The International Steam Pages

Report of Tour to China 17th October - 3rd November 1998

Bryan Acford reports:


This was a private tour to Dahuichang Limestone Works, Baotou, the Bao-Shen line, Changchun Works, Dunhua, the Helong / Kaishantun branches and Chengde. Our main objective was to track down JS class on line work in these areas.

We were a group of 5 and ground arrangements were handled by CLSLPA and we were guided throughout by Mrs Sun with her usual good humoured efficiency.

The main news is that there seem to have been a number of major losses of steam worked lines from the start of the new timetable in October. Although, on the plus side, we discovered a brand new SY being rolled out at Changchun.

On reflection, on my ninth visit to China since 1984, I came back feeling that quality action on CNR can’t last much longer as steam gets pushed further and further to the margins of the rail system. Let’s hope that the private lines hang on for a while longer.

Dahuichang Limestone Works

We arrived at 1230 on 18th October to find no activity and 2 locos in light steam along with a lot of loaded hoppers. The locos were No3 and unidentified (believed to be 5) with two more locked in the shed and 01 dumped outside (as it had been in February). As expected, around 1400 the locos began to shunt the loads onto the tippler (hindered by a series of derailments) and the first trains of empties left for the quarry at 1445 and 1505. We departed at 1520 to catch T177 to Baotou. We didn’t check out the standard gauge sidings.A curio here is the loco identities. On our visit on 22 February locos numbered 1 & 4 were working. Has anybody else seen No1? Is it possible that locos are exchanged with other Capital Iron and Steel operations such as Yexi Quarry?


A first on our journey to Baotou was a trip via Fengtai around the back of Capital Iron and Steel, missing out Nankou and the Great Wall at Badaling. We were hauled out of Beijing by DF4/1959 although under the wires.

We arrived Baotou at 0610 and before dropping our bags at the hotel saw 8328 (T931) & 8279 (T921) close to Wuanshuiquan just after sunrise, followed by QJ3068 rolling out of Baotou on T851 to Shenmu.

Baotou Suburbans

We photographed these trains at various times over the following days. The action is excellent but being at the beginning and end of the day is difficult for light at this time of year. Some of the trains load to 13 coaches and are an impressive sight as they head out of Baotou Dong just before and after sunrise. Baotou is a little short of good locations but standing at the end of Baotou Dong yard just before the loop line diverges gave some interesting glint possibilities, at daybreak.

The locos are serviced at the derelict Baotou Dong depot and it appeared that 8279, 8280, 8320, 8321 & 8328 were covering the suburbans, Shiguai passenger and one shunt duty. There are a few other JS working from Baotou Xi, along with a handful of QJ’s

Shiguai Branch

We spent a fair amount of time investigating this branch in particular the steep climbs in both directions to Houba. The freight trains seemed to run to a fairly consistent pattern and used the same locos each day during our stay. The freight is limestone and coal and the trains head around the northern leg of the loop line so it would seem a reasonable assumption that they originate somewhere in the region of the steelworks.

In addition to the passenger train there were morning and afternoon goods trains giving a total of 6 daylight workings at this time of year. The main eastbound climb to Houba (km20) starts at Hongfengling (km12) and steepens to around 1 in 50 for the final 2 km to Houba. There is a poor track along the river bed parallel to the line and there are some good positions either side of the small village of Xiadonggua (km17). After 1300 the light is difficult in this area, but the line twists around some hills nearer to Hongfengling. Westbound (loaded) trains are about 16 wagons and are banked to Houba by one of the Shiguai pilot locos. There are a number of positions both at the start of the climb and around the summit which is in the deep cutting about 500m east of Houba station. Beware of locos shutting off to coast the last few yards over the summit. Also, we were plagued by smog from Shiguai which ruined the visibility for the morning loaded train.

Baotou Steelworks

This is much changed from my previous visits (1990 & 1995). There has been considerable development at the south end of the complex with many new buildings. This, combined with the increased use of diesels around the furnaces has taken away much of the potential. There are still plenty of SY’s around, but mainly around the outside of the complex. There are 2 slag tipping areas, both being visible from behind Baotou Xi depot. Only YJ232 and JS58001/2 remain in service apart from the SY’s. The most interesting SY was 2015, built Jinan 1992.

Bao-Shen Line

We had a frustrating time here. Despite superb clear light we were plagued by unusually low traffic levels. As a result we spent far too much time hanging around for trains that never came. Note that there is a small halt at the north end of the Singing Sands viaduct where the passenger train stops. This is presumably linked to the development of the ‘Fabulous Singing Sands’ where a cable car is being built to ferry the bored gricers to their camel rides!!

South of Dongsheng traffic was equally sparse. It would also seem that the double headed and banked trains are a reflection of there being surplus motive power. A single QJ crawls up to Aobogou on 30 loads with much noise and piles of clag. The 3 loco train was flying up by comparison on a load of around 50 wagons with little noise and sporadic clag. The banker was one of the Dongsheng pilot locos and was facing backwards.

A couple of notable changes to the passenger service on this line. The main train now starts from the main Baotou station and goes all the way to Shenmu Bei

07-56 T851 ex Baotou
13-23 T852 ex Shenmu Bei

In addition there is short working from Dongsheng – Dailuta

06-30 T855 ex Dongsheng
18-25 T856 ex Dailuta

Now our actual sightings:

Monday 19/10/98

11-50 8001 banked 8327 app Houba - westbound
13-55 8322 app Houba eastbound
16-45 8322 banked 8325 app Houba - westbound

Tuesday 20/10/98

06-35 8280, T941 west of Baotou Dong (at west end of Marshalling Yard)
06-55 8321, T803 ditto
06-58 8320, T931 ditto
07-16 8279, T921 ditto
09-55 8001 approach Houba - eastbound
10-46    8321, T804 @ km24

Steelworks, 1145-1530

Depot JS58002, SY1677, JS58001, SY2015, SY0824, SY1676

Dump YJ179, 137, 220, 254, 131, 315, JS58003, JS58004, SY0502 (accident)

In Works SY0422, 0710, 1517, 1521, 1697, 1723, 0264, YJ232.

Near Baotou Xi depot

16-25 QJ6519 T755 to Linhe
16-55 JS8278 le from east (ex works)
17-05 JS8320 T935
17-10 JS8279 T943

Wednesday 21/10/98

07-39 8320, T803 app Houba
07-55 8322 west of Houba, westbound goods (crossed at Houba)
09-10 8001 app Houba eastbound empties
09-55 8320, T804 app Houba
11-55 8001 with 8327 banking arr Houba, westbound goods
13-55 8322 pass km16 eastbound empties
15-55 8322 banked 8325 east of Houba, westbound goods

Wuanshuiquan bridge 1715 – 1800

Various DF4 trains

QJ (no deflectors) as pilot

17-46 8279, depart on T943

Thursday 22/10/98

06-38 8320, T941 west end of Baotou Dong Marshalling Yard
06-46 QJ7059 arrived in yard tf with transfer goods from west
06-54 8280, T903 departed
06-55 8328, T931 departed (approx 200 metres behind on parallel track)
07-05 QJ7059 departed le to west
07-17 8279, T921 departed

We then headed down to the Singing Sands viaduct for the rest of the day

09-06    6348, T851 ex Baotou
09-25 QJ, northbound loads
10-03 QJ, southbound empties - short train
10-20 QJ, northbound loads
13-24 3068, southbound empties
14-56 QJ, northbound loads
17-15 6711, T852 to Baotou
17-30 QJ, southbound empties (sundown was 17-20 !!)

We drove the appalling road to Dongsheng, arriving 19-30 after a very slow journey dodging the blue coal lorries.

Friday 23/10/98

Drove down to Aobagou where the staff gave a very accurate summary of the days sparse service, complete with ‘should have been here yesterday’ comments

08-30 6014 arrived from south with loads
6289 crossed on southbound empties
09-30 1969 arrived from south with loads
6018 crossed on way to bank following train
10-40 7044 on southbound T851
11-20 6473 + 1611 banked 6018 on northbound loads
15-45 6289 on northbound T852

There being no further trains we headed to Dongsheng depot where we found
Dumped 6040, 6662, 6020. Stored 6194 Cold but recently used 3161
In steam 2977, 6249, 6289, 3068, 6017, 6247, 6018.

Interesting the locos we had seen earlier appeared to have worked through to Baotou. Also it seemed that the allocation was being deliberately painted out on the tenders.

Saturday 24/10/98

Drove down to Aobagou early and it was another thin day

06-50 QJ southbound on T855
06-56 2 x QJ plus QJ banker northbound
07-30    QJ 6247 le southbound

The only northbound train forecast was 3 x QJ again at 11-30 so we headed for Singing Sands in the hope of more action. Things were even worse. We arrived at 0920 (just in time to miss the passenger)

10-28 QJ 2586 northbound loads
12-50 QJ 1611 southbound empties
14-55 QJ northbound loads
17-15 QJ 1891, T852 northbound

The sun disappeared into the haze, a precursor of overnight rain.

Sunday 25/10/98

We awoke to cloud and rain but still headed for Houba in the hope of a break. The road to Shiguai was blocked by an accident, but our resourceful driver followed some coal lorries for about 5km along a river bed and we finally ended up west of Hongfengling just after T803 had passed!!! We then joined the next river bed track to Houba and waited for the morning freight which did not run. By 0930 it was starting to snow and we watched 8280 pass on T804 at 0958.

We headed back into town and visited Baotou Dong servicing point. The wooden depot building is derelict and contains a dumped JF.

On shed were the 4 passenger locos. 8279, 8280, 8320 & 8321. Around 1200 QJ6519 worked in from Linhe on T756 and came on shed along with 8328 from the pilot.

We took T516 to Beijing at 1516. As we left 8279 was preparing to take T943. We passed 8005 shunting at Dong Xing (the first station east of Baotou Dong). The only other working steam en route was an ex works JS in steam at Hohhot depot (presumably heading west). There was snow on the mountains behind Hohhot and on the ground at Jiningnan.

Monday 26/10/98

We arrived at a gloomy Beijing Xi at 0515 and judging by the amount of water on the lower levels Beijing Xi has a drainage problem (it hasn’t got any !!).

We left one of our number in Beijing to take the Tuesday flight back to London. We then took CJ6144 to Changchun arriving at 1210. En route we had crossed snow covered hills so our spirits rose in anticipation of getting some snow on our boots (we were of course to be disappointed)

On arrival we drove across to the depot which is now overlooked by a new road. The only steam was QJ6086 & 6851 being serviced (presumably having worked in from the Baicheng area), along with SY0537, 0984 and 3 others (all cold) in the depot building and around the turntable. All the depot environs and buildings looked clean and smart, a sure sign that those nasty dirty steam locos seldom visit nowadays!!

We spent the afternoon at the loco works. There was rather less activity than my previous visit in 1995. Around 10 locos were in various states of overhaul and others were being cut up. The big news was that a new SY was under steam test and we saw it being moved from the Erecting Shop to the Paint Shop. It had no visible numbers. Our guide was told it was 3032, but we wonder whether it was really 3023. It was apparently destined for Hegang Mine.

Pilots: SY1158, JS5740 Boiler JS5328

Erecting Shop SY????, JS8052, JS6021, QJ6912, QJ6284, QJ6135, QJ7101

Paint & Test JS8049, JS8008 (Baotou), QJ3193, QJ unident

Dump JS5036, QJ1385, JS5785, QJ3405 plus others, also bits of JS5743 & others

Our guide said that they only overhaul forest, mine and local railway locos – I’m not convinced unless there are some ownership arrangements in areas like in Inner Mongolia which are not CNR.

We took the 2100 train to Tumen as far Dunhua where we arrived at 0345, just as the rain started.

Tuesday 27th October

We grabbed a couple of hours sleep at the Dunhua Station Hotel and emerged into the gloom at 0630.

At the level crossing west of the station we established the following freight paths:

Eastbound arrivals 07-02, 08-26, 09-30, 11-50, 13-07, 16-15

Westbound departures 07-10, 08-30, 11-56, 14-40, 15-25, 16-44 (mostly banked) These workings are apparently still largely steam. The QJ we saw were all clean and smart and no 7108 even had a red star on the smokebox, a rare sight these days!

Our sightings (in heavy rain) at west end of station
07-10 DF4C + JS5427 banking dep westbound
08-10 7166 arr eastbound goods
08-35 7084 + JS5425 banking dep westbound
This train collided with a vehicle at the next level crossing and the whole train returned to Dunhua yard at 09-15. The QJ had sustained some damage to its cylinder area and various people spent the next couple of hours inspecting the damage.
09-30 7082 arr eastbound goods
09-55 DFH3 0006 arr T781 from west (terminated)
10-14 DFH3 0097 dep T768 westbound
10-40 7108 arr eastbound goods
12-01 7166 + 7084 + JS banker departed on original train

Various DF4 hauled goods had arrived from the east and there were other DF4 hauled through passengers.

Dunhua Depot (1330) - 7108, 7082 plus DF4, DF4C & DFH3 0006, also 3 dumped QJ inside the depot building (inc 2800)

Faced with continuing rain and a long journey to Longjing we set off a 1400 and passed en route:

DF4 + JS 8062 (ex works) wb goods app Dunhua
QJ light heading to Dunhua
DF4 + QJ assistant wb goods at Erhtaohotzu
QJ wb trip freight at Mingyuehkou

We also checked out the Dashitou Forestry operation, having previously been told that it had closed. This was true, the whole logging operation appeared to be out of use with no logs in the main wood yard. We could see approx 5 dumped ng diesels in the distance but given the absence of operations didn't investigate further.

We called at Chaoyangchuan depot and were a bit surprised to find nothing in steam, just a DFH3 and long dumped JS6006 & QJ2203.

At 1630 we saw JS5664 leaving Sanfengdong with a northbound log train so our immediate concerns were allayed.

Chaoyangchuan – Longjing – Kaishantun / Helong

We had planned to spend a couple of days on this system before heading on to Tumen to find out what steam operation remained there and check out the new local railway to Hunchun.

On arrival at Sanfengdong the following morning we were informed that the passenger trains were now diesel along with some of the freight (since 1 October). We were obliged to stay in the area for a total of 5 days in order to hunt down the remaining steam workings. It transpired that three JS (5457, 5664 & 5757) and three DFH3 (0017, 0018 & 0265) were running the service. The JS were in poor condition and were struggling terribly on the climbs to Sanfengdong, even stopping to blow up on occasions. Their external state was also poor with leaks and visibly burnt smokebox fronts, a far cry from my previous memories of smart locos throughout NE China. There was also a pilot at Chaoyangchuan, we saw both 5548 and 5427 on this duty. Given that the track has been relaid with concrete sleepers, and realigned in places we felt that steam on this system was on its last legs.

It also seemed that the operation of the system was different from previous reports. The passengers had been retimed and one diesel was fully occupied on the two return passengers to Helong. Loaded freights from Longjing were being worked up to Sanfengdong in several portions, either single or double headed (diesel or steam), but this action was usually in the very late afternoon or during the evening. This meant that there were few opportunities to photograph the northbound climb to Sanfengdong with steam in daylight. There appeared to be 5 freight diagrams:

Approx 0200 Chao - Kaishantun (loaded coal), returning thru Longjing approx 1015
0620 or 0850 Chao - Kaishantun (loaded coal), returning at 1200 but then piloting at Longjing and assisting the afternoon loads up to Sanfengdong
Approx 0430 Chao - Helong empties, returning after the afternoon passenger with loaded wood, leaving Longjing after 1530
0850 or 1030 Chao - Bajiazi / Fudong mine with empties, running as a pick up - returning after dark
1300 Chao - Helong empties, returning overnight.
One loco may also have been tripping along the main line to Yanji.

We drove the full length of both branches. The Helong line is in a wide valley away from the main road as far as Bajiazi, but after Bajiazi there is a scenic river gorge beyond the point where the Fudong mine branch diverges. Traffic on this line was mainly wood, with a little coal, all heading for the main line at Chaoyangchuan. There is also gorge just west of Longjing, but access isn't easy.

The Kaishantun branch is much more interesting. Around Badohe (km41) there are climbs in both directions to summit tunnels set in rolling moorland scenery. There is a good morning position for loaded trains around km 44 (park on top of the tunnel). There should also be positions for returning trains from Kaishantun, with a backdrop of the hills across the border in North Korea. Traffic seemed to be mainly coal to the factory at Kaishantun (a scruffy border village), with empties and a little finished goods returning. Sugar beet was also being loaded at Badohe. There is also a railbus passenger service of sorts and we saw an arrival at Kaishantun around 1145. Also of interest on this line is the station architecture which is an improvement on the usual bland Chinese designs.

Our sightings:

Wednesday 28th October

08-10 DFH3 0017, T762 n Longjing
10-01 DFH3 0017, T757 app Tunnel
10-55 5664 app Tunnel, southbound goods
14-30 DFH3 0017, T758 n Longjing
15-05 5457 s Sanfengdong, southbound goods (continued towards Helong)
16-30 5757 n Longjing northbound goods (stalled on climb with 8 loaded wagons)
17-15 5757 in Longjing station with second portion of train
17-30 DFH3 0017 arrived Longjing with passenger

Thursday 29th October

06-45 at Chaoyuanchan, no locos on shed.

5548 (pilot) on to shed for coal
5664 on to shed for coal - it was due to depart approx 09-30
5457 arrived tf on trip from Yanji direction at 07-50

Also dumped on shed QJ1094 plus one other with no number.

09-40 5664 climbing to Sanfengdong, southbound goods
10-25 DFH3 0265 leave Longjing for Chaoyangchuan with wagon + brake (ex K'tun ?)
11-30 5664 w Longjing, southbound goods - dropped wagons and shunted at Lungshuiping and Bajiazi
14-10 DFH3 0017, T758 app Bajiazi
14-37 5664 dep Bajiazi for Fudong mine with 6 empties

We drove to Helong where DFH3 0018 was on a train, which passed Bajiazi at 1600.
We also saw a DFH3 hauled train of empties which arrived at Helong around 1540.

Bajiazi Forestry Railway no longer exists. All the tracks on this attractive operation have been torn up and the trackbed is now a cycle track! The log yard remains busy but relies upon deliveries by road.

Friday 30th October

By now it was obvious that we would have to start each day by locating the JS and following them around. We were informed that one loco was at Kaishantun, due to return thru Longjing at approx 0930.

08-30 DFH3 0018, eastbound goods app Badohe
09-40 5664, westbound goods, west of Badohe
11-45 5457 leaving tunnel with southbound goods (to Longjing only) - stalled on climb
14-05 5664 south of Sanfengdong with southbound goods
14-20 DFH3 0017, T758 north of Longjing.

Meanwhile it was rush hour at Longjing with 5457, 5664 and DFH3 0018 (ex K'tun) in the station.

15-05 DFH3 0265 arr from Helong with loads
15-10 5664 dep towards Helong with empties
15-35 DFH3 0018 dep towards Helong with empties
15-45 DFH3 0265 + 5457 dep towards Sanfengdong with 14 loads.

They dropped their load at Sanfengdong and returned for the second half of the train.

Saturday 31st October

We arrived at Sanfengdong at 06-20 and could hear steam on the way from Chaoyangchuan. 5757 finally arrived at 0705 after an epic struggle on the damp rails with a short coal train for K'tun.

07-55 5757 east of Longjing
08-45 DFH3 0018 westbound goods leaving tunnel at km44.
09-10 5757 eastbound goods at km44 in sudden rainstorm
11-05 5757 shunting at Kaishantun
11-30    Railcar in gorge west of Kaishantun
12-10 5757 leaving gorge west of Kaishantun.
13-05 5757 depart Badohe
14-02 5757 shunting Longjing.

There being no sign of any loaded timber at Longjing, so 5757 sat in Longjing till after dark, a great shame as we thought that the afternoon Helong train was steam. We could, of course, hear the loaded trains on the hill from the comfort of our hotel room.

By now we were pretty pissed off with operations here, but on our last morning our luck turned !

Sunday 1st November

We arrived at Chaoyangchuan at 07-00 and found:

5548, 5664 on shed being prepared for trains and 5757 in light steam
5427 (which had been at Dunhua on Tuesday) was on pilot duties

We were told that a train would leave at 08-50 but there was no traffic in the yard. After various diesel arrivals a train was marshalled, but why 2 locos ?

DFH3 0017 arrived on T762 and 5548 backed down to take the train on to Tumen (apparently there had been a diesel failure). 5664 backed down onto the goods. The result:

08-53 5548 depart towards Tumen on T762
08-55 5664 depart towards on branch towards Longjing

We then coaxed our driver into action and picked off:

09-20 5664 app Sanfengdong Tunnel
10-40 5664 at km44 east of Badohe

All shots in sun on a frosty morning !

We drove to Yanji airport, seeing a light QJ on the main line, before taking CN6188 to Beijing arriving at 1605. We then drove to Chengde, finally arriving at 2020 and staying in the hotel which overlooks the station.

Monday 2nd November

We had the whole day on the steelworks branch, starting the day in style by just missing the 0635 departure from the station. We caught the bus to the banking station and arrived just in time to see the train disappear around the corner!

For the rest of the day we sat on the climb to the summit and saw:

09-45 JS + 2SY downhill
10-55 5789 + 1765 & 1422 uphill
11-15 downhill train
11-50 6403 + 1765 & 1422 uphill
12-02 1422 le downhill
13-45 5720 + 5723 downhill (inc ballast wagons)
14-15 1422 + 5723 uphill
14-25 5723 le downhill
15-03 6403 downhill ballast train
16-05 5720 + 5723 & 6403 uphill
17-10 6403 arr Chengde station le
17-25 6403 depart uphill.

Further bits of info:

Our guides reported that there is a plan to build a by pass line to the steelworks avoiding the climb through the city. It would apparently leave the Longjing line somewhere north of the city. We were unclear about the status or timescale of this proposal.

John Tickner took our vehicle to investigate the remainder of the system and discovered:

The line south from the intermediate yard goes to a brewery and has one or two trains per week.
The line north from the intermediate yard goes to a short distance to a quarry
There are two lines (separately signalled) leaving the steelworks. One heads to Chengde whilst the other seems to go off to the north. The point where the lines diverged was away from the road.

Ted Talbot adds: "The branch to the "quarry" is actually to an iron ore mine, I think, which supplies the steel works. Occasionally, SYs work down there and bring back hoppers with ore. At the quarry there is an overhead electric railway, probably NG, which serves the mine proper, but when John Raby and I drove past it, we foolishly did not stop to investigate!"

The general depression associated with the run down of Chinese steam was reinforced by the news at dinner that Dawuko was about to close to steam.

Tuesday 3rd November

We made an early start for Beijing and flew back to the UK.

Autumn Weather in China

This proved to be a mixed bag. Apart from a couple of wet days we had almost unbroken sunshine with superb visibility - far better than I have experienced in the depths of winter. However, it was also a mild autumn with temperatures quickly reaching 15C meaning that there was no smoke in the middle of the day. On the other hand the sun was struggling to get into the valleys until mid morning and several of our best shots wouldn't have been possible a couple of weeks later. In addition China in the autumn is much more interesting with the harvest underway, people and animals around and activity in the fields.

In the end you pays your money and takes your choice !

Rob Dickinson