
Erdaoshahe Chemical Factory
An SY was seen leaving a tank wagon at Erdaoshahe station before returning to the factory, probably SY-1049 but we didn't get close enough to confirm this.
Huhehaote based DF4/DF4B appear to work everything east of Baotou with Baotou based DF4C working to the west. Huhehaote's DF4-2634 & 2635 (Dalian 1999) are part of a small prestige fleet with orange livery and cast number and allocation plates. Among other workings they handle the Huhehaote - Baotou legs of K-43 and K-44 and K-993 and K-994. The Bayan Obo passenger is now a Baotou based DF4C turn. A Baotou based green DF4B was used on the circle passenger. Several DF5 were seen on shunts and trip working around Baotou including 2000 built DF5-1805.
The mines at Shiguai are said to be approaching the end of their economic reserves. Steam working is predicted to continue until the end of mining operations when the line is expected to close. It is rumoured that the population of Shiguai will be moved en-masse to establish a new mining community elsewhere, leaving Shiguai as a ghost town.
BAO-SHEN RAILWAY - Singing Sands and Dongsheng Areas
01, 02, 03, 04, 06 Dec. Operations here continue very much as before with 100% QJ haulage. Single heading is still the norm north of Dongsheng. South of Dongsheng, most loaded trains are double headed throughout and banked from Shashagetai to Dongsheng. Many of the empties are also double headed south of Dongsheng for balancing purposes. The sight of a 46 wagon, 3700 tonne coal train with 2 QJs on the front and another pushing on the climb through Aobaogou remains one of the world's great steam spectacles. Three freights each way, plus the passengers, seems to be the average level of traffic either side of Dongsheng during daylight hours. This line appears to get through locos at a staggering rate. Many of the QJ seen here in January 2000 were nowhere to be found this time, while a number of previously unreported machines were seen in traffic. Withdrawn locos don't seem to last long either as most are quickly cut up at Dongsheng. Fortunately, high deflector QJ-1969 remains in traffic but sisters QJ-1891 and QJ-1892 were not seen. One of the oldest QJ still in use, 1968/9 built QJ-6018, also soldiers on in front line service!
Locos Seen in Traffic: QJ-1969, 2977, 6018, 6088, 6169, 6171, 6178, 6193, 6194, 6195, 6247, 6287, 6346, 6348, 6404, 6452, 6711, 6784, 6785, 6789, 6863.
Dongsheng Stored : QJ-2938, 6740, 6307.
Baotou - Galadesitai
08 - 10 Dec. This was the one part of the trip that didn't go according to plan. We travelled from Baotou Dong to Huhehaote on K-994 on the evening of the 8th as planned, hoping to take the DMU next morning. So far, so good. Unfortunately, the DMU was operating on even dates from Huhehaote rather than the odd dates expected. Plan B was put into operation. K-44 took us to Jining Nan then 6051/6054 to Galadesitai. Virtually no photting time was lost as a result.
After Baotou Dong, no steam was seen until Benhong. K-44 was hauled by a red/cream DF4D from Huhehaote and another was seen on a westbound passenger en-route. Everything else was in the hands of standard green DF4/DF4B. DF5 handled shunting at Huhehaote and Jining Nan and Huhehaote local passengers. As expected, 6051/6054 was DF4B hauled to Benhong where QJ-6304 took over for the leg to Baiqi. One of the new diesels, DF4D-4054 was on the depot at Benhong along with a QJ. A deflectorless QJ shunted the yard. Most of the trains passed en-route to Baiqi were confirmed QJ hauled, but one may have had the other DF4D in charge.
We got conflicting information about the future from local railwaymen on 6051/6054. A young assistant driver predicted rapid dieselisation as far east as Haoluku or even Daban. A more senior colleague indicated that widespread dieselisation just didn't make economic sense at the moment. Take your pick! The assistant driver confirmed that there are currently only 2 diesel locos on the line.
JI-TONG RAILWAY - Jingpeng Pass
10 - 16 Dec. The greatest steam show on earth continues unabated! Most days saw 4 or 5 trains climbing the west side of the pass in daylight. Westbounds were less reliable with several light engine movements or very short trains seen. There were no instances of locos working tender first from Daban to Jingpeng to double head eastbounds over the pass as reported recently. All eastbounds were double headed throughout, apart from a couple of short trains that were single headed. As before, a few westbound empty coal trains were also single headed. Coal traffic appeared to be reduced but general freight and tanker traffic was up. Most of the locos seen were familiar although a few new ones have appeared.
Locos Seen in Traffic: QJ-6135, 6230, 6351, 6356, 6358, 6385, 6388, 6389, 6517, 6630, 6638, 6639, 6763, 6828, 6878, 6905, 6925, 6992, 7009, 7012, 7040, 7112, 7137, 7143.
Also seen: QJ-6642, 6838 ex works light engines heading west.
Chifeng - Beijing
16 - 17 Dec. No steam was seen at Chifeng. Nothing else of interest was observed on the journey.
High cloud and general haze were a problem for the first few days at Dongsheng but the rest of the trip was virtually all wall to wall sunshine. The clarity of light at Jingpeng was unbelievable, well up to the best South African standards. The downside was the almost incessant westerly wind, which severely limited the choice of photographic locations at times. Over the years, we've grown used to the wind and lost very few shots as a result although we couldn't always get the picture we wanted! There was some snow on the ground at Jingpeng when we arrived and another fall during our stay but much of it blew away within 24 hours.
The operations we visited have survived the summer well. The only negative thing to report is the arrival of diesels at the west end of the Ji-Tong line. Fortunately, the vast majority of trains remain QJ hauled and it is difficult to see how the 6 diesels predicted could handle more than about half the traffic on the Benhong-Baiqi section anyway, let alone displace steam elsewhere on the Ji-Tong line. The cost of further new diesels is likely to be prohibitive. Almost certainly, the biggest threat will come from second hand diesels displaced by the Harbin-Dalian wiring and other electrification schemes due for completion in the next few years.
On the upside, there has been a limited revival in JS working around Baotou. Assuming Baotou Dong requires 1 loco for the Shiguai passengers, 2 for circle passengers and 2 for shunts, Baotou Bei requires 2 for Shiguai freights, Shiguai requires 1 for shunts/banking and Xi requires 2 for shunts, that makes 10 plus the inevitable spares. All circle passengers have been steam on some occasions and Shiguai may have 2 locos as in the recent past. This would need at least 2 more locos, so a working fleet of 12 to 15 locos would seem reasonable.
The Bao-Shen line has had a major influx of new locos. Of 21 QJs seen in traffic, no less than 11 had not been reported on the line prior to Jan 2000 and most of these are new since the summer. Unfortunately, this does not seem to be an expansion of the fleet, merely a replacement of old locos by new. Two of the locos in store have not been previously reported here either. Of these, QJ-6740 was the only loco we saw on the line with a 4-character depot code: NAN bureau, HE section (wherever that is?).
All in all, this was an excellent trip with many good pictures (processing permitting). The weather at Dongsheng was a bit disappointing but there were a few good shots, notably of high deflector QJ-1969 on the southbound passenger. There were also successes at Singing Sands and several good shots of the Shiguai passenger, as well as one spectacular banked coal train in glorious late afternoon light. Jingpeng remains, in my humble opinion, the best place in the world to see and photograph working steam today. I never cease to be amazed by the sheer number and variety of photographic locations on the 48 km of railway between Galadesitai and Jingpeng. Although this was my 6th visit, there was no shortage of new shots to try as well as old elusive ones to try again! Few railways are so photogenic, with vantage points in all the right places and enough twists and turns to ensure that the light is always right somewhere. The Settle and Carlisle is the only one I know that comes close. Add to that the pure delight of watching and listening to the approaching train for the best part of an hour as it slogs up the hill towards you. Absolute magic! I can't wait to go back.