The International Steam Pages

More Steam in Northern China, November/December 2000

Richard Stevens followed a familiar path between 12th and 24th NOVEMBER 2000

Travel was by KLM, with various party members travelling from Manchester, Birmingham and London Heathrow. Despite serious reservations about KLM, based on both past experience and reports from other groups, the arrangements worked like a dream, all flights out and back running to time and all baggage arriving where and when it was supposed to - even with a 50 minute connection at Amsterdam on the return for the Manchester contingent. In fact, considering the problems getting around the UK at the time, with disruption to both road and rail travel due to flooding, fuel price protest convoys, Railtrack's emergency track replacement programme and the resulting extra traffic on the roads etc., flying from regional airports to Amsterdam turned out to be something of an inspired move, saving time, money and hassle.

Ground arrangements had been made through Zhang Xin Sheng of CITS Changchun. We were met at Beijing airport by our excellent guide for the entire fortnight, Yong Mei Lo and immediately set off in our minibus for Chengde. Once into the hills out of Beijing we encountered snow, which had apparently fallen three to four days earlier. However, this turned out not be quite the blessing we imagined, for within 3 hours of leaving Beijing we were involved in an accident when our driver failed to anticipate the movements of a tractor and trailer and skidded on the compacted snow into the back of the trailer. Fortunately injuries were only minor, but the radiator of our minibus was pouring coolant onto the road and it was obvious that we were going no further in this vehicle. However, the mobile phone has arrived in China and Yong Mei was quickly on to "Control", with the result that 70 minutes later we were on the road again in a fresh vehicle - pretty impressive really, though with the sun blazing down out of a sky of unusual clarity for the area, frustration was still pretty rampant.

Chengde, 12th-13th November 2000

The frustration turned out to be well justified, as we arrived at Chengde just in time to miss a JS on the river bridge with what was probably the last train in decent light before the sun went down - and the clarity of the light was stunning, especially for Chengde. We adjourned to the exchange sidings near the steel works for some glint shots, and returned to town as the sun was finding some typical Chengde haze to sink into. It had been too good to last, and sure enough the next day was much more typical, the sunshine being filtered through the haze which seems endemic to the area. The snow had not lasted around here, except in shaded areas, and of course on the roads.

Activity on the bank on the 13th was heavy, with an uphill train approximately every hour during daylight. Either recent reports of a preference for JS for line work are wrong or there is major JS shortage at Chengde, as line work on this day was shared equally between 3 JS and 3 SY. All trains were one loco plus two bankers, and all possible combinations of class were noted, including one for the number freaks - JS 6218 banked by JS 6217 and JS 6216.

Locos. noted:
JS - line work: 6216/7/8; yard pilot; 5634; dead on depot; 6227
SY - line work 0533, 1726/53

Jingpeng pass, 15th-24th November 2000

Having timed the visit to try to get some early snow, it was disappointing to see the snow gradually disappearing the closer our train got to Chifeng on 14th November. Arrival at Reshui confirmed that there was no snow at all here, and we learned from an Australian group that it had been sunny, though rather windy, for the last week or so. The next day, though, was both sunny and still - perfect conditions, with the stillness being the precursor to cloud bringing the first snowfall of winter the following day (16th) and into the night, with about 1 inch falling in total. This was followed by two predominantly sunny days, though both were cloudier in the afternoon. Overnight on the 18th and for most of the day on the 19th there was a heavy snowfall - 4 to 5 inches - again followed by two predominantly sunny days. The first of these (20th) was everything a photographer could hope for (traffic levels excepted, of course!), but by the 21st the wind was blowing a lot of the snow away, and cloud increased in the afternoon, with a light snowfall overnight. The 22nd was a strange day - variable amounts of cloud in the morning, a storm-force west wind which whipped up a lot of the lying snow and sandblasted the face with it - very unpleasant - together with total cloud cover around the middle of the day, and then, just when we had decided to call it a day, a wonderfully clear and still spell around Shangdian. This was again followed by two mainly sunny days, the second of which was virtually wind-free - the precursor to more snow overnight. We left for Chifeng early the following day as road and photographic conditions were far from ideal around Reshui.

Traffic levels over our ten day stay were as variable as ever, ranging from a miserable two eastbound and three westbound in daylight hours in the near-perfect conditions of our last day, to an exceptional six eastbound and five westbound freights in daylight only two days earlier (22nd) when conditions were generally appalling. Sod lives on in China! Neither of these days saw any light engine movements, but this was unusual.

The traffic peak on the 22nd seemed to coincide with, or perhaps cause, a shortage of locomotives, which led to unusual workings. Two consecutive eastbound trains had their leading loco. detached at Shangdian and attached to the rear of westbound trains to return to Jingpeng. There, this loco. was again detached to assist a following eastbound train which had arrived at Jingpeng behind a single loco.

On some days, steam workings were delayed by the diesel p.w. train which spent long periods in section on the pass. There were p.w. gangs in action on both sides of the pass, but no speed restrictions appeared to be in force.

A total of 26 different QJs were observed on line work over the ten days, with possibly at least one more so indescribably filthy that it was never positively identified. Those noted were: 6110/35 (seen every day), 6230, 6351/88/9, 6517, 6630/8/9, 6763, 6828/78, 6905/25/92/6, 7002/9/12/37/40/63,7112/37/43.

All in all, a moderately successful trip. Some stunning images were obtained, but it was frustrating that most of the good weather coincided with the lowest levels of activity. A particular frustration was the absence of afternoon glint shots - we lost count of the number of days when an eastbound freight drew up in Jingpeng at around 3pm, which should have been optimal for glints, but then sat there for well over an hour, by which time the sun had gone. Still, there's always another year - we hope!

Rob Dickinson