The International Steam Pages

More Steam in China January 1999

Leslie McAllister presents his full report of his trip to Fuxin:


There have been many reports of FuXin lately, but none that I’ve studied quite prepared me for just how good it would be! The report which most provoked me to go and see for myself was the December report where it was claimed that the afternoon express from JinZhou had hammered past at 60mph. Sorry, but QJ’s do not normally manage the 85kph they are restricted to, never mind nearly a hundred. Also the train seen was in fact Train 857, a 15 coach all stations local! However, it is easy to assume that such a heavy train, with restaurant car and sleepers is, in fact, an express! Nonetheless, it did provoke me to take my stopwatches and go and discover that FuXin engines probably offer the best steam locomotive performance on regular passenger trains anywhere on the Globe, although not always!

There appear to be six steam passenger trains each day between JinZhou and FuXin (three each way), expresses 587 and 588 in the morning, both of which load to 15 coaches (600 plus Tonnes) and local trains 857/858 and 865/866. The only one I didn’t travel on was 865, but it is reasonable to assume that it has to be steam to balance the workings. Just three QJs are required to cover these trains, although over four days, I did in fact get a fourth engine. The performance was very variable, ranging from the atrocious to the very good, although it was a very erratic driver who did give me not just my highest speed with a QJ, but also the fastest I have heard of - 56 mph, (90kph). See below.

Freight traffic seems very light between FuXin and JinZhou, but seems to be largely in the hands of steam. On the YeBaiShou line, it appears mixed steam and diesel from my limited view of it (at YiXian, the junction between the lines).

Reports also do not quite prepare you for a double track industrial line at FuXin, with, at times, five tracks or more across; plus the fact that the line runs through the "HuTongs" (traditional design of Chinese dwelling). With SYs scuttling about constantly with rakes of hoppers and the morning, midday and evening local passenger services also SY hauled, each loco adding it’s white plume of exhaust to the already high level of pollution, it is a remarkable thing to see. If you like raw steam, it’s unmissable! This is all visible from the public road, just follow round to the right from the level crossing at the North end of FuXin station, across another and a hundred yards on you’re at Ping An station (with full passenger timetable inside the station building!).

Very cold (to a Hong Konger like me), probably minus five degrees or so, with added wind chill. On the last day I was there, we had a dusting of snow. Oh, and I nearly forgot, the fare for a 16 km ride on the locals is just Y1.40 (11pence sterling!).

23 January 1999

From "Disco Bay" by the direct ferry service to Hong Kong’s new airport at Chek Lap Kok. This route offers as good a voyage as you could wish , cruising round the East end of LanTau island and under the new bridges carrying the airport railway and motorway - by far the best views you get of them. Then by Dragonair to BeiJing, arriving at midday.

I was assured by the taxi touts that there was no bus to the station, but I looked outside and found the bus at the marked stop in front of the arrivals building. The Y16 fare is collected by the driver and in under 30 minutes, you arrive near the Henderson Centre, across two busy roads from the "Old" station. The station is being extensively refurbished and the "Foreigners’ Booking office has not escaped the builders’ attention, although at least it is still in the same place.

Here I met a family friend from Canada, who is studying at the "Normal" university. Joel is a French Canadian, whose knowledge of Putonghua is truly excellent for just three years’ study of the language. We caught Train K245, the 16.50 to TianJin, a double deck train hauled by a red and cream DF4D..0027. The TianJin service is somewhat similar to the GuangZhou to ShenZhen service in that it is mainly non-stop, fast and regular. As a result it is more expensive than the average service in China while still a lot cheaper than its Southern cousin. The train is mainly hard class, with a single coach (Number 10), of Soft Class, which is where we travelled. I noted that we got up to 84mph.

The wires are up in BeiJing Zhan, but there was no sign of electric haulage, so I assume they’re either not energised, or part of an incomplete programme. Anyway, they end pretty quickly outside the station. I noted a large dark blue diesel locomotive of unknown design at the depot, presumably the prototype Robin Gibbons mentioned in his Christmas report.

At TianJin we tried to get beds on Train 587, but were told to try on the train, so we just bought Hard Seats for Y40. We deposited our luggage and set off across the river and found ourselves walking down a long street of quite fine European buildings, one of which appeared to be the "British Club". TianJin used to be, of course, a "Treaty Port" and to-day is home of several international joint ventures. We ate in the "Rose Cafe" opposite the Hyatt Hotel. It appears to be a "Gweilo" watering hole and offers a bi-lingual menu including Western dishes. The waitresses speak some English.

Back to the station by taxi, picked up our luggage and headed straight to the YWs on the train, only two among a 15 coach train. The staff made a meal of allocating us beds in the three quarter-full coach, including the Police sergeant checking our papers, but we did get the middle berths we wanted. Usual night of fitful sleep - does anyone really sleep well on those concrete mattresses? I set my alarm, in case of momentary unconsciousness and rose to watch the engine change at JinZhou at 04.40hrs!


The steam schedule appears to be as follows -



















































Sourced from China Rail Timetable dated 1.10.98.

Intermediate times are departure times. Stops vary from 5 minutes upwards.

FX = FuXin; SYB = ShenYangBei

24 January 1999

6655 took over and ran the 650 Tonne train to FuXin to schedule arriving at 07.25. As it was dark I made do with station stopping times noted from the "comfort", well warmth anyway, of my bed! At DongLiang, we crossed Train 866, the FuXin to JinZhou local with steam. At FuXin, there seemed to be steam everywhere, QJs shunting and a JS running empty stock through the station. We used the "take me to the best hotel" method with a taxi driver, who charged us Y10 for the ride to the Gui Tai Hotel. This cost about Y290 per night for a twin room and was comfortable and warm. Taxis to the station always cost Y5, from it, always Y10 – needless to say none had a meter!

A quick shower and back to the station for the Southbound Express, Train 588, at 09.51. Indeed, we had time for a quick investigation of the photographic possibilities of the North level crossing and were rewarded by the sight of a JS shunting.

The same loco works the North and Southbound expresses so it was 6655 which officiated again with 15 coaches. Train 588, the 05.58 ex ShenYang Bei loads to 15 coaches just like Train 587. The typical consist seems to be XL, YZs, a CA, further YZs, 2 YWs and a final XL, weighing in at about 645 Tonnes. We sat in the first Hard Class coach, but with both the outer and inner windows firmly down, to keep the heat in, no loco sounds could be heard as we bowled along in the high forties, with a maximum of 49 before the first stop at QingHeMen in 30’44".

From here the line drops at 10% so that we had an early 48, but as the climbing began after BaoShe we fell to 29 on 8%, then recovered 32 at the summit, rushed to 42 to the succeeding downhill 10%, but collapsed to 23 on the final cruel 8% up which follows. Now we were off downhill on grades as steep as 12%, so it is little wonder that it was here that I recorded my first 50mph with a QJ at JiuDaoLing and as the grade rises slightly at 2.6% speed settled in the low 40s until the stop at YiXian in 38’01", three minutes under the schedule.

Although the locomotive stops alongside the water crane, water is not taken and we departed on time and ran on level or favourable gradients in the high forties with another 50 maximum before BaJiaTai exactly on schedule in 28’04". Beyond here, the line climbs at around 6% to ShanQiTai passed at 32. From here, on gently falling gradients, we reached 45 before the slack to 35 joining the double track at XueJia. On the short double track section, we reached 39 before the tracks separate to run on very different alignments into JinZhou. The Southbound track is about 3kms longer than the Northbound one, so you can count an extra 3 kms for such runs! We lost three minutes on this final section.

At JinZhou a red and cream DF4 takes over, while the QJ runs back past its train and heads North to the depot for servicing, before its next turn on Train 865, the 14.54 local back to FuXin. Joel and I walked outside to survey the culinary possibilities of JinZhou’s station square. We chose well by trying the WangJi restaurant, a family run affair. To find it, cross the square and the main road and it’s at right angles to the station and identifiable by a green and white illuminated sign with an ice lollipop and foaming glass motif. It’s run by the Li family - mother and two daughters, plus another lady who does the cooking. Good food at a good price. We ate there four times, for around Y30 for two each time - meat dish, vegetables and rice, plus tea, of course. Try the GuTou (braised ribs) - a local speciality - really good with DiSanXian ("food of the land delight" - a stir fry of thinly sliced vegetables).

Back to the station for Train 865 back to FuXin, with 6655 again - her roster continues with the early morning local from FuXin next day (Train 866 at 06.30). Our train loaded to just 8 YZs (about 340 Tonnes) and even though we entered the platform with the initial rush, most of the window seats had already gone – how did the passengers get on before us? Joel persuaded a guy to swap seats with me so that I could see the kilometre posts. Maximum speeds in the sections to YiXian were 41; 45; 40; 42, 34; 47 and 42, mostly on favourable gradients. At YiXian, this train is overtaken by a fast (diesel) train to ShenYang and most passengers get out here and cross to the faster train.

We departed at 16.40, but as it soon gets dark, I just managed to note the speeds for the first three sections - speeds of 46; 33 on the stiff uphill section to LiJin and 49 down to BaoShe. Here the light had gone completely and I had to be satisfied with noting the station times. When we arrived at DongLiang, we had a long wait of 32 minutes until 7116 crossed us with 8 coaches on train 858, the12.50 ex ShenYang Bei, running half an hour late. So, we were 36 minutes late ourselves in FuXin. Unremarkable dinner in the hotel washed down by FuXin’s MeiXue beer - a poor brew. Then, a much-needed good night’s sleep.

25 January 1999

This morning we crossed the line by the level crossing to the North of the station and walked among the "Hutons" to a further crossing on the industrial branch. However, we were unlucky and saw none of the many SYs on this section. Back to the station to catch Train 588 again. As we departed 3 minutes late, I noted QJs, a JS and an SY in the yard. 7116 (DaTong 1986) hauled the 15 coaches.

Now 7116’s driver had a very different technique to 6655’s the day before. He did not exert himself up the hills but came down them like Jehu. He took two minutes longer to DongLiang than the previous day, but then found his feet and did 50 at Km85 to reach QingHeMen in 35’01". Then, taking advantage of the 10% downgrade, he touched 50mph at BaoShe, but collapsed to 22 at the first summit, then 42 and a final 25 (probably lower, as my time was over a kilometre).

Now with the gradient steepening to 11%, we whirled down at speeds climbing into the 50s, at which point, I was completely blinded by the sun in my eyes, onto a dirty window. I should have changed position, but you feel you might just get the next post and so you hang on. We averaged 55mph for three kilometres, through JiuDaoLing, with a spot half kilometre following at 55˝mph. I think it is reasonable to claim 56mph as the maximum, given the gradient and the average speed. Oh to have seen another post, which might have given the evidence of a yet higher speed. Sorry to have let everyone down at the critical moment, as this is the highest speed I have seen recorded with a QJ, although I have no doubt they went a lot faster in the past, but unrecorded by anyone. One friend has related that some QJs were specially balanced for faster running on expresses. Can anyone shed light on this?

Incredibly, after this apparent effort to regain time, he dawdled over the last few kilometres and into YiXian in 42’40".

I had intended to return on the morning local to FuXin, to give me a chance to record the industrial scene, but this display of speed dictated that I stay on. Inevitably, anticlimax followed and I noted just a solitary 46 at Km27. I did note that in BaJiaoTai’s yard, there is a turntable pit, but no turntable!

After another lunch in the WangJi, we were back for the 14.54 local back to FuXin, with 7116 continuing on her diagram. To YiXian, the running was dull in the extreme, but after the usual exodus of passengers onto the over-taking fast train, on the restart 7116 was quickly into its stride with 49 before JiuDaoLing. The upgrades beyond, steepening to 12%, brought the speed down to earth and we clambered up at 21mph. Once over the summit around Kilometre Post 109, we managed 42 before the BaoShe stop. After that, it was too dark to see the posts and haste would have been wasted anyway, as we again waited 23 minutes for 6480 to cross us at DongLiang and terminated 31 late.

We tried another restaurant, near the station for dinner and although we were given a very friendly welcome, the food was dreadful. I could not believe that chicken could have so much fat! I simply cannot recommend FuXin for its cuisine, but, of course, I may have been eating in all the wrong places!

26 January 1999

6480, of course, turned up as expected for the 09.51 Express from FuXin and she just managed 46 before the stop at QingHeMen in 34’25", the slowest time of the four runs we had. On the climb, the 8.5% grade brought us down from 44 to 24 and with a little recovery in the dip, we topped the second summit at 23. We rolled downhill with the speed puntctuated by regular application of the brakes to just 46 to YiXian in 40’15". I managed a series of departure shots on a bright sunny morning from the vantage point of the goods shed platform, which is well set back from the track and offers a good vantage point.

Back to FuXin with 6655 unexpectedly hauling 15 coaches. Obviously, the carriage diagram for the line is complex and necessitates this "local" to load like an express, complete with diner and two hard class sleepers. We flew away from YiXian and may have just touched 50 before the JiuDaoLing stop in 12’52". The restart is no joke with 11% almost straight off the platform end, steepening to 11.8%, which brought the speed crashing down from 25 to 20. The short downhill stretch saw us recover to 26, but the final murderous 12.8% claimed a minimum of 21. The climbing continues after LinJin, easing from 10.8% to 2.5% at the Km109 summit, cleared at 22, after which w e rolled down at 46 to BaoShe. Despite easier grades we did not exceed 38 back to FuXin, arriving right time. Incidentally, we stopped at the locomotive shed halt and enjoyed the view of a depot awash with steam engines!

For a late lunch, we tried the noodle bar located in a lean-to extension to the building immediately opposite the station. Here, on Joel’s recommendation, I tried what I swear he called a "JiangZeMin", steamed noodles with a very spicy sauce – not too bad and very cheap! Now to explore the colliery lines. These run parallel to the East of the "mainline" and in the city centre are double track with often three or four extra tracks for washing plants, loading and unloading gantries, loco servicing points, carriage sidings etc. At one point, the mainline is duplicated by an overhead electrified line, although I saw no actual electric haulage. The vast open cast pit (illustrated on the town map) appears to use electric traction down its many levels.

The whole area is heavy with pollution and the roads are deep with coal dust. Everywhere, one sees bedraggled ponies tugging chauldrons of coal for local delivery, while the streets are lined with every kind of small capitalism. One trader had his chickens manacled together by string – more humane than Hong Kong’s crowded cages. A vision of Hell, or is it Heaven to some?

So, we then walked round to the colliery lines to try and get some shots of the SYs at work on this extensive system. Following the road round from the level crossing to the North of the station, you come to Ping An station, which is fenced off by railings and on a loop from the main lines. The station building is below the canopied platform. Inside, you’ll find the timetable. Examination of this showed that if we got a move on, we could get out to DongLiang in time for the afternoon passenger train at 16.57. The first taxi simply did not want to go that far, but a second agreed a fairly reasonable fare of Y20.

We got to DongLiang, China Rail, to find no sign of a train. Then I realised that maybe the line started from a mine and as we drove towards the next station Northwards, we came up to the colliery line, crossing the fields to the distant mine. No time to try and negotiate our way in, so we settled for MinZu, the next station.

MinZu is noted for its big church, of course (there are lots in China, if you keep your eyes open). The station is right beside the mainline and has a loop serving an island platform, but without any buildings, or nameboard. Just before our train appeared, a QJ came along in the semi-darkness on a mainline freight – a fine sight. Then, SY0391 arrived tender-first with her 8 coach train (standard YZs). We were accosted in the vestibule of the coach by a lady ticket collector, in civilian clothes. Joel dealt with the fares, while I\ found a seat in a very full train. A mere Y1.40 for about 20 kms of steam haulage - half a British penny per kilometre!

Not a lot to see to see in the gathering gloom, apart from glimpses of the occasional SY on a short train as we called at the Power Station (TaiPing) and others until we reached the terminus at XingQiu. Most of the passengers were miners, one of whom told us that he earned Y7/800 per month, Y450 after tax. That’s a good wage for China, where factory workers in GuangDong get half that (plus board and lodging). Back on the 18.35 to PingAn, where the loco backed its train out. I assume the carriage sidings are nearby.

Ate in the hotel, not wishing to risk any further "down-town’ eateries!

27 January 1999

Last day of the bash, so we were up early to admire the overnight coating of powdery snow – just enough to make the ground white (and slippery). Checked out and down to the station in good time, intending to photograph the colliery line, before we headed South. Now came one of the those bizarre examples of nascent capitalism which you get in China. We were offered a fare of Y30 to share a taxi to JinZhou, but when we asked another driver to drive us round to PingAn, wait 40 minutes and bring us back, he wanted Y100. He came down to Y50, as we walked away to deposit our luggage (Y9 for three pieces) and walk!

As a result of wasted time negotiating, I missed a shot of an SY on hoppers and another on passenger. Our old friend 0391 arrived on the late morning passenger, but then sat so long at the station that by the time I’d got departure shots, we would have missed our train, but for managing to share a taxi back, followed by a wild scamper through the station and onto the train.

To my surprise, this was headed by 6382, a new QJ, when I’d expected 6655 to be officiating, as by my calculations, this would be the next train in her diagram – so much for that. So there’s more variety than I’d feared. Not much energy, as we proceeded to QingHeMen in 33’19", with just a 42 mph maximum. Thereafter, we dropped from 40 to 27 and after recovery in the dip cleared the climb at respectable 30mph. Any hopes I might have had for a final dash down the bank were quickly dashed as 6382’s driver checked the speed high on the bank, only "letting go", after JiuDaoLing (passed at a pedestrian 42), which is where one would have expected the maximum speed. We just managed 47 before the upgrade dragged speed back into the thirties and we stopped in YiXian in 41’09".

With bright sun, in a clear blue sky, I would have detrained here and returned to FuXin to spend the afternoon photographing, but to ensure our onward connection overnight to BeiJing, we had to continue to JinZhou. We ran to BaJiaoTai in 31’12", with a maximum of 47. Thereafter in the high thirties, low forties, through XueJia to JinZhou in 30 minutes exactly.

Lunch with the Li family, again, then back for 6382 on the afternoon local, which by QiLeHe was full and standing. A miserable effort which did not even yield a speed above 34mph on the descent to YiXian. Now, I must confess that I made a bad planning error here and did not check the timetable, so that I ignored the "connecting" train (from ChiFeng) back to JinZhou. As a result, after some photography is fast disappearing light, we had a Y80 taxi ride back to JinZhou.

While at YiXian, I noted two DF4s head off light engine down the YeBaiShou line. Now, a mystery which I hope someone can resolve. A QJ came in on a freight from the North, but did not enter the station but appeared to head round an avoiding line to the West. A few minutes after it disappeared from sight, a QJ-hauled freight entered the station from the South. Was it the same train and there is a loop to reverse trains heading from YBS to FuXin? Maybe someone can resolve this illusion?

A "Last Supper" with the Li’s of diced lean pork, veg and rice, washed down by JingPingQuan beer. The bottle label has as an illustration "Mad Ludwig’s" famous Schloss in Bavaria. I wonder if in his wildest fantasies he ever thought that the Chinese would commemorate his patronage of the construction industry? Much fussed over – I think Mrs Li had designs on Joel and her pretty elder daughter. To-night we were even served very acceptable coffee, on the house.

Finally, we boarded Train 590 for the overnight journey back to BeiJing, arriving, annoyingly, on time at 06.18hrs! Interestingly, this train consisted of "East German" style stock, so we had a better quality Hard Sleeper, although no better sleep. Hot water in the washroom and an unusually clean toilet, but no paper, of course. After a shower and ersatz breakfast at Joel’s, he put me in a taxi to the airport, having thus reduced the wait for the midday Dragonair flight home. I was back in Disco Bay by 6pm, with just enough time to dump my dirty clothes upon my patient "Amah", grab a new set and head off to Vietnam a couple of days later. Happy days! It had been my best trip to China for locomotive performance and the least stressful, thanks to Joel’s excellent interpreting skills and good-humoured, patient company.

Thanks to those of you whose reports made me go and enjoy a splendidly steamy start to my 1999 steam travels! I can’t wait to get back, in warmer weather!

The section from FuXin to QingHeMen and from YiXian to JinZhou did not seem either so hilly or steep, so I have too few observations to produce a similar chart. Maybe another time, if I get back.

At least this chart helps to explain the loss of speed up the very steep climb from KP104 to 110 and the flying descent which I enjoyed with 7116 on 25.1.99. It may even tell the photographers just where to stand to get the engines working hard.

Rob Dickinson