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Steam in China, December 2000-January 2001

Wuhai, Baotou, JiTong

Dec 23rd 2000 - Jan 8th 2001

Another individual tour to China. This time, we were 6 persons with 4 returning to Germany on Jan 2nd 2001. Flights with Lufthansa this time.

Wuhai Xi - Jilantai, Dec 24th- Dec 25th 2000

Read Hans Schaefer`s November 2000 Report (http://home.c2i.net/schaefer/wuhai/wuhaidesc.html Link broken by December 2021) about this line, too. Some of the facts listed below have been reported by Hans Schaefer before.

Steam operation :
The branch line from Wuhai Xi to Jilantai is still 100% QJ-worked.Traffic levels are variable with a maximum of three trains in each direction during daylight hours.
Passenger / Mixed : There is daily mixed along this line (47091 Wuhai Xi 09:25 - Jilantai 14:20, 47092 Jilantai 16:30 - Wuhai Xi 21:25, see Wuhai-Jilantai Timetable for details). In contrast to the "Mongolian Timetable Brochure",which states that the mixed starts at Wuhai, we oberserved both 47091 and 47092 beginning and terminating at Wuhai Xi, which makes more sense as the steam depot and the freight yard both are located at Wuhai Xi, too.
Freight trains to Jilantai are booked to leave Wuhai Xi around 15:00 and 18:00 in the afternoon respectively. No timings for incoming trains were available at Wuhai Xi.

The line / Linesiding :
Wuhai Xi - Jilantai : For the section close to Wuhai Xi see Hans Schaefer`s Sketch Map. (http://home.c2i.net/schaefer/wuhai/wuhaimap.gif Link broken by December 2021) The first 15-20 km of the line out of Wuhai Xi are steeply graded. For the first 10-12 kms the line crosses the wide Huanghe River Valley. The following kilometers (at least as far as until km 16) are quite spectacular (mountainous dessert) with cuttings and embankments plus a superb viauct at km 15.7 (not a concrete one !) crossing the valley in which the main road to Shitanjing / Dawuko is situated. Beyond km 15.7, the line is not accessible by road. Next road access is supposed to be at Benjing (km85). Between Benjing and Heishatu, you will find a nearly unpopulated plain or stony dessert (Hardly any human beings live there, but you will find a lot of (wild ?) camels).
Beyond the point where the road to Jilantai branches off the main road to Dawuko (some 25-30 km away from Wuhai Xi), the road is a dirty one (for more than 110km to Jilantai, of course ...). Due to sand-drifts, the road is quite likely to be impassable for most vehicle. We had to turn round some 15km west of the junction as some military lorries blocked the street. Only 4wd-jeeps could pass this section. Our driver said, that the trip to Jilantai would take some 4 hours - not much faster than the mixed. Summary: Due to the difficult access and the road condition, there is no chance to chase a train beyond km 16 ! Along the road to Jilantai, there was nearly no other traffic than coal lorries and military convoys. No public buses,too !

Wuhai Xi - Huangbaici branch line :
The line : This approximately 10-12 km long branch line leaves Wuhai Xi in north-westerly direction. In addition to the "Huangbaici Coal Mine" at the end of the line, there are several further coal mines or "Coal Stabling Points". The first Coal Stabling Point is situated at the station of Xinqu ("New District") some 4-5 km north of Wuhai. Between Xinqu and Huangbaici, there must be another coal mine or stabling point but was not seen. Next to Huangbaici Coal Mine, there is another coal mine which is rarely served ("hardly never if ever" according to staff). Between Huangbaici and Xinqu, some nice photospots can be found : a very large cemetary on the hills next to the line plus a nice barrier post in the village of Huangbaici + cutting + coal mine in the background. From Wuhai Xi, take urban bus No. 3. It goes to Huangbaici parallel to the railway line.
The coal mine at Huangbaici has got a unique narrow gauge overhead electric railway. Gauge is some 600mm or even less, the "overhead" wires in fact are no overhead ones as they are mounted in a height of some 2 meters only (Be careful when walking !). Some lines are double track ones - a very strange but fascinating sight ! Unfortunately, the railway did not operate during our visit. Only empty mine cars were visible. According to staff, the mine mainly operates during the night.
Operation : The line is worked by the Wuhai Xi JS-pilots. Northbound trains of empties are tender first, southbound loaded one funnel first. According to staff, there are 2-3 trips to Huangbaici per day plus further ones to Xinqu and the other coal mine between Xinqu and Huangbaici.

Wuhai Xi Yard and Shed :
Wuhai Xi has got 3 JS as pilots. Sometimes, all 3 engines are in use at the same time, sometimes not even one. Based on our obervations at Wuhai Xi Yard, one engine serves the 2 coal stabling points just south of the station while the other two engines shunt at the northern end and work the trains along the Huangbaici branch line. Police at Wuhai Xi station is not very happy to see foreigners taking photos of steam locomotives. (They wanted to make us go to "Baotou Xi Museum" (= Scrap Yard), where we should take our photos of steam locomotives ...) Be careful around the yard !
Wuhai Xi shed is located north of the station at the point where the Huangbaici line branches off between this line and the main line to Wuhai. Official visits are not welcome but as there is no fence around the depot you can easily walk in, take your photos and leave immediately afterwards. The depot seemed to care for steam locomotives only.

Locomotives :
As reported by Hans Schaefer, both the QJs and JS at Wuhai Xi bear a Linhe Depot code. 4 QJs and 3 JS were present and under steam but no dumped or cold engines. The QJs do nothing else than line work towards Jilantai. This meant in our case that 1 QJ worked the mixed with the other 3 engines waiting at Wuhai Xi shed - but all under steam ! The 3 JS were pilots at Wuhai Xi. Staff confirmed that a forth JS was at Jilantai for shunting (this engine was not seen).
On the other hand, Linhe Depot was full of dumped and derelict engines (JS and QJ, including QJ 6915) with only one JS under steam (JS 8332) and some 1-2 further examples of each class cold but in workable condition (Observation out of the window of a passing train).

Individual engines noted were :

JS 8012, 8014, 8265, 8332
QJ 6908, 6909, 7056, 7057
QJ dumped 6915

Our tour :
We arrived at Wuhai in the moring of Dec 24th at 09:40 on board K177 from BeijingXi. Just after sunrise, we passed Linhe depot. On both days we stood at Wuhai, there were no freights running along the Jilantai line. So, the mixed was the only train. As the return working from Jilantai runs in darkness, there was only one photographable train per day : the outbound mixed at 09:25. Due to our arrival time in Wuhai, we missed the mixed on Dec 24th. So we had only one lineside photo (the mixed on Dec 25th) during our 2 days ! A quite frustrating visit. The rest of our time at Wuhai was spent watching the JS movements around Wuhai Xi, for train chasing towards Benjing (unsuccesfully, of course) and taking photos of wild camels in the dessert ... We left Wuhai on Dec 25th, Train 4608 to Baotou Dong (dep.22:19, arr. 04:52).

Baotou and Dongsheng Area :

Well known. Therefore only some brief thoughts :

Shiguai Branch Line, Dec 26th & Dec 31st 2000

100% JS. Frequency of freights vary. Sometimes there is even no daylight freight (e.g. on Dec 21st and Dec 31st) but two pairs may appear as well (e.g. on Dec 22nd - Dec 24th). In December, Shiguai bound freights were noted in the station book at Houba either between 11:00-12:00 or 13:00-14:00 with the later path being more likely if there is only one freight. In general, return workings arrive at Houba two hours later. The Baotou- bound freights no longer are garanteed "banked trains" with trains now as short as 5 wagons.

Baotou Suburbans

During our visit all suburban trains were DF4 hauled (green ones).The "engine board" at Baotou Dong on Dec 26th included as few as 3 JS : JS 8279 for the Shiguai passenger, JS 8005 pilot at Baotou Dong and JS 8320 as spare engine. Other engines on the board were 3 DF5 and 6 DF4 - including DF4Cs now (for the Bayanobo passenger).

Singing Sands / Shabazi / Guannianfang, Dec 27th 2000 & Jan 1st 2001

No changes. 3-4 daylight freights in each direction. Note, that the K993, K994 Huohehaote-Dongsheng express does not stop at the "Chiang Sha Wen" (Singing Sands) halt although this stop is published in the timetable! (I do not know whether the passenger (7515, 7416) stops there. We prefered to walk the 5km to Guannianfang instead of "hoping" for a stop at ChiangShaWen when K993 raced through the station ...)

Dongsheng-Shashegetai Dec 28th - Dec 30th

General facts : The perfectly timed former 855 and 856 Dongsheng to Daliuta passengers have been cancelled ! Now, you no longer have any opportunity of linesiding "by train". You have to take a taxi now ! A single trip to Shashagetai is not allowed to cost more than 80Y - do not pay more ! Aobaogou should be 50Y or less with some 40Y being appropriate in my opinion. The very official fare for urban taxis at Dongsheng is 5Y - whatever destination within the city you have. Do not pay more ! Avoid the Dongsheng Dajiudian ("Dongsheng Hotel"). It is overpriced and doubles the prices for foreigners ! Go either to the MengJia Binguan just across the crossing or to the "Wuzhou Dajiudian" (Continental Hotel). A reasonable double is 104Y there, staff is very friendly.
Steam operation : A new feature is that more than 50% of the downhill trains are tender first now. Two QJs are on "banking duty" all the day. You can rely on the numbers in order to know whether a uphill train can be expected or not. We had 4-5 uphill trains (all triple QJ) per day.

Engines noted :

CNR Baotou :
JS 8001, 8005, 8279, 8320
Dongsheng :
QJ 1969(hd), 2938, 2977, 3162(4-axle-tender), 6018, 6088, 6171, 6178, 6193-6195, 6247, 6287, 6307(cold), 6346, 6348, 6404(cold), 6452, 6573, 6711, 6740(cold), 6783, 6785, 6789, 6863

JiTong - JingPeng Pass

Due to the bad experiences at Wuhai, we decided to spent our last days at a "sure" location. So, we ended up at the "idiot hill". Few to say about Reshui but nerverthless some thoughts ( JiTong timetable )(http://home.c2i.net/schaefer/jitongtielu/jitongtimes.html Link broken by December 2021) :

Operation :

Snow-Drift : On January 1st there had been a serious snowstorm in the JingPeng Pass area. The line was blocked by snow-drifts near the horeshoe curve on the JingPeng side and maybe elsewhere, too for more than 12 hours.
This meant that when we wanted to take the 15:18 passenger ex Jining Nan (train No. 6051) on Jan 2nd, we were told that it would not depart before 22:00. In the end, the passenger train left Jining not before 01:15 with more than 11 hours delay. So, we waited inside Jining Nan station at temperatures around the freezing point for more than 10 hours. Negative result of the delay was, that we did not arrive at Reshui in the early morning before sunrise (05:42) but in the evening just before sunset (16:30) on Jan 3rd - one day was lost.
"Pilot engines" : As reported before, some eastbound single headed trains got a second engine at JingPeng. These engines became deattached at Shangdian again and returned to JingPeng (either light engine or at the rear of a westbound train) for another train. This pattern of working was observed twice within 3 days.
Traffic : 4-5 daylight freights each direction per day. On Jan 7th we returned to Beijing using the usual escape route via Chifeng and sleeper to Beijing Nan.

Reshui - Hotels and the Mafia

We stood at the Railway Hotel (120Y/double). Be careful when staying at this hotel as they have tight connections to the Aodu-Travel-Service-Mafia. It took less than one hour after our check-in on Jan 3rd until the "Mafia Men" knocked at our room and asked for money for a "photographing license" (50Y per day and person). We did not pay, of course and even managed, that they did not revisit us as we were very careful ... Andreas Walla`s experiences how to treat officers of the former GDR`s "Staatssicherheit" (this was the GDR`s version of the russian KGB) were invalueable ...

Some tips for behaviour to avoid to get in touch with the mafia :

  1. Tell nobody - especially not to the hotel`s staff - that you intend to take photos. Staff is quite likely to denounce you. The best way is not to communicate with them at all !
  2. If the "Mafia Men" arrive at your room, tell them "no photo" - they cannot disprove that ... If they show you their identification card, show them an important looking membership card with a picture of you. Ideal will be a credit card shaped identification card e.g. a security card of your employer (but a membership card of a tennis may work as well). As the mafia men do not speak English you may impress them by a very self-confidently appearance. When they show you their sheet of paper (in Engish) where the reason why you "have to purchase the permit" : say "no photo" again !
  3. If you take a taxi, do not pick it up in front of your hotel and do not leave it there, too. If the taxi driver does not know where you live and hotel staff does not know which taxi you are using, there are fewer people who can denounce you.
  4. Return to your hotel late in the evening. Coming back from the lineside, first go to your restaurant (not to the hotel`s one of course) and come back to your room later.

JingPeng (Keqi) - The better alternative to Reshui

Due to the unsatisfying situation at Reshui, I will not come back to Reshui. In my point of view, the better option is to stay at JingPeng (or Keqi) when visiting the JingPeng Pass. Advantages of JingPeng are :
  1. Keqi is a much larger town than Reshui. You have better opportunities for shopping and dining as well. Furthermore, a larger number of taxis is available there than at Reshui (better choice, better basis for negotiating).
  2. You avoid the annoying visits by the "Reshui Mafia" and the "foreigner-priced-restaurants" at Reshui.
  3. In contrast to Reshui, non-Taxi based linesing is possible when staying at JingPeng. In the morning between 07:00 and 08:00, we observed at least 3 public buses running from JingPeng towards Reshui (Linxi and/or Chifeng-bound). In the evenig between 16:00 and 17:00, you have a similar sitution in the other direction : simply perfect. Furthermore, JingPeng has a official bus station, where you can take one of the buses to Chifeng when leaving the Pass. You do not have to hope for a bus still having seats at Reshui when waiting there as you already enter the bus at its very first station at JingPeng.

For me, this was my last stay at Reshui. Next time, it will be Keqi...

Engines noted :

QJ (Baiqi) 2624, 6214, 6564
QJ (Daban) 6135, 6230, 6274, 6351, 6356, 6388, 6389, 6517, 6630, 6638, 6639, 6735, 6760, 6763, 6828, 6876, 6878, 6905, 6925, 6992, 7009, 7040, 7112, 7143

Additional notes :

Beijing : The Military Museum (near to Beijing Xi station) is not worth a visit! (We were there on Jan 8th).

Dahuichang : A part of our group visited Dahuichang on Dec 23rd. It was the first time, that SY 0231 was seen moving as no one of us had seen it moving before.

Baotou Steelworks : Part of the group visited Baotou Steelworks on Jan 1st. A detailed description including sketch map composed by Jan Schirling is available, too.

Wuhai Xi - Jilantai Passenger Timetable

        Wuhai Xi       

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