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Following five days exploration in southern China, April 24th found Mike Ma and myself on train K7091, the former N91. Dawn is very early in this part of China at this time of year so it was light at 6:00 as we passed Dayan where four diesels including 0099 were visible. One diesel was attached to passenger stock and another looked to be in a different blue livery and may have been of a different type. No sign of any steam, the situation being confirmed when I read "terrytenzins"'s message 8467 on Steam_in_China, with steam finishing on April 15th.
At Hailaer at 7:10, large flakes of snow were falling but by 8:00 it was bright and sunny, a beautiful clear blue sky with a few white clouds, typical northern China weather. Since the change in train number, there is no longer a stop at Jalainur and arrival at Manzhouli was 9:25. In discussion with Mike, I learnt that Huanan was running, including over the "Golden Holiday" (May 1st), so I asked Mike to book our tickets out of Manzhouli for April 27th as my original plan (although the plan had completely ignored there might be any holiday effect).
At 10:45 we left the usual hotel (nice big room) in a mini van/bus. On the way to Jalainur it was windy and started to sleet, then dry and the sun reappeared.
This was going to be the last time I would see the opencast mine in action. My first visit was in September 1995, my first industrial site on my first trip to China and to say I was impressed would be a massive understatement. This was long before the underground conveyor was built and coal trains worked out of the opencast to the washery at Dongfanghong over tracks that have long been removed. On my first visit JF 2420 was still in use and four other members of the class were stored. Since the relaying of Dongfanghong yard in 2008, even the embankment up which the coal trains were propelled before being emptied at the washery has mostly disappeared.
Since my last visit in October 2008 there have been significant changes in the track layout in the opencast mine with double tracks being singled as described by Jeff Cartledge in his February/March report.
On my first view of the opencast mine, I counted 6 spoil trains at work, and unused spoil wagons parked at two of the reversal points. Activity around the 510 reversal point and the new servicing facilities beyond included SY 1376 light engine from the Nanzhan direction, SY 1663 with crane from the pit and departing towards Nanzhan, SY 1678 on 3 tippers and SY 1654 on 2 tippers from the Nanzhan direction. Looking further into the pit, there was no activity at the coal unloading station for the conveyor with SY 1285 waiting on a loaded coal train. Shortly after SY 0867 pulled 2 tippers of coal from station 510 into the pit. I assume this was washed coal destined for the servicing facilities at the coal unloading station.
I never felt I had paid sufficient attention in the past to the deep mines system. So mid afternoon we drove towards the end of the south branch, to a level crossing just beyond the junction to the power station. Further along the branch one of the diesels was parked at a modern looking mine (new mine 11?) on a string of wagons. Shortly after SY 1450, red stars on smokebox and cabsides arrived from Dongfanghong on a long train of empties, pausing in a loop before the level crossing (site of the old mine 11?). We then noted SY 1416 emerging light engine from the power station branch. Returning towards Jalainur trying to follow SY 1416, older mines were noted close to the main road. After the track runs away from the road, there is a short branch to Shierjing (mine 12) where steam from SY 1416 shunting was visible. We retraced our route to where the main track was close to the road and turned off left to a former station. The sight here of Dave Habraken's famous "half ladder" photo position identified it immediately as Erzhan (second station). All afternoon the weather had remained overcast and now it started to drizzle so we gave up and returned to Manzhouli.
Our second day started sunny, it was well after dawn when we left the hotel at 6:05 for the 30 minute drive to Jalainur where we first headed for the washery yard at Dongfanghong. SY 1601 with four tippers had its usual job collecting empty wagons from the yard and positioning them for loading. As it struggled up the gradient into the new headshunt and returned 14 loaded wagons to the yard, I noticed just how many locals jumped onto the wagons to ensure their own coal supplies, throwing any amount of lumps from the wagons onto the ballast which they later collected by the sackful. Somewhat different from other parts of China where, even here at Daqiao, the less agile and more deserving scratch around in coal ashes for anything unburnt. SY 1450 was in the yard and departed for the northern branch with a long train of empties, making no exhaust as DF7G 5199 was assisting at the back of its train. Shortly after DF7G 5198 arrived on 24 wagons from Daqiao. I walked up to Daqiao to see what was there and found SY 1618 parked at the right on a track with old wagons with SYs 1448 and 1416 side by side at the west end of the station, all three looked as if they were waiting for some work. SY 1126 arrived on a train of wagons from the southern branch after which DF7G 5198 reappeared from Dongfanghong to take the southern branch with coal for the power station.
At 8:45, it was a brief visit to observe the opencast mine. SY 1285, chimney first, propelled the explosives the train from Nanzhan, and then descended into the pit. Some pictures and video as this was a train that had always eluded me. I then noted that both passenger trains still operated as I saw both return to their starting points. I can understand why there is still one into the pit but why doesn't it start at station 510? But how many workmen are still needed at Nanzhan, probably only at the wagon works if it is still open? In comparison with last October, the coach is no longer left at Nanzhan but returned to a siding at station 510. Down in the pit, whatever the problem was yesterday, the coal trains were very busy.
I now checked the stored/dumped locos. Four of them were in a locked walled compound containing track panels and occupied the track leading to the usual two accessible tracks. Three of the four faced in the direction of deep mines locos. I was able to identify the two end locomotives, then SY 0924 with a ? (I was correct) and SY xx88 which had to be 1688. Past the compound, the left hand track contained 14 locos (6 here last October), all but one with connecting rods removed, and the right hand track just 6 locos (2 added since last October, the other 4 dumped) and 9 coaches.
We then returned for more observations of the opencast mine from near station 510. SY 1681 seemed to be pilot at the servicing point, and during our stay, over a four hour period, three empty spoil trains climbed out of the mine for coal and water and then returned. One of the locos was SY 1041 which has a cabside so decorated there is no room for its number there. From a distance, I was able to identify three of the locos working the coal trains. Before returning to Manzhouli, a final look at Dongfanghong saw SY 1416 departing on 25 wagons against a perfect blue sky with a few white clouds, but not a trace of exhaust as by the end of the afternoon it was very warm.
On the following morning, it was another sunny departure from our hotel and again we started at Dongfanghong to see SY 1450 depart on a small rake of wagons to the north. The situation at Daqiao was SY 1416 on the "old wagon" track, SY 1618 taking water and SYs 1126 and 1448, side by side at the western end. A brief look in the opencast mine at 7:35 saw SY 1041 propelling its coach on the passenger to Nanzhan. I then decided we should follow up what I had seen from a distance on the deep mines southern branch and have a look at the junction for Shierjing. (I am not sure of its name, is it Yizhan (first station), or Shengli as in a description by Bernd Seiler or Mankuang as on Bernd's map?). The first train noted was SY 1448 which passed on the main branch on a rake of several tippers and a non standard empty coal wagon from Daqiao. I recognised the coal wagon as locals at Daqiao had been making sure as little coal as possible was left on the floor of the wagon. It was over an hour before the next train appeared, SY 1450 on a long string of empty wagons, some of which were left at the junction before it continued along the main branch.
I then decided to return to the opencast mine and have a look at the southwestern end. Mike and I left our van-bus at the level crossing of the recently surfaced road where it crosses the line to Nanzhan. It was quite a long way even to reach the junction to Dongfanghong and the sun around midday felt very warm. We carried on around the well known, but now single tracked, S-bend to reach the edge of the pit. No traffic of any kind had disturbed our walk. All spoil is now only tipped within the pit and we could see just two tracks were in use. The higher track was being used to fill in the southwestern end of the hole but the lower track continued through 180o to the northwest face. Three different trains were seen tipping on each track. Road trucks were in use at one of the spoil excavations. A very odd train appeared on the line to Nanzhan, it was SY 1286 with the explosives train of 3 tippers (buffer wagons) and the yellow explosives van but also propelling the coach for the passenger working. To shorten the walk back to our bus, Mike used his mobile to contact our driver and ask him to park near the line back to Dongfanghong. On our way we saw that SY 1286 had left the explosives train at the junction and was continuing to Nanzhan with just the coach. The afternoon had remained quite sunny and warm and I was rather tired after the walk, despite Mike's help in carrying my tripod. So back to the hotel for our last night.
Our fourth and final day, not quite as sunny with some cloud as we drove directly to the junction for Shierjing on the deep mines southern branch. Very soon SY 1416 arrived light engine. It was very busy, bringing a train of loaded wagons from the mine to the junction, propelling a train of empty wagons into the mine and returning with another train of loads. There was an excellent photo position from the top of a raised bank above the track to the mine although the early morning heat haze was a new experience. A diesel headed a train of loads banked by steam towards Dongfanghong on the main branch, and half an hour later SY 1416 headed light engine south on the main branch. But it was over three hours before the next action when SY 1416 returned with 6 wagons which could have been from a local coal distribution yard further down the line. There is another of these yards connected to the south of the tracks at the junction. The previous day (a Sunday) there had been no activity but today there was a queue of trucks, 3-wheelers and horse/donkey carts to load with coal for delivery.
The afternoon was to be a last look at the opencast mine. I would have liked to have ventured down to the levels of the coal trains but decided it would be unwise on my own. So I descended only so far as to get a better view of the coal unloading station. In contrast to previous visits when coal trains were well regulated to arrive and depart with the two unloading tracks being used alternately with no hold ups, I found on this occasion loaded coal trains were queuing up, sometimes at several levels, a pair of trains running coupled together and on one occasion three loaded trains together at the unloading station. Yes, an unloading track is long enough for two trains but only one can be unloaded and can't move once unloaded until the other train moves out of the way. On another occasion a loaded train that had arrived, collected 2 hopper wagons (of ash?) and 2 tippers from the adjacent servicing point and left without unloading to climb out of the pit. Near the bottom of the pit I could see an empty and a full spoil train coupled together. On returning home and examining my farewell pictures of the pit, I realised the connection between two reversing points used by coal trains and some spoil trains was temporarily reduced to a single track, due to one of the tracks being slewed to a new position. Amazing to think that so near the end of the working life of the pit such work was still required. The extent of the resulting disruption was clear. During this observation of the pit, I was looking into the sun and found it impossible to identify a couple of locos on the coal trains with cabside numbers on dirty cast plates, so they were probably locos I missed recording.
At 16:00 it was time to leave this fascinating operation for the last time and return to Manzouli for overnight train K7092, the former N92, departing 18:38 to Harbin.
Rather than listing the locomotives I saw, I would refer you to Duncan Cotterill's report of his visit in early March where he lists the status of the 53 surviving SYs, with 23 working in the opencast mine and 6 along with the 2 diesels on the deep mines system. The only change I noted was that working SY 1193 was now stored as the second loco on the left hand row of stored locos and unlike the other locos in the row, its connecting rods were still in place. I missed seeing SYs 0959, 1240, 1587, 1690 and 3005. Duncan recorded SY 1690 as stored so unless I walked right passed it without noting its number, I assume it is back in traffic having done a straight swap with SY 1193. With a total of 24 locos stored/dumped, this is 8 fewer than Bernd Seiler noted in January, the difference being 10 stored opencast locos are back in traffic but two working deep mine locos (SYs 0924 and 1424) are now stored. The number of stored/dumped locos should be compared with the total of just 10 I noted at the end of last October, most of which were dumped rather than stored.
Looking at deep mines operations, the arrival of the two diesels has resulted in the storage of SYs 0924, 1424 and 1688. SY 1601 remains on the duty at Dongfanghong of shunting wagons to be loaded with coal from the opencast mine and of the five remaining SYs, two will be at work with three on standby for additional workings. Staff expect a further diesel to arrive by the end of the year.
SY 1041 departs station 510 propelling the morning passenger to Nanzhan.
With both lines out of 510 now single, the second of the three lines is a rusty track going nowhere.
The left hand line contains 14 surplus locos, hidden on the right just 6, most of which have been dumped for several years.
The coal unloading station in the pit with the 510 reversing point above.
The pit from the south end with a coal train being loaded at lower left.
On the right the lower of two lines being used to access points for spoil tipping and below it a track for road vehicles.
SY 1041 on a spoil train being unloaded on the upper spoil dumping line.
Looking into the pit from the north east, it is surprising to see from where spoil is still being removed, particularly the train at upper left.
Meanwhile two loaded coal trains are busy climbing to the level of the coal unloading station.
A wider view shows more of the track layout.
A couple of minutes after the previous picture and the spoil train on the left is in position to descend into the pit with another spoil train to follow.
The spoil train on the right approaches the crane where it will be loaded. Note on the right edge of the picture what appears to be a bulldozer on a track.
On the final day of the visit, work in progress to slew over one of the tracks between two reversing points, temporarily reducing the connection to a single track.
A loco and crane stand on the remnant of the old track which is being moved. The bulldozer on the right of the previous picture had been preparing the new trackbed.
On the southern branch of the deep mines system, SY 1416 heads a second train of loads from Shierjing ...
... after which it passes light engine through hutongs towards Erzhan.
We arrived at Harbin main station at 6:38 and transferred to train K7092, the 7:20 to Jiamusi. The stock was modern white painted coaches marked 160 km/h but I don't think we ever approached that speed. Tickets were bought on the train. We arrived at Jiamusi at 13:00 and caught a train at 14:15 to Huanan arriving at 16:25 (train 6282/6283 to Qitaihe). After checking in at the usual hotel in the centre of Huanan we took a taxi to have a look if the railway was working. As Mike expected, it was, and with the sun setting below low clouds at 17:45, C2 0-8-0 011 departed with a train of empty wagons. This was a very encouraging sight for the start of the visit.
The next morning was bright and sunny as we caught a taxi from the hotel at 6:15. We both left our large luggage at the hotel as we were going to stay the night with a family at Tuoyaozi, where the line commences the climb into the hills. We followed the road alongside the track and around the 4 km mark spotted a loaded train approaching. It was 011 again but my attempts at pictures were prevented by two small trucks overtaking the train and obstructing my view. At 7:20 we arrived at the house in Tuoyaozi at the far end of the village next to the railway. The man of the family had previously been in charge of the permanent way gang based at Tuoyaozi and there were stacks of new sleepers outside his house. A permanent way trolley was kept here and workers were loading it with sleepers, but a recently appointed manager objected to me taking pictures. The first, surprising, action was at 8:00 when 044 with a train of empties came rolling back down the hill through the village towards Xiahua. I have no idea what the problem was or what happened to the train. My aim for the day, inspired by Bernd Seiler's May visit in 2008, was to follow the line up to forest and over the summit in spring conditions. However I decided it was best to avoid the dates of Bernd's planned visit for 2009. Timing my visit before Bernd, it was apparent that spring had scarcely commenced. In the forest, just a few green shoots and early flowers appeared through the dead ground cover from the year before and there were no leaves or blossom on the trees. Frogs (or were they toads?) just out of hibernation were doing what they do after a long winter sleep in slow flowing water at the edge of the track.
We were above the oxbow shaped bend in the track on the way to the summit of the line when Mike's keen hearing picked up the sound of a climbing train approaching. It was now 10:40 on a very warm morning so forget any exhaust unless any coal is being added to the fire which of course didn't happen as the train, hauled by 011, headed towards us but started as soon as it had passed (sod's law of taking pictures). We continued following the track over the summit and took up a position on "Pumpkin Hill" which gives a distant view of loaded trains approaching from Lixin and a closer view of trains on the curve at the foot of the hill. At 11:35 a banked train of 8 loaded wagons headed towards the summit, I couldn't identify the train engine, but the banker was 011 as expected. At 11:55 011 ran back light engine towards Lixin. The next expected action was a train of empty wagons but none appeared. At 14:35 it was 011 again, this time on a train of 5 loaded wagons without banker. For whatever reason, trains were not running in the usual order, each with the usual 8 wagons. We set off back to our lodgings in Tuoyaozi and it wasn't until after our evening meal that a further train appeared, 044 on empties.
Next morning at 6:15, 168 ran through the village on a loaded train. Mike assured me there had been several trains during the night but I had slept well and hadn't heard any of them. At 7:20 we set off walking again uphill from Tuoyaozi (5 km from the passing station at Xiahua). We had only walked 1 km when a very off-beat sounding 044 on 8 empty wagons passed. Rather than repeat the previous day, I decided to walk back following the track along the edge of the village to investigate the line towards Xiahua. Averting my eyes from several dead rats and a dead dog on the way, once away from the village I found this stretch of track rather uninteresting. At 11:15, 011 passed us on 8 loaded wagons, rolling down the slight gradient. I tried to find various slightly better photo positions ... but then no more trains. Around 15:00 Mike phoned a contact in Huanan and was told that due to the strong wind no trains were running. There was a bad forest fire elsewhere in Heilongjiang province and many of the local forestry workers had been transferred there to help get the fire under control. The fear was that a lineside fire started by a train could soon spread due to the wind, with insufficient workers to fight the flames. We were only staying the one night with the family so after thanking them for their hospitality we then took a taxi back to the hotel in Huanan. We paused to check the depot yard where 011 and 168, coupled to the crew van, were ready for action with 041 in light steam.
Next morning, in a taxi again, we first checked the depot and found 044 ready to go with 041 in steam in the same position as the evening before, although Mike said both were in need of minor attention. We followed the line and 2 km before Xiahua, Mike recommended I got ready with my cameras as a loaded train was approaching. It was 168 on 8 wagons and was briefly brought to a halt by several staff arriving from the depot on motorbikes. We accompanied the train back to Huanan and watched as 168 ran round its train and propelled the wagons away for unloading. It turned on the triangle, picked up a single wagon and reversed into the depot. We then left for Mike to check the bus station for transport to Jixi. On our return to the yard, 168 was ready to depart with a train of 5 empty wagons and the crew van. We followed it to Xiahua where it arrived at 11:50, from where it departed at 12:00 without passing a loaded train.
I had been delighted to find the line operating. Clearly not all the locomotives in use were in the best of condition and I was not able to see as many trains as I might have expected. But to me there is something magical about the little train climbing through the forest, not to mention the sight of oxen and horses being used for cultivation in the fields alongside the line above Tuoyaozi. Long may it continue.
|041||In light steam in depot yard|
On a warm, hazy morning, 168 on a reduced length train of 5 empties and crew van between Huanan and Xiahua.
044 climbs with 8 empties above Tuoyaozi.
011 with 8 empties in the forest ...
... heading for the summit.
The view from "Pumpkin Hill" between Lixin and the summit,
an unidentified loco with 8 loads banked by an almost hidden 011.
We then headed directly back to the bus station for a bus to Jixi departing 14:20 arriving at 17:00. After Mike had checked us into the usual hotel (now called National Territory Resources Mansion), I was surprised when Mike spoke to a gentleman walking across the lobby, "Hello Ameling". Yes, the only other enthusiast we met on the trip was none other than Ameling Algra, but a surprise as he wasn't staying at his recommended accommodation at the Jixi Fandian near the station. I was pleased to meet for the first time such a frequent and enthusiastic contributor to SY-Country and the Steam_in_China Group.
It was wet start on our first morning. Over breakfast in the hotel, we again met Ameling. He explained he was off to Tiefa next, staying overnight in Harbin and then catching a high speed train, one of which he had found that stopped at Tieling. For us it was only going to be a brief look of less than 2 days at Jixi. In some ways Jixi had been something of a back up visit if Huanan had not been running. But I was interested to know what progress had been made since the end of last October on the electrification of the Chengzihe system. By 11:30 it was dry so Mike found us a taxi and after a dumpling lunch I decided first to have a look at Donghai mine, which I had only visited once previously, just to check the locomotives there. The trains here are the only ones on the Jixi system that travel along China Railway tracks. 25 minutes after leaving Jixi, we reached a level crossing over the line to the mine, about 2 km before it connects with China Railway. It took another 20 minutes on a very poor road to reach the mine itself. Here SY 0639 was waiting on a loaded train and, waiting in steam, SY 1018, which did not seem to have a proper cast SY type chimney but rather a fabricated stove pipe. Some cigarettes' bribery of SY 0639's crew resulted in a rather unsatisfactory false start but information that the train would be departing shortly. One of the best positions for a shot of the train is over a river bridge on the China Railway track. So it was back down the poor road and right turn along the main road towards Jixi. Passing the edge of a village a side road was blocked by a CR passenger train that had stopped. Mike urged me out of the taxi and onto the train which was heading in the direction of Jixi. On the train he explained by alighting at the next stop, we would have crossed the bridge we wanted to get to, and instead of having to walk 2-3 km we would only have to walk back just over 1 km. I should mention that both stops were the most basic of halts and on a train of any length you were most likely boarding/alighting from/onto the ballast (fare 1.50 yuan). I have since searched for the train on the China Travel Guide and it must have been 6224 from Dongfanghong which calls at Jidong, the exchange station between the mine trains and CR at 14:26. It was a very warm afternoon as we walked back to the bridge and Mike was some way ahead of me when he called back "the train is coming". He was fit enough to get in a good enough position for his picture but there was no way I could make it, so my notebook records "14:35, missed shot", all I could do was grab video of the train running past. We waited for a long train of returning empties at 15:10 and then walked back to the halt where we had left the CR passenger. Mike had used his mobile and our taxi was waiting for us by a level crossing at the halt.
After a 20 minute drive returning towards Jixi, Xinghua mine at the eastern end of the Chengzihe system came into view from the main road, so we decided to have a look. Several locos were present including SY 1369, SY 1544 on loaded wagons and SY 1545 on the waste train of 4 tippers and a "caboose". Driving on to Zhengyang mine, no locos were present but SY 1544 arrived from Xinghua on its long train of loads with SY 1351 on the rear. It wasted little time before departing towards Dongcheng, of course now with SY 1351 leading and SY 1545 trailing. We followed the rough road alongside the line and I was able to see the "electrification" poles which were being planted on my last visit. To my embarrassment, they are nothing of the sort but are now wired up, possibly for telephones. Poles planted later to which they are linked are clearly too far from the trackside to be used for electrification.
We carried on to the loco servicing point at Nancheng where Mike later pointed out several larger poles which he said were for electrification but at the moment the railway could not afford to buy any more so the work was on hold. Locos here being serviced were SY 1544, which we had last seen at the rear of the loaded train, and SY 0863. Meanwhile SY 1351 passed taking the train of loads on its own to the China Railway yard at Jixi, returning light engine 35 minutes later at 17:55.
The next day was Sunday, 3rd May, the last day of the 3 day "Golden Holiday". My choice would have been, as on my last visit, to leave Jixi on the overnight train to Harbin. However, because of the end of the holiday, it was impossible to obtain a sleeper ticket. I had already asked Mike to obtain tickets for us from Harbin to Shenyang on next morning's high speed train so we had to travel by bus to Harbin at 15:00 and stay there overnight, leaving our day somewhat curtailed. Fortunately the day started with bright sun and a cloudless sky. We returned to where we had left off the previous evening at Nancheng. SY 1437 in very smart condition passed towards Dongcheng. Locos being serviced had been seen the previous day apart from the addition of SY 1340. We returned to the hotel and checked out, setting off to Hengshan. SY 1095 left with a train of empty main line wagons up the hill, later to be followed by SY 0804 on tippers, which ran round its train at Zhongxin. It then departed for the mine at Xiaohengshan, the wagon with control cabin now at the rear of the train, ready for spoil train operation. The now disused track to Erchang was still in place. There was a large crane in place where the mine used to be. Whether or not this was for demolition or rebuilding is a matter for speculation.
Much as I would have liked to try again for Donghaikuang, there wasn't time, so we set off for a two hour look at Didao, which was busy with several workings to Lijin mine on the lower branch below the spoil tips. I had never previously seen workings on this line. SY 1446 brought a train of loaded tippers for the power station from the mine. SY 0407 arrived with hopper wagons from the direction of the power station/main line connection and then ran down to Lijin light engine returning on main line wagons. Ameling in his recent report mentioned the hopper wagon working to the "new mine", but I didn't see any trains working along the upper branch during my brief visit. SY 0950, after pushing loaded CR wagons towards the main line connection, returned with CR empty wagons which it pushed down the lower branch towards Lijin and returned light engine. SY 1446 brought more CR empties from the main line and SY 0950 shunted internal "CR type" wagons at the washery. SY 1250 was present at the washery.
We returned to Jixi for the bus journey to Harbin arriving after 21:00 at a deserted bus station opposite the railway station and checked into the nearby Tianzhu Hotel. Mike found the local dumpling restaurant was closed so it had to be KFC for supper (fish option for me).
Locos seen. All in use:-
|0863, 1340, 1351, 1369, 1437, 1544, 1545|
|0407, 0950, 1205, 1446|
Steam on China Railway track, Donghaikuang's SY 0639 with loaded train heads for Jidong.
Hengshan's SY 0804 approaches Zhongxin with tipper wagons.
To be concluded
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© 2009 Dave Fielding