The International Steam Pages

Steam in Northern China, July 1999

Regular visitor Mike laPlante reports on his trip to:


Wednesday July 7th - BEIJING

My companion, Ron Olson (who speaks Chinese), and I arrived in Beijing on Tuesday. Even though the main Beijing railway station is undergoing a massive reconstruction, we managed to buy tickets for Fuxin. On Wednesday, our train, #591, headed out for Shenyang with a stop in Fuxin. Fourteen hours in a hard sleeper is a tough way to travel.

Thursday July 8th  - FUXIN

The first locomotive we encountered around 5am was a rather decrepit QJ2516 with no smoke deflectors, switching passenger cars at the station. A few hundred meters east of the mainline is a colliery branch with some fifteen SYs. The nearby passenger station for the colliery line (Ping An) listed eighteen daily trains, 9 up and 9 down. Some of the ones we saw were of fairly respectable length. We spoke (or rather Ron did) with one of the SY crews and then walked down the tracks about two miles south until we came to the Fuxin Depot.

It was raining fairly steady and one of the guards said we could enter. There were only two live QJs taking water/sand/coal. There appeared to be about 20 dead QJs and 1 JS on the deadline, most with rods gone and appliances stripped off. I doubt they will ever steam again. There was new construction going on next to the roundhouse and turntable, including three large tanks. I can only assume they are a diesel shop and diesel fuel oil tanks.

At the roundhouse there were a further 3 QJs in steam on the ready tracks around the turntable and 4 more in the roundhouse.

After supper, around 8pm, we went back to the yard to try some night photography. We saw a single SY, a JS, and 2 QJs switching. Some of the crews came over to see what we were doing but Ron took their pictures with a Polaroid and they went away happy.

Friday July 9th - FUXIN, TONGLIAO

It rained again. It was so dreary we decided to call it quits and move on. We took the 7am train for Tongliao.

We had a 5 hour layover in Tongliao so we walked down the tracks in search of steam and adventure. Within 30 minutes we say 2 QJ powered freights, one of which was a double header led by a DF4.

The depot was about a mile away and we walked to it. There were 2 QJs on the ready track, along with 3 others on the deadline that do not appear likely to run again. The head of the locomotive section invited us into his office for tea and we visited for a while. We walked back to the station and had lunch and took the 5pm train to Daban.

Our tickets were for car #3, a hard sleeper, but when the train arrived, it had car #1, #2 and #4, no car #3! The attendants were nonplused and put us into car #2 as car #1 was apparently for staff only. We were apparently the only passengers so the whole staff came over to visit and be our friend. I think the engineer and firemen were the only people who didn’t stop by to talk or get a Polaroid from Ron.

At our first stop, where we actually left CR tracks and actually entered the Ji-Tong line, we had an 8 minute stop so Ron and I walked up to see what was on the head end (QJ6631). On the way back to our car, I suddenly burst out laughing. One of the car knockers was wearing a hat that said "NORFOLK & WESTERN - 1218 - A"!

Saturday July 10th - DABAN

I was awoken about 5:30AM by a whistle blast that sounded as if it was right outside the window. I looked out to see a QJ hauled freight pulling out of the yard and heading west, not 100M away! It doesn’t get any better than this.

As we savored the blue sky and got dressed, Ron explained that all freights over the Jingpeng pass are double-headed each way and switch to a single engine in Daban and Haoluku. In the meantime, another double-header went by, arriving from the west.

At the station we took some photos and were informed that both a passenger and freight were due to leave eastbound very soon, so we started walking east up a slight incline. Over the next hour we got those two trains leaving as well as two westbound freights.

I went out behind the hotel to take more pictures. I got a small railbus and then a double-header, both arriving from the west. Just then, I noticed two men in uniform approaching. It turned out they were two switchtenders, one of whom spoke a little English, who wanted to talk to me, so I followed them back to their hut and we talked. Ron arrived shortly. We told them we were going up to the depot, about a mile away, so they flagged down a pair of engines heading there and had them give us a ride. What service!

We spent a while looking for someone to give us permission to take pictures, but since it was Saturday, no upper level management types were around. The highest ranking individual we could find told us to go ahead so off we went. We later found out that they usually charge 300 for this (up from 200 in March)!

There were no locomotives in the shop, but two had just completed running repairs and were leaving for the ready track. Approximately 10 QJs were stored, with appliances and running gear covered. One (QJ6027) appeared to have a Giesl exhaust and a 1968 builders plate.

On display is an old 2-6-0, MG 4335. The tender is lettered in English "MADE IN ENGLAND" although the locomotive is obviously American. It has a right hand throttle, slide valves, Walschaerts valve gear, early Bettendorf trucks on the tender, and many later Chinese alterations, like power reverse, top boiler feed, and two single air compressors. There are no markings of any kind on the cylinder or frame castings, so we could not even guess who built it. It looks a lot like the MG8 shown on page 28 of "PANORAMA OF LOCOMOTIVES". We were told it came from northeastern China, but that was the only information they had about it.

On the ready track there were about 10 QJs in steam. Nearby was an un-numbered engine being used to provide steam to the shop. We took a lot of pictures and Ron handed out pictures he had taken there on his last trip. There is apparently only one daily westbound passenger train at 7:30PM, so Ron suggested we try and hitch a ride on one of the freights.

Sunday July 11th - DABAN, JINGPENG

We got up to severe overcast (it cleared up later) and went over to the station to photograph the 8am passenger leaving and the freight engines in the yard. After that we went back to the hotel to await a westbound double-header backing into the yard so we (Ron) could ask for a ride. The first one we saw was about 9am, so we checked out and walked to the yard. QJ6878 in the lead and QJ6351 behind were ready to go with their blowers on. They were just hooking up when we got there and Ron went over to QJ6351 and asked the engineer if we could have a ride to their second water stop, Jingpeng. He said yes, so Ron climbed up. I handed him up our backpacks and camera gear and them went to climb up myself. With one hand and one foot on the ladder, the train started moving! I scrambled up and the crew pulled me into the cab. All the other freights we had watched had sat in the yard for over an hour, but not this one.

My longest cab ride ever was nothing compared with this. We rode for about 3 hours. At the first water stop, Ron moved to QJ6878, to give a seat to the fireman. Working uphill with a heavy train is tough work. The ride was very rough and incredibly dirty. Even though all I did was sit there, I was black by the time we got to Jingpeng. The two firemen were young and inexperienced. The engineer spelled them at one point and his motions were much more practiced and fluid, with no wasted movement.

We started out traveling about 60-70 KPH, although this later slowed to 30-40 KPH going uphill. Once the engineer had notched up the gear, he never changed it. The throttle appeared to be about half open and he occasionally slightly opened or closed it, depending on the lead engine. Although the crew checked the water glasses and used the injectors, neither Ron nor I ever saw any water in the glass. The pressure in QJ6351 averaged about 1250 KP (and occasionally peaked at 1500), and after we passed the summit, the crew let it drop to about 900 and let QJ6878 do all the work. Ron later told me he helped fire and was quite proud that they kept the needle pinned on 1500 the entire trip.

Monday July 12th - JINGPENG

Woke up at 5am to rain, but it cleared up by 7am. Our four wheel drive taxi arrived just before 8am, a man (and his assistant) that Ron had used before. We checked out of the hotel and headed for a bridge on the west side of town. An eastbound double-header was just crossing the bridge as we approached but we decided to wait anyway. A large track gang was working on the bridge and they told us another eastbound train was due soon. It soon arrived with QJ6557 on the front and QJ7137 in the number two spot. We quickly drove east and caught it again before we headed for the spiral bridge and caught it for the third time, along with a westbound freight.

A stop at Xiakengzi gave us the train schedule, 6 up and 6 down, and we headed for lunch. At the restaurant we saw a double-header going west with two pushers on the rear! Our excitement soon faded when we realized that it was undoubtedly just a power move, since there appeared to be more eastbound traffic (coal) than westbound. It would have been nice to have gotten pictures but you can’t win them all.


Our taxi arrived at 7am and we chased trains again, getting one three times again. The weather was so bad with no signs of improving that we decided to call it quits about 10am and we took a 25 passenger mini-bus over the mountains to Chifeng (UGH!).

We saw QJ6416 switching at Chifeng and QJ6728 at Reshui (the other Reshui), as we rode south to Pingzhuan. We were unable to find out anything about the colliery railways, so we stopped for the night at the Bao Shan hotel (our best deal yet, a double room for only 100).

Wednesday July 14th - PINGZHUAN

We walked down to the railway station to see if anyone had a map or any other information about the coal railway. One taxi driver said he could take us there, so off we went. The first colliery we went to did not have any steam locomotives, but they told us where to go and the driver knew where it was. There are apparently more than one colliery in this area and we never did get the names of any of them. On the way we did see one SY traveling light.

The management at this colliery brought us out to one of the yards and let us photograph the two engines there. One was an older JS (Datong, 10/64), and they claimed to have an even older one built in 1958. More interesting was SY1083 (6/76). It was fitted with smoke deflectors and a full skyline casing. We also learned that this colliery has 9 JS and 7 SY locomotives. When they need repair, they are sent to Jinzhou, just north of Dalian.

They then took us to lunch in what was obviously the mine’s executive dining room. This was the best meal we had in China and it was all free! There were nine or ten course, along with numerous toasts. When the meal was over, it was obvious they were sending us on our way.

We wound up back at the railway station, which was not what we wanted. The taxi driver then told us we owed him 500 (for about a half day)! We (Ron) finally bargained him down to 200.


Blue sky again. We took the morning train to Yebaishou and saw JS8239 and QJ6411 switching in Pingzhuan Nan. A diesel/steam double-header appeared, with DF4 1695 leading QJ6677. I bet Ron 10 that there would be not even two live engines in Yebaishou, based on what I saw last year. It was a bet I would be happy to loose, and I did, in spades.

We arrived about 11am and steam appeared to be very active. In about four hours, we saw at least a dozen QJ movements, to and from the shed, coming in and going out on freights, including at least one double header and one freight with DF4 7367 on the front with QJ6729 pushing on the rear. In addition, JS8237 and JS8238 were very active, switching the yard. There were only 3 or 4 dead engines, not as many as I had seen last year. We were both pleased and surprised at all the steam activity and I gladly paid Ron the 10.

The train to Chengde was uneventful. We saw another diesel/steam double-header and a lone SY at the big steelworks near Lingyuan.

Friday July 16th  - CHENGDE, BEIJING

We awoke to hazy sun. The usual early morning train went up the branch and after we got dressed, we bought tickets for the afternoon train to Beijing and headed up to the helper pocket. We photographed SY0533, SY1493, SY1753, and JS6217 which I had not seen last year.

The 2:40pm train to Beijing left on time, but not before we were treated to another group of railroad personnel who wanted to talk to us.

We rode in some newer cars, class 24 RZ and class 25 YZ. There were air conditioned (with power from a separate power car that looked just like and F7B), very clean, very nice and they had western toilets. Ron complained that the windows didn’t open properly if you wanted to take pictures.

The only steam we saw on the way to Beijing was a lone JS on an industrial branch near Xiataizi.

Saturday July 17th - BEIJING

We left the hotel to search for the narrow gauge Dahuichang limestone railway. It was about a 25 minute taxi ride from the subway (at 40 each way) to get to the limestone railway, but when we got there, we found everything was closed because it was Saturday. On the way back we saw GK1 0030 and 0032 switching, probably part of Capital Iron & Steel.

Rob Dickinson