The International Steam Pages

No more crap shots on the Jingpeng Pass?

One of the saddest features of the last 5 years has been the prostitution of some of the outstanding real steam attractions in the world, particularly in Cuba and China. So what appears to be the age old tradition of small boys watching a steam locomotive driver attending to his machine is actually the modern practice of removing anything remotely 'loose' for possible sale to visitors before the scrap merchants descend. 

So it was with some reluctance (and Heinrich Hubbert's gentle insistence) that I made my third (and most likely last) trip to the JiTong line at the end of October 2004 in response to a string of pessimistic messages about dieselisation within the Steam_in_China Newsgroup - These days I am effectively a resident of Beijing and it was only a matter of clearing the work desk and fixing up the domestics (otherwise known as Yiran, my partner Yuehong's 11 year old son) before heading north. Train 2559 from the delightful old station of Beijing Bei is just a bus and metro ride away from our flat in Dashanzi and, after a good night's sleep, we arrived in Chifeng with just enough time for a traditional noodle breakfast before catching the 08.30 bus to Jingpeng. These days there is no need to travel via Linxi, we wound our way through the hills before joining a super-highway which offered us a short dirt road connection through the tunnel which landed us at the Yingchang Hotel near the bus station before midday. No questions were asked about our status and a fine double room with a hot shower and views of the railway was ours for just Y70 a night.

If you are a regular visitor to the Jingpeng Pass, then the photographic record below will contain no new revelations, our main aim in this direction was to enable Yuehong on her first visit to get a fair video record of the last great main-line steam operation in the world in its final days. Heinrich's personal chauffeur (D35250 at Y150 a day) was immediately available and by 13.00 we were heading for the lineside on a fine warm, clear autumn afternoon.

Afterwards, as for each each night, a sumptuous local dinner for two set us back less than Y30 - the best value and quality we found in a restaurant opposite the bus station. Mongolian breakfast each cold morning with our driver offered a variety of bread with milk tea (Indian chai without the sugar) for a mere Y1 or 2 per person. But on the lineside it came as bit of a shock to discover that we might have to share our photo position with around 40 other more moneyed visitors - it was rather like having sex in public....

Consequently we fled to the east side of the pass, 'far from the madding crowd':

Next morning, we again got a reminder of the power of money in the modern China. Having secured herself a cabride up the pass - naturally at no charge - Yuehong was made to feel so uncomfortable by the arrival of the dollar waving tourists and their guide who no doubt was only too willing to take his percentage of the fee, that she deferred the experience. Instead, we relaxed and resumed photography:

This one I have to say we shared with a small British group, but next it was very much 'dodge the geriatrics' who could not or would not follow their photographic adviser's suggestion to get more than a few metres from their bus let alone a little elevation:

Thereafter the weather failed as it did first thing the next morning. The tourists were still hogging the footplate so we had to wait for them to complete their short stay:

Finally Yuehong was now able to enjoy an experience I could only dream of, a flat out non-stop ascent from Jingpeng to Shandian.... I had to follow and watch.

From this road bridge, our minivan and my tired old legs only just got me to tunnel 2 in time, the white dot on the lead loco is Yuehong's hand holding the video camera..... 

Then the light failed and it started to rain.... It was time to retire to the hotel room and watch the trains across the rooftops just as in better known hotels in Reshui. There was nothing else to do except amuse ourselves by playing chess and, dare I say it, doing a little bit of work. It was a disappointing end to the trip and after another dull day, we were quite glad to retrace our steps to Beijing.

Was it worth it? Apparently during our visit there were already 6 DF4 based at Daban (with 4 more expected very soon), but traffic levels were high and at least 60% of the trains were QJ or QJ + QJ only, so on most days there were at least half a dozen exclusively steam hauled trains in daylight, the rest being DF4 + QJ (just one was solitary DF4) and consequently unphotographable. Exhaust effects in the cool slightly hazy mornings were quite satisfactory, but the afternoons were a bit too warm. Yuehong started down this road by spending 3 months in Weihe in 2002/3 (where we first met) making a documentary video about the last year of the forestry railway and up to now had never seen standard gauge steam in action. So the answer has to be in the positive. On the other hand, I have never tried to hide my dislike of the 'extras' that go with the JiTong Railway experience, particularly at Reshui and Daban. I can do without the crowds of insensitive enthusiasts, the mafia, the blatant overcharging and the constant sales pitches from the loco crews. By staying in Jingpeng, we avoided nearly all of this and I find it hard to blame the poorly paid railway staff who were long ago led astray by misguided visitors - the fact that they were universally welcoming to Yuehong without any expectation of payment shows they are basically good people. The circus will now move on, but where to????

Rob Dickinson