The International Steam Pages
Steam in China January 1998
Peter Nash and I spent just over two weeks on a 'Not the Jingpeng Pass' tour. It included the Chinese New Year holiday which was a mixed blessing as you will realise. Overall we were satisfied with our results, it is simply unrealistic to chase narrow gauge trains with 100% success in 1998!
Dahuichang limestone quarry
Although this location near Beijing was reported in the IRS China book, it has only recently been properly documented. Like the Yexi stone railway I found in 1995, it is part of the Capital Iron and Steel empire. There are some standard gauge sidings which in recent months have been shunted by YJ 287, but more interesting still is the double track narrow gauge system which runs about 1.5km north. Perhaps the best way to reach Dahuichang is to take the Beijing Metro to Guchenglu (the last but one going west) and changing to a 385 bus outside (get on the east bound bus heading back towards Beijing). They go roughly every 20 minutes and the bus journey time is about 45 minutes (en route we twice saw what looked like a SY hiding behind a wall at what was probably the south end of Capital Iron and Steel). Some visitors have faced demands for money from the limeworks management but we had no problems at all. There appear to be 4 serviceable C2 0-8-0 (2, 3, 4 and 5) with 1 derelict outside the shed. The line is worked by 2 locos every day from 14.00 to 02.00. On January 15th, with snow all around and the sky overcast we found 3 and 4 in steam at 12.30. At 14.05, 3 worked light engine up the wrong (left line) and at 14.10 it was followed by 4 with some empties. At 14.30 and 14.40 both locos came down with fulls, but by 15.45 the light had failed completely and there was no further movement. We retreated to Beijing, determined to revisit.
On January 31st, our last full day, we were back to find 2 and 3 the working locos. There was a milky sun visible this time, but all the snow had gone. The initial pattern of operation was similar, with 2 going up light engine and 3 taking empties just after 14.00. A long wait ensued before 2 appeared on fulls just after 15.00. To our surprise, run round time was left than 5 minutes and the loco headed straight back up. Almost immediately 3 came down with more fulls and again departed promptly. 10 minutes later, 2 had returned and we were able to get a fourth set of pictures before catching the bus, as the light was going. Although this is quite a short line and there are not many spots for photography, it is a classic operation with the small skips and well worth the effort. Get there soon before the tour groups ruin it!
Xihe metre gauge railway
Thanks to the foreigners ticket office at Beijing station, we had comfortable soft class sleepers to Zibo. On arrival we crashed out at the cheap hotel north-west of the station whose total lack of facilities was matched only by the warmth of the welcome. It was starting to snow, so we decided to write off the day, going out briefly to check the China Rail shed which seemed to have only dead steam. The next morning (January 17th) we were put on a bus to Dakunlun and the metre gauge coal line with its 0-10-0s which has rightly had a lot of publicity since its discovery in 1996. These are China built derivatives of the original O&K locos, there is no apparent articulation and the central drivers are flanged. As it happens we had to change buses en route - it may well be that the Boshan buses which pass through Dakunlun do not stop there. As we got off, a train load of fulls swept across the level crossing in front of us. We walked the short distance to the yard and shed and found that the train loco was 97 07 12 and that 96 09 30 was shunting. 94 07 28 was at the back of the shed and there were two sets of frames and lots of bits in the yard. The numbers refer to the last date of overhaul. The line runs roughly south and the grade is generally (but not always) against the empties. There is a road most of the way next to the line which means you can sometimes chase trains by the frequent buses as uphill trains always stop at the top of the first main climb. On January 17th, trains ran out of Dakunlun at 10.30, 11.45, 13.00, 14.15 and 15.45. On this occasion all bar the last were banked by 96, presumably because the fall of snow had caused adhesion problems. Although the light started poor, it gradually improved and finished quite good. On the way back, our bus took a small diversion and we passed a well maintained JS in an industrial siding near Zibo.
The next day dawned clear and bright and apart from a slight tendency for the wind to blow from the north-east and spoil the steam effects, it was a perfect day for photography. This time 96 was the train loco and 97 had retired to the shed. Trains ran at almost exactly the same times as the previous day and we returned to Zibo well satisfied.
We had had no problems buying hard seat tickets for the overnight train to Zhengzhou. As departure time approached the large crowd waiting to board got increasingly restless. As they were admitted to the platform, all hell was let loose, something like a cross between a stampede and a bar room brawl with people and luggage flying everywhere. We forced our way on to the train found our seats and 20 minutes later had no trouble upgrading to soft class sleepers which brought us to Zhengzhou in the morning.
Zhengzhou has little to commend it - the China daily gave it the most highly polluted air of 15 major Chinese cities. At least it wasn't far to the bus station and they were happy to sell us a ticket to Xuchang. Unfortunately the bus was 40 minutes late and the traffic jams cost us another hour. Ted Talbot's report covering the Yu-Dan Railway at Xuchang had been available for some time and there have been several other visits reported. We had expected to find several steam movements a day with coal trains on the western section. We arrived outside the narrow gauge station in the south-east of the town before checking in at the reasonably priced (258 Y) San Guo hotel nearby. This railway uses the larger C4 0-8-0 and at 15.00, 4206 was in steam as yard pilot but apart from a diesel preparing to go out on the passenger train there was little sign of activity. Management had knocked off for the day so we were able to visit the shed without hindrance. Here we found all the remaining steam locos which Ted had reported, with only 4217 in steam and that with very little pressure. There was also about half the diesel fleet.
On January 20th, we were refused admission to the shed so we hired a taxi to go to Yuxian to look for a train or two. There was no activity at the coal yard there, nor had there been for several days from the way the snow was piled up. Finally at 15.00 a loaded coal train appeared hauled by a diesel 38015! The train register at the station told the story - although until quite recently; there had been several trains a day, in recent months it had barely averaged two or three - traffic has been lost or just reduced and there is now spare power. Back at Xuchang we could again enter the shed and found the occupants as before except that 4217 was cold and under minor repair. This was a major disappointment and the fact that later I managed to trash one of the hotel's glass doors while returning from the restaurant was entirely coincidental. To end a totally miserable day, my laptop computer decided to curl up and die.
(Berndt Seiler was here on January 14th and 15th and found 4202 and 4217 in use with diesel substitution on January 15th.)
Nanyang Local Railway
We travelled down on the bus from Xuchang on January 21st with some apprehension as the line from Nanyang to Fenchang was last reported at death's door more than a year ago. Peter unerringly located the cheap hotel as usual and after lunch we headed for the narrow gauge. The rails looked not unused but there was no sign of life apart from a number of stone wagons and some derelict coaches. We eventually found the shed hidden awkwardly up and down a long siding off the main line. It appeared locked but eventually we talked our way in to find the usual C2 0-8-0's 301 dripping water, 372 more or less a runner, two more pretty dead looking locos and one more derelict at the back. Much arm waving suggested that there was a train on the line - there was nothing to do except sink a few beers and come back some time after 17.00 when the train, if any, would reappear. Indeed on arrival at the station just after 17.30 we heard a whistle and found 3 orange coaches parked with a steam loco vanishing in the distance. When we tracked it down we identified it as 308. Back at the station we found an office open at last - the train register confirmed that the train had been out every day since at least December 4th, indeed on a few days 2 trains had run. The printed schedule in the office was:
The next morning we rode the train out at 07.00. It was dull and misty, with hardly enough light to photograph the whole way to Fengchang. With the benefit of hindsight we could have caught the train at Fengchang the day before. On arrival we were sent off for lunch as 308 came off the train, turned and shunted the stock. Just as we started to tuck in, the loco set off light engine for the north at 11.45. Just over an hour later it was back with 4 stone wagons similar to those seen in Nanyang - which explains previous comments about the occasional workings north of Fengchang, they are conditional. Just how far it had been we could not tell. The sky brightened briefly around departure time, but action photography was not a realistic option with steam leaking everywhere and a cold northerly wind blowing steam forward. This was a shame as there are some nice bridges along the line, 2 quite near Fengchang and another very long one quite near Nanyang (about 3 km behind the hill on the north side of town). Still the train had the best part of 100 passengers at all times as it made 9 stops en route and was clearly appreciated by the locals. Running was reasonably good, time being lost by the need for the two conductors to issue tickets. It is a long time since I had to share a passenger carrying train with a goat.
The next day, the weather was no better and we set out to try to sort out the rumours about the Luohe to Wuyang section. On the bus to Yexian we could see the route of the original line where it crossed the road - totally derelict with just the odd remains of an embankment. At Wuyang, all our efforts to find the narrow gauge station failed and we were directed to the impressive but scarcely used building on the new standard gauge local railway - we very much got the impression that it had supplanted the old line on a new alignment. Again it would have been helpful to have a guide to check our suppositions. With there being no sign of an improvement in the weather we decided to head on, with the able assistance of a local English teacher who got us our train ticket.
Jiyuan Coal Railway
On January 24th, we travelled up overnight to Luoyang, by far our worst journey as the train was packed, we had no seats and there was no possibility of an upgrade. We saw JS 8077 as Nanyang pilot and 2 JS pilots at Baofeng but no other steam. The day dawned beautifully, but after taking the worst bus in China over the Yellow River to Jiyuan, we found the narrow gauge coal railway through the town had not been used recently. Walking to the shed, we found one loco in the locked compound outside and all the other locos locked inside. There were two loaded coal trains and a fair number of empties nearby and we were told that the workers were 'free' (i.e. on holiday). From the snow on the loco coal, we guessed that the system had finished for the New Year at least 10 days before. It looked a superb operation and it would be high on my list of priorities for another trip. It was too late to move on so we caught up on our sleep - the highlight of our stay being the desperate attempt by a local 'lady' to get us to avail ourselves of her services, rattling the door and banging on the windows of our room! I found out that there was a bus to Houma at 07.00 the next morning which turned out to run through spectacular mountain scenery. After Xincheng we ran next to the standard gauge branch with some handsome scenery and good viaducts on the upper section. En route we saw JS 5270 pounding up the grade with a short freight around 13.30. This line would be well worth a visit.
Bruce Evans had found this 'small' steelworks and SY 2003 on his recent visit. We reasoned that our best chance of seeing something of it lay on day 1 of Chinese New Year, January 28th, when management was likely to have better things to do. Walking south along the main line from Linfen on a beautiful day for just over 1km, we found the exchange sidings. We cautiously followed the connecting line and found ourselves on what appeared to be a public road between the coking ovens and blast furnaces. A hooter sounded and we had just enough time to get ready to photograph SY 1609 running light engine.
Taking a turning between the blast furnaces and the steel converter, we found a second SY 1432 simmering. No sooner had we photographed it than a third SY 0182 rolled past with a set of molten pig iron carriers. We watched as this manoeuvre was carried out two or three times. By now the train crews had 'discovered' us and we were hauled off for cups of tea. A few UK steam photographs went down a treat. We wrote down a list of the locos we knew about and invited the crews to complete it. They added SYs 0745, 0827, 1373 and 2020 (the latter we never saw and suspect it was 'off site'). No sooner had this been done than 0745 rolled past with a train of returning slag wagons. We followed it down towards the blast furnaces, urged a little reluctantly through by the crews where we were again warmly greeted by more staff who removed more photos from us. Photographing 0745 on its next slag run, we said ' We need a taxi to chase it' and 15 seconds later one appeared. We bumped through the works until we spotted what we thought was 0745 again. Out we leapt only to discover that the train was long gone and we had found returning 0827 on the other slag train! It had come in tender first and ran round before propelling the rest of the way to the blast furnaces. Just for luck 1373 was nearby and later we saw that its job was to move around blocks of solid but very hot slag from the steel converter. By the time we photographed 0745 returning tender first outside the works (and flagged it down and hitched a lift back) it was time to ring down the curtain on a successful day.
The next day, we went back and spent some time looking unsuccessfully for the shed. By now 1373 was stationed behind the blast furnaces. We wanted to see the slag tipping, so we joined 0745 and headed out into the country past 2003 which was where 1373 had been the day before. The line left in a south easterly direction before turning sharply north east. After several km we passed a run round loop and entered the moonscape of the slag heap.
0745 ran forward and then reversed its train so that it was on a high bank above a deep hole in the ground. Tipping was carried out by wiring up electric motors carried on the wagons, the liquid slag at the far end of the line first and then the near solid slag after. After tipping the loco returned to the loop, ran round and returned to the works. We had hoped to photograph 2003, but not only was it badly positioned, word of our presence had obviously reached high places. We were treated to a rather more serious tea ceremony while endless telephone calls were made - after a while representatives of management and security arrived - but communication was a big problem! Eventually we were escorted away and given nothing worse than a ride back to Linfen.
We did not tempt fate by returning next day! However, we did confirm that 1609 was working regularly to the exchange sidings, the wagons being worked onwards by Linfen's JS. We spent the New Year at the 5 Continents Hotel (good value at 218Y and which we rapidly rechristened the 2 Incontinents) where we appeared to be the only guests.
Linfen China Rail
Detailed reports about Linfen have already appeared, reporting 100% steam on freights and 100% diesel on passenger. South of Linfen, each QJ seemed to take about 4-5 hours for a round trip to Houma before going out again an hour or two later, traffic seemed a little light because of the holiday and several times we saw locos running light engine on one leg. Ominously, we saw about 20-25% of freights worked by DF4, and since we saw the same diesels north and south, it must be likely they work through although the only diesel we actually saw at Linfen came off its train. As recommended we found Linfen depot open to casual visitors and the areas around Chaizhuang (south) and Shitan (north) the most favourable for photography although the thin mist lifted only briefly in the afternoons.
There was no problem booking a hard sleeper on train 204 back to Beijing although it was not possible to buy the ticket until a day before departure. Jiexiu appeared very steamy in passing.
I would like to especially thank Bruce Evans for a detailed briefing and others including Johannes Múller, Ted Talbot, Duncan Cotterill and Markus Fischer who made their reports available to us.