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CHINA 2001

Tiefa , Shuangyashan , Hegang , Ganhe , Nenjiang , Da`an Bei , JiTong , Baotou , Chengde

Saturday 26 May
Fly 1130 Stansted – Amsterdam (arr 50 late) – Beijing, arr 0840 (5 early)
I booked and paid £353 for this ticket in January.  On 8th February KLM bumped me off the 1130 flight onto the 0800 departure but nobody bothered to tell me.  It only came to light three days before departure when I phoned to check flight timings.  By dint of much shouting and threatening the travel agent got me reinstated on the 1130 flight. Flight to Beijing featured cramped seating and mediocre food.
Obtaining a visa was a hassle.  The embassy was shut all the week of the May Day holiday and very crowded the following week.

Sunday 27 May
1010 Air China flight to Shenyang, 640 yuan + 50 yuan airport tax (£60). Mingle with the new rich entrepreneurial classes for a short while. Bus into city. For Shenyangbei get put off before bus turns left then take 214 bus which runs close to main station entrance then after about ½ mile takes a left turn by the back entrance.  Neither entrance is easily seen.
Take 1447hrs Tulihe express to Tieling complete with reserved seat. Note SY (1147?) in steam on right hand side at a station en route.  Electrification work around here is by no means complete. From Tieling to Daqing by minibus.  These start from a yard just to the left of the station forecourt.  Grinds slowly round the centre of Tieling looking for custom for ages.
While away the time at Daqing watching JS 8206 hump shunting 1800 ton rakes of loaded coal wagons.  Eventually clag appears in the distance and as the evening commuter train trundles between stations.  Masses of people get off at Daqing from the 8 coach rake.

308   1840 Daqing – Diaobingshan 1906           SY 1764
Train almost empty in this direction.  Fare 1 yuan (9 pence), pay on train. Meanders through flat mostly rural landscape punctuated by collieries and spoil tips.

With the prospect of no further bashing available for some three hours and being severely jetlagged on a very hot day it was time to book in to the hotel on the right hand side of the station square.  Room with facilities but no hot water was 126 yuan (£11).  Whistling & thrash wafts in through open window.

Monday 28 May
Diaobingshan station a fine sight around 0630 with three steam hauled sets in and out of the station.  Just a pity that a box passenger to Shenyang sits in the main platform at this time

203   0628 Diaobingshan – Wangqian via Xiaonan 0748         SY 1770
This is a 1995 built loco, the newest on the system that I could get for haulage.  1999 built 1772 was working but only on freight.  This train is one of an impressive three way steam passenger meet at Sanjiazi from 0655 to 0700. The line is mostly flat with collieries and spoil tips but very pleasant near Wangqian with villages and a church on the side of a hill.

204   0800 Wangqian – Diaobingshan 0843        SY 1770
Runs direct.  Whilst 203 was fairly full taking workers to collieries this train was lightly loaded.

105   0911 Diaobingshan – Daming 0958        SY 0063
For once a good connection out of the previous train. Another line that traverses flat featureless farmland interspersed with collieries and slag heaps.  Some might even describe it as dull and dreary.
Outside Daming station there were only a few small shops and the one restaurant was closed.  Scooter taxis are available and just might take you to somewhere more exciting.  I opted to get the staff on the train to open a door and let me back into the stock.

108   1258 Daming - Diaobingshan 1344         SY 0063
After a less than exciting three hours this seemed like a good run.

407   1431 Diaobingshan – Dongguantun 1551        SY 0393
This train wedged up early and I was unable to get to the right side in the front coach at Diaobingshan.  In the event I didn’t seem to miss much in the way of noise.  Most of the passengers on this line travel to and from the large mine at Xiaokang, just before Dongguantun. The line is rural and quite pleasant with a backdrop of hills. There is a degree of local colour with plenty happening in the fields along the way. Fare on this long line is 2 yuan, a whole 18 pence.

410/305   1559 Dongguantun - Daqing 1804        SY 0393
A good thrash run up the banks with the loco running tender first.  Train very full from Xiaokang then wedged up again with commuters at Diaobingshan.

308   1840 Daqing - Diaobingshan 1906         SY 0393
A trundle most of the way but good noise up the grade in from Diaobingshannan

After a good six hours of steady bashing I again decided not to cover any of the runs that ended up back in Diaobingshan between 0030 & 0210, that’s something for future trips when more time may be available.

Tuesday 29 May
403   0640 Diaobingshan – Dongguantun 0809        SY 1770
A dismal cold and wet start to the day.

406   0817 Dongguantun - Diaobingshan 0941       SY 1770
More good noise from a tender first loco although the other passengers may not have appreciated the open window.

Photograph SY 0063 on 1130 departure to Dongguantun rather than catch it one stop. Walked down track to Diaobingshannan, about a mile.

108   1339 Diaobingshannan - Diaobingshan 1344       SY 0393
Good climb back up to main station.  This section with its mix of small fields and scruffy built up areas reminded me of the Avenida da Franca – Senhora line.

206   1409 Diaobingshannan - Diaobingshan 1414        SY 0979
Despite a fast walk on a hot day I almost missed this train.

107   1445 Diaobingshan – Sanjiazi 1455       SY 0393
A pity this train turns off at Sanjiazi rather than running to Daqing but at least it saves one having to get a box out from Diaobingshan.

I was impressed with this system, it’s a proper railway, rakes are 6/7/8 with the latter mostly on the Dongguantun line.  There is a good level of thrash, especially when running tender first and the three way meets are worth valuing.  At certain times there is also a goodly amount of freight activity around Diaobingshan and Sanjiazi, this section is the best for mainline type atmosphere and the Diaobingshan station/servicing point area is often very busy. .
The main drawback is the long gaps in the passenger service, often around three hours. All in all a better system than Fuxin.

So on to Tieling with the box on 6688, 1509 ex Sanjiazi.  The CNR TT now only shows these trains running to and from Daqing but they still run as far as Diaobingshan. More in hope than expectation I requested from Tieling booking office at 1615 a sleeper to Weihe on train 2017 the 1740 from Shenyangbei to Mudanjiang. No problem though, the computer coughed up a soft sleeper in seconds. Could Britain’s rail system match this?  This train was much less crowded than when I last caught it in 1999.
Note JS 8242 in steam at Kaiyuan in the depot area to the north east of the station.

Wednesday 30 May
Weihe reached on time at 0416 on what was already a warm sunny morning with bright sunshine.
Despite having read on the Internet that the narrow gauge was due to cease operations for the winter on 10 May I decide to call in and check as I was going past anyway en route to Shuangyashan. Sure enough steam operations had finished and work on summer overhauls of locos was well underway.  A worrying sign was the mere handful of passengers on the 0800 single vehicle railcar departure.
Back to the station then and continue to Jiamusi. Go via Harbindong for same day journey on K638, a tedious semi fast which had originated from Dongfanghong the previous night. This train is looped for a fast new DMU which runs Mudanjiang – Harbindong – Jiamusi. I transferred into it at Harbin, a/c hard seat accommodation only but fairly comfortable when half empty. Plentiful hot water for tea & noodles. Seeing the scenic section before Langxiang made me wish I had done this bit of line in steam days. Big cock up around steamless Nancha saw us in to Jiamusi 115 late at 2141.

Overnight at (CNR?) hotel just to the left of the station exit. Room with facilities 120 yuan (£10.40).

Thursday 31 May
Train K691 taken to Shuangyashan at 0609 on a wet and miserable morning. Arrive 0804. Plenty of time to get my bearings and find the Mine Railway station at Zhongxin (one mile) prior to the next passenger departure. The main street which runs uphill and then down towards Zhongxin is now pedestrianised so the bus now takes a different route.
The station is a big impressive building and the full passenger timetable is posted up on a very large board.  There is a booking office here which must be used to purchase tickets but for journeys from other stations you can pay on the train. The entrance to the platform is normally locked but the side exit gate is sometimes left open.
During the long wait for the 1245 departure there was plenty of freight activity with both QJ and SY passing through on coal trains. All locos are chimney first northwards out onto the railway from Zhongxin and tender first back in.

83   1245 Zhongxin – Shuangxing 1504        QJ 6808
This train was wedged but although in the second vehicle no thrash was audible up the bank through Changan. I was on the wrong side and there was the usual babble of noise from the local clientele.This first section which climbs to a summit in the hills (from both directions) is scenic but beyond here the line is flatter although not uninteresting. There is just the occasional colliery and the line is predominantly rural in character. At one intermediate station dropping down from the summit we had a long wait for the eventual arrival of a 1900 ton coal train with QJs front and rear producing vertical columns of smoke as they struggled for several minutes to restart their train from a signal stop outside.
A brighter spell of weather around lunchtime soon gave way to a cold dull afternoon which culminated in a fierce hailstorm which turned the countryside white in minutes.

84   1517 Shuangxing - Zhongxin 1811        QJ 6808
Good thrash up the bank in the front coach close to the chimney. Quite late back into Shuangyashan resulting in the Lingdong turn, which the stock forms, running about 30 late.

11   1822 Zhongxin – Lingdong 1834         SY 1102
Everyone who has visited this system so far seems to have been a photographer rather than a basher and as far as I am aware I was the first enthusiast and westerner to travel on the trains.  As a result my presence on this almost empty train created considerable interest amongst the underemployed on train staff and I spent the journey surrounded by nine lady grippers and two on-train police

12   1846 Lingdong - Zhongxin 1858         SY 1102
This line runs along a flat valley. Good sunset lighting on hills above.

Dinner from kebab stall run by an Uighyur family then booked into a small bingguan just off the CNR station square, on the left on the road up to the main street.  Clean and good value, 50 yuan (£4.40) for en suite room.

Friday 01 June

81   0520 Zhongxin – Bafenchang 0705        QJ 7017
Not so crowded ex Zhongxin.  Reasonable noise up the bank. Freezing cold at Bafenchang, how on earth do people cope with winter temperatures here?

65   0708 Bafenchang – Shuangyang 0718        SY 1487
Formed by 4 damp, dirty and derelict YZ22 coaches. No attempt to leave on time, we set off shortly before 0800. At Shuangyang 1487 shunted some wagons then a QJ appeared and backed on to a coal train with both locos side by side. Nothing here but a colliery, not even a shop.

66   0840 Shuangyang - Bafenchang 0850         SY 1487
Quite a pleasant little rural branch with low hills, rice paddies and a river.  Note sweetcorn plants much more advanced than those on my allotment.  How do they manage all this in a place where winter temperature drop to around – 50° centigrade and summer temperature fluctuate constantly.
At Bafenchang 3 steam hauled passengers stood side by side, the 0900 and 0935 to Zhongxin plus the branch train.  Behind in the yard another QJ was shunting so all in all a good steamy interlude here. Fot 0900 departing then noodle breakfast in nearby shop.

32   0935 Bafenchang - Zhongxin 1119         QJ 3598
Window seat available in front coach, (0900 was fairly full).  Despite a load of 11/500 tons gross thrash was not as good as previous afternoon’s run (81/82/83/84 were all load 9)  A new road, more or less paralleling the railway is under construction. Along the line during the morning 5 QJ were active on freight

73   1340 Zhongxin – Fushan 1517        QJ 7017
A similar type of line with a steep scenic climb over the range of hills in both directions then on to Fushan is very flat.  Good noise up the bank. A miner’s dido from Fushan to a nearby pit was seen being hauled by a draisine railcar.

74   1530 Fushan – Changan  1704        QJ 7017
A pleasant run back on the flat with the low sun on the distant hills then another good run up the bank.
Off at Changan with about 100 others to connect into 51.  The platforms at Changan are in a V shape with a few houses & shops in between.  The line towards Zhongxin drops steeply along an avenue of tall trees.  Not an unpleasant spot really on the edge of Shuangyashan and the open countryside.
After a minute or so QJ 6917 thrashes up through the trees then with regulator still open into the steeply graded platform. Boarding the train was almost impossible with masses of people crammed in by the doors and standing all along the coaches. The van at the front was also wedged with passengers and several people were perched at the back of the tender. Luckily a welcoming smile beckoned from the footplate so I hauled myself up into what was already a very crowded space.

51   1706 Changan – Tudingshan 1724        QJ 6917
In a display emphasising the immense power of these locos 6917 heaved its 11 bogie 550 ton gross load up the grade which steepened to 1 in 47 at the platform end.  The whole loco shook and shuddered with the continuous roars as it got to grips with the bank and slowly accelerated.
This train makes a crossing at both the first and second stations out from Changan.  I got off at the first in case all the doors of the second train were already locked by the time 51 arrived.

22   1725 Tudingshan - Zhongxin 1744         QJ 3598
Connection made by one minute. Remainder of evening spent at Zhongxin photting in decreasing light, including QJ 6805 arriving on 84 and SY 1102 on the Lingdong passenger. The station area was very busy at this time. At 1800 there were 4 locos in sight, then a lull until around 1830 when 5 locos were in view.

Saturday 02 June

81   0520 Zhongxin – Tudingshan 0541         QJ 7017
Catch this train up the bank for a short fotting session before going to Fushan. This train stops just up the hill beyond Changan in the middle of nowhere, no platform/nameboard seen.  The stop is shown on the big board at Zhongxin together with a call in the evening on a downhill train.
Walk back down the bank to Changan, about 3 miles, on a hot sunny morning. Lineside covered in cinders indicating plenty of hard work from the QJs. En route saw freight down, freight up then passenger 31 up which was fotted leaving Changan. Light good for uphill trains. Train 52 arrives on ‘mainline’ and again a large numbers of passengers transferred over .

71   0707 Changan – Fushan 0843      QJ 6805
Another good thrash climb over the hill including the start from the station part way up the bank.  Train not too crowded. Both morning and afternoon trains on this line are 9 bogies.

72   0856 Fushan – Zhongxin 1027      QJ 6805
Good thrash away from stations.  On this system you can always travel in the front coach (with t/f loco) back to Shuangyashan. Apart from the 4 coach sets on the Shuangyang branch and the Fushan dido all rakes are full length, mostly 9 bogies but at least one set is 11.
It has been said that local pits had been working at way below full capacity but a fair amount of coal was on the move during my visit. An enjoyable two days here, certainly the best of the mine railways. I counted myself lucky not to see any diesels in use (they have been seen on passenger diagrams). Just one diesel around could screw up the bashing badly.

Trundle off to Hegang, trains 4134/6 1147 Shuangyashan – Jiamusi 1342, 6547 1551 Jiamusi – Hegang 1731. Both trains were crowded. On the first you can excess into the diner and from Jiamusi to get a decent seat you need to get on soon after the gate has opened. One or two stations before Hegang the CNR has a junction with the mine railway, not known if there is a passenger station on the latter at this point. It could be the site of Junde, on the triangle off the Junli line.
At Jiamusi book soft sleeper to Harbin (on train coming from Hegang) for the following night. Invited to booking clerks home!

Once at Hegang book into hotel directly across the square. A scruffy looking place inside but it did the business, a room with facilities, including hot water and with clean bedding cost just 80 yuan (£7).
Off then to the mine railway station which is directly beyond the main line station from the hotel but separated by the shunting neck of a freight yard. The CNR platform entrance door was open but to reach it meant passing a police booth in the waiting area. I was duly stopped by a friendly copper and asked where I was going. Once he understood I was escorted over into the mine railway shed and he insisted on taking photos of me posing on the locos!  It then took some while to convince him that I wanted to actually travel on the trains.
To avoid this sort of complication go to the Mine Railway station via the road bridge to the north. At the level crossing just after the bridge turn right and walk either along the road to the station buildings (high level) or along the track dropping down past the shed to the platform below. If the weather is as hot as it was on my visit a minibus from the hotel to the level crossing for 1 yuan is recommended.

9   1835 Jipei – Junli 1920           SY 1030
Load 2.  The stock here has longitudinal seating by the windows, some vehicles are YZ22s, others are centre door.
The beauty of Hegang soon became apparent as the sun set over the hills to the west.  Ever present was the smell of coal as dust was blown everywhere by the strong wind.  Slack is used for fuel and as a result the train fills with cinders as soon as it moves off. We trundled off past mines and grimy hutongs with dust, rubbish and smoke haze all pervading.  Any spare space, however small was planted with vegetables and even the odd fruit tree.  On the hill opposite were silhouetted huge modern buildings, a world away from the lineside scene of collieries, drift mines and grotty houses.  Eventually the line becomes semi rural but still with mines everywhere.

10   1930 Junli – Jipei 2015           SY 1030
Despite the rough track and light loads the SY get along well and even a load of less than 90 tons produces some thrash. Night falls en route back into Jipei, a good thing some might say!

Lots of kebab stalls next to hotel.  The local speciality is charcoal grilled baby sparrows, these are kept in cages nearby to ensure freshness.  I settled for barbecued squid.  This is actually widely available in Northern China, arriving frozen from the south.

Sunday 03 June
Over to station by 0600 to check morning departures.  In the platforms were 3 SY hauled trains, one for each line.  This threw me completely as previous reports had seen electrics on the North line service.   Bash had to be replanned to cover the North line in case  (a) other trains all electric, and (b) to get 3024, China’s newest steam loco for haulage. Fot 0600 and 0620 departures in good low sunlight.

21   0640 Jipei – Xingshan 0709        SY 3024
This loco actually carries a builders plate dated 1998 but was seen under construction at Changchun in July 1999.  Does anybody know the correct completion date?
The line initially heads south but most of the way curves towards the north in a shallow cutting lined with rubbish tips, trees and shrubs which partly obscure the small houses, pits and factories.  Eventually it becomes more rural but again still with plenty of mines dotted around.

22   0720 Xingshan – Jipei 0747       SY 3024
En route note a ‘big hole’ to the left.

3   0815 Jipei – Junli 0905           SY 3014
An older loco this time.  3014 is 1993 built.

4   0918 Junli – Jipei 1008           SY 3014
Another trip through the scenic heart of Hegang. Time then for a long lunch and the opportunity to phot SY departing on the 1335 to Junli and also train 25, 1420 to Xingshan, a working that has been seen electric hauled.

43   1444 Jipei – Shanzhuang 1549       SY 1030
This train follows the route of the Junli line as far as Xingan where it turns off to the right.  Beyond here was something of a surprise with the line taking on the character of a rural branch line.  It passes through open country with undulating fields, villages and small lakes which later give way to a mixture of coniferous and deciduous woodland.  At Shanzhuang there is a quarry and an oil depot.  For much of the way a dirt road runs next to the line.
We terminated 30 late after a 40 minute delay at a station before the junction, probably waiting to cross a late running train from Junli. No chance of any fotting, some 500 people were on the platform and surged onto the train.  Most were day trippers, families and school parties.

44   1559 Shanzhuang – Jipei 1715        SY 1030
I had hoped to get off at Xingan for a + 3 connection into train 7 which covers the Junde triangle lines on the Jipei route.  With the North Line being steam in the morning I was unable to cover the morning turn via the triangle so still needed the track. However as I did not know if the train had gone I decided to stay on. In the event we crossed it at Fuli, it departed 38 late just as we arrived. At Jipei note train 28, 1720 from Xingshan arrive behind an electric.

All the trains covered on this day were load 4 or 5.  It seems that short formations only come out late in the day, as at Fuxin. Whilst this system is not in the same league as Tiefa or Shuangyashan it is well worth a visit with a character of its own, steam operating in its natural industrial environment, bringing back memories of youthful train spotting trips.  It was particularly good to travel on a railway where 1980s built electric locos have been dumped and superseded by brand new steam locos.

Book hard seat ticket to Jiamusi on K606 and use this plus my sleeper ticket on from there to Harbin to gain immediate access to the soft sleeper.  This dubious validity was not queried, perhaps the thought of excessing me was in the too difficult category.  A good job, because the short train was very crowded, it still starts from Hebei although not shown to do so in the timetable.

Monday 04 June
Arrive Harbin 0530, extract myself from the clutches of a very persistent lady in CNR uniform who wanted me to rest in some dossy place outside the station for a mere 125 yuan and book soft sleeper to Ganhe on K629 at 1502. Walk across the centre of Harbin passing some preserved buildings from Russian days to the one time International Hotel, originally a Stalinist bingguan place but now privatised.  This offered a western style buffet breakfast with fruit, corn flakes, fruit juices, bacon, sausage, omelettes, bread, butter, jam & unlimited tea or coffee for 69 yuan (£6.00).  Back to station at lunchtime, temperature 91° using underground shopping malls (? converted air raid shelters) as much as possible.  Harbin actually has a very smart city centre.
Remainder of time spent in soft class waiting room, very comfortable with clean toilets, hot water boiler and small food shop. Out into the real world at 1445.  Harbin station is of course being rebuilt and the strong hot wind (just like India in early summer) blew dust everywhere. Still at least I was soon out of it and sat sipping tea in luxury whilst hundreds of those less fortunate clawed their way in to the hard seat coaches of the Dezhou train in the next platform.
Whilst at Ranghulu a DF4 arrived on 6003 from Da'anbei, a train that was steam hauled until last year.  In the servicing point just to the west stood 6882 & 6773, the first China Rail QJs seen on this trip, after 9 days in China!

Tuesday 05 June
Arrive Ganhe at 0505.  Previous visitors have had police trouble here so I was pleased that the sleepers were at the rear end of the short platform so I was able to dive off unseen by any welcoming/moving on committee by the official exit.  The narrow gauge station is easily found.  After walking off the rear end of the platform cross the line by the small level crossing, turn immediately right and walk by the northernmost track which forms one side of a ‘Y’.  Go to the end of the ‘Y’ which is on a slight embankment, turn right onto a paved road and the smart station is a little way further on to the left with the long passenger rake in the platform.  The shed/works area is set behind the running line closer to the ‘Y’.
Now it was just the minor matter of looking inconspicuous for three hours in a small northern Inner Mongolian logging town which has hardly seen any westerners and most of those have been pulled up by the police. Wander amongst the small houses and yards and out to the edge of town then a noodle breakfast in a small shop for 1 yuan (9p).  From the baffled looks on the faces of the locals I got the impression that big noses seldom breakfast there. Continue the long cold wait lurking in the station yard whilst the train loaded up with supplies and wandered on to the platform as the loco backed down at 0815 onto a long train, 7 bogie vehicles plus 2 small vans.

0800 Ganhe – Zhongdian         &nb sp;     09
Pleased to find the famous soft seat compartment coach at the front of  the lengthy formation. Just in time to bag the last of the three compartments with its longitudinal cushioned benches, thermos flask, candle and chamber pot.  There is a non see through door which keeps out some, but not all curious locals and railway officials.
No hassle from anyone at the station, perhaps I was worrying over nothing, although once underway the train policeman did ask for my passport.  He seemed very friendly and more curious than suspicious.

We set off at 0823 into a cold, grey landscape, crossing the Ganhe River over a long bridge and curving northwards into the flat wide valley bordered by distant hills which gradually close in.  In the early stages the land is cultivated but habitation and cultivation soon peters out , perhaps it’s just  too cold and inhospitable to scrape a living here.  After an hour or so the only settlement was around the bigger stations.  At the isolated crossing loops groups of workers lounged around the station buildings, behind which were semi derelict uninhabited dormitories.  At the larger stations there were loops, sidings and sometimes a triangle.
By mid morning the hills were close by and the river and its tributaries smaller and faster flowing, the landscape a mixture of forest and open marshy areas.
At Quilibin a market had been set up next to the running line with two butchers stalls, vegetable and general goods were also available, whilst the provisions van on the train dispensed sack of rice and crates of beer.  Everyone got out of the train to look round and shop for lunch.  Quilibin is a large settlement of standard small Chinese houses with vegetable plots surrounded by wooden palisades.  A strong cold wind blew smoke from the loco and the houses away horizontally, adding to the wild look of the place.
A few wagons loaded with logs were seen en route and a new wooden trestle bridge  was under construction on the middle section.

Beyond Quilibin seemed even more remote with the little loco rattling away up the grades through the woods.  After further time was lost fumbling past track repair gangs Zhongdian was reached about an hour late.
Here there was another lineside market and after the loco had been serviced much shunting was done and more than once the stalls had to be moved.

1430 Zhongdian - Ganhe          & nbsp;   09
As a consequence of the shunting we got away about an hour and a half late.  Much of the manoeuvring had involved positioning p.way flats loaded with ash for ballast at the rear of our train and sure enough en route we suffered a lengthy stop whilst the ash was shovelled off.  Further delay ensued whilst a horse was loaded, or rather forced, into the front van at Quilibin.  By late afternoon the sun had broken through the cloud and the scenery was seen in a different light with the loco rolling round the curves way ahead and low sunlight glinting on the hills with dark clouds to the east.  Our final delay was an after dark stop of one hour to allow a draisine railbus conveying the p.w. staff to overtake us.  By now the candle was being used to good effect as I checked the timetable should any bash replanning be needed.  We finally rolled in to Ganhe at 2155, assuming a booked arrival time of 1800 we were 235 late.

Quite a fascinating line, a bit bleak and wild on this day.  The thing that gives the line its special character is the markets at the stations.  Outside of North Korea it could end up being the last of its kind in the world, a Forestry Railway providing a proper passenger service. Tickets for the soft seat coach are expensive, 60 yuan return (£5.26)

Stumbled back along the track to Ganhe then round to the front entrance for the long journey to QJ land, Da’anbei was the first point where haulage was possible.
Having missed a +129 connection into K40 I at least made the +297 into K630 comfortably.  Booked a hard seat ticket (Edmundson card) to Nenjiang so as to stop off and check the local railway north to Heibaoshan which has been rumoured to have steam in use on freight.  Train arrives behind a pair of ancient single ended Russian style diesels , where are all you box boys then?  Too scared to venture beyond Portugal I suppose.  Excess into a half empty soft sleeper.

Wednesday 06 June
Arrive Nenjiang 0456, no sign of any activity at the north end.  Get off and rush round to look at departure board.  The only train not within the CNR number/letter range was 921/922 to and from Qiqihar with stops of just 4 minutes from 0949-0953 and 15XX-15XX.  The northern destination was 4 character (Heibaoshan is 3 character).
With K630 still in the platform it was time for a very quick decision.  It seemed likely that the passenger running part distance only on the line would be a through diesel and any further stay would mean no steam haulage out of Da’anbei that evening.
So opt to get back on the train.  Get Ranghulu ticket from booking office for 0925 train, only after argument and shouting via tannoi from booking clerk to barrier staff was this changed to the 0509 departure and I was bundled on just before departure.Excess back into the same soft sleeper berth (twice in some 6 hours, this must be a record).
As we left Nenjiang sure enough there at the depot stood JS 8298 in steam plus JS 8247 dead in supershine condition complete with decorations.  Both these locos plus several stored/dumped JS all faced north.  It must be assumed then that freight at least is still steam on the Heibaoshan line.
By now I was suffering from severe stomach problems and feeling weak so spent the whole journey to Ranghulu and then on 2155/2158 to Da’anbei (in a hard sleeper) lying on my back.
Noted en route: 6005 0628 Da’anbei – Ranghulu DF4, double headed QJ freight dep Ranghulu at 1040, 5 x QJ and 2 x diesel freights crossed going north and JS shunting Da’anbei yards.
Da’anbei arrival was at 1753, just right for an 1807 steam departure.  Managed to avoid being thrown off the station then walked round the end of the platform just as a nice black shape appeared in the distance.

2   1807 Da’anbei – Songyuan 1948       QJ 6848
Formed 4 passenger vehicles plus sundry wagons which were dropped off en route.  Ushered into front coach, a sort of soft seat vehicle used mainly by grippers and staff.  Lots of tea and curious attention from staff.  A flat rather dreary line and a dull evening to match.  Crossed one diesel freight plus several QJ and JS shunters and light locos.

I was torn between two bashes: a) box back to Da’anbei for the 0605 QJ mixed to Taipingchuan and b) train 1 to Baicheng.  Both connected into the evening express to Tongliao. I opted for the latter.  With hindsight the right decision as Internet reports seen after returning home stated that the mixed was more often than not diesel worked during May.
Outside from Songyuan’s enormous modern station (totally out of proportion with the number of trains and passengers using it) is a hotel to the left.  Perhaps against my better judgment I was persuaded to go with a uniformed CNR lady to a railway ? dostel amongst the nearby hutongs.  A small airless room cost 50 yuan (£4.40), something of a rip-off but at least it kept me away from any police problems and a noodle dinner was included in the price.

Thursday 07 June
Woken and let out of the ‘hotel’ in good time by a fellow guest. However modern and impressive the station might have been it was not up to the task of issuing a ticket to Baicheng on train 1.  Instead I was given a printed slip of paper and told to pay on the train.  Even though 1 and 2 are now in the timetable the mysteries of travel on them are still not fully solved.

1   0530 Songyuan – Baicheng 0957          QJ 6848
The same formation of 4 hard seat coaches plus a string of wagons for Baicheng.  Again the grippers looked after me in the sort of soft seat coach, lots of tea water plus breakfast soya milk drink and comfy pillows. On a pleasant sunny morning the line looked marginally more attractive. No steam activity was noted between Da’anbei and Baicheng although JS 8045 was dead on Baicheng shed, perhaps spare to 6848.

Book soft sleeper for the five hour evening journey to Tongliao on the Ulanhot – Beijing express, 93 yuan (£8.15) then retire for further recuperation at a hotel over the road.
At Tongliao book into hotel in station square, just to the right, 50 yuan room without facilities.  Helpful attendant girl fetches noodles at breakfast time.

Friday 08 June
Once again caught out by the inability of the computer to issue a ticket to Jiningnan via the Jitong line.  Settle for a hard sleeper to Daban and excess on train, a move that cost considerably more than a through ticket.

6053/6052   1040 Tongliao – Benhong 1108  QJ 6996 Tongliao – Chabuga
        QJ 6125 Chabuga – Daban
        QJ 7007 Daban – Haoluku
        QJ 6564 Haoluku – Zhengxiangbaiqi
        QJ 6304 Zhengxiangbaiqi – Benhong

Through the barrier at Tongliao I walked towards a standard green set of stock at the main platform but was shooed away by staff and motioned towards the farthest platform where stood a pristine rake of blue red and white stock, each vehicle with a 2001 works plate.  My heart momentarily sank expecting to see a gleaming new box at the head end.  Luckily all was well though, just the usual smart QJ.
So off we set in a very smart hard sleeper, past sundry grotty CNR locals with dirt covered stock and scruffy rusting DFH3s.  Good to travel the modern way in the new China.
A pleasant sunny day, not too hot.  At Kailu there were 5 QJs.  Once into the South African like area around Lindong and Chabuga the loco and its train made a very fine sight on the sharp curves amongst the hills in the low sunlight.  From here all the way to the pass some fine noise was enjoyed, my best run so far along here.
The area centring on Chabuga was suffering from severe drought, everywhere was parched and dry, almost desert like and the interior of the sleeper was soon covered in film of sand and dust as well as the usual cinders.
At Daban very smart deflectorless QJ 6984 was the shunt loco, as others have said it looks an overgrown JS.  Also noted here was a new DMU, one driving vehicle of which was covered in tarpaulin.  I saw later on the Internet that it was involved in a collision at a loop and the driver was killed.  As a result the Hohhot service was operating on alternate days.  We crossed the said train as it neared Daban with a mere 30 passengers.
Excellent thrash session behind 7007 in the still evening air both before and after Reshui.  On the pass the headlight lit up the rock cuttings and tunnels.  Note what appeared to be new loops being put in on level 2 above Reshui and between the side valley and the curved viaduct

Saturday 09 June
The running next morning was much quieter but good round the sweeping 140 degree curve (with semaphore) near the station beyond Zhengxiangbaiqi.  The train made a superb sight but of course no fotter seems to consider linesiding anywhere west of Haoluku, ? do they realise what they are missing.  Well pleased to get to steam all the way through to Benhong now that diesels are in use on this section.
Like the Chabuga area this part of the world is also suffering a terrible drought, what is usually pastureland, cultivated fields and green hills was barren, brown and dusty, the real Gobi Wasteland.
We crossed 3 QJ freights near Zhengxiangbaiqi then nothing further until Benhong where 2001 built DF4D (4070) was ready to leave.  Where then are  the boxes received by the line in 2000?

Afternoon express from Jiningnan to Baotoudong, no soft seat reservations available, told to excess on train.  In theory not a problem, at least until Hohhot where huge mob descends into coach, all with seat reservations.
Note 2125 suburban arrival and the Shiguai branch train with diesels. Stay at hotel across square to station.   Large room with big bathroom, hot water and tea urn but dirty bedding for 128 yuan (£11.20).  A knock on the door whilst I was in the shower revealed an attractive scantily clad young lady asking if there was anything I wanted.  Some JS haulage was what I really really wanted but she probably couldn’t help in that department.

Sunday 10 June
0630, 0653, 0714 suburbans plus 0650 Shiguai departures all box.  Take 0630 to Baotou for 0756 to Shenmubei.  Inevitably Baotou station was being rebuilt and the surface of the road outside had been removed and holes for pipes were being dug everywhere so having rained the previous night it was a sea of mud.  In the midst of all this was an overturned loaded coal lorry & trailer.

The Shenmubei train, following the DF1 trials in January had reverted back to steam haulage by April.  I was therefore less than pleased to find a DF4 at its head.  So another two hours had to be spent sitting in the discomfort of the temporary waiting hall to see what would work the express to Dongsheng.  I very nearly didn’t see it at all, its departure from Baotou had been advanced to 1005 and this had not been advertised.  In the end all was well so at least I had something to show for my 48 hours away from the Jitong line.

K993    1005 Baotou – Dongsheng 1158           QJ 6789      12 bogies 545 tons gross
From a back to engine window seat in the second vehicle some thrash could be heard once we got clear of several p.w.checks and  reached the scenic and more steeply graded river/desert section.  Good to be back at last on the type of train on which I had done most of my Chinese bashing.  After being held outside Dongsheng we eventually terminated almost 40 late.
Most of the vehicles on this working are in a blue and white livery but the train is not air conditioned as reported by previous visitors.

A leisurely lunch then back to the station to join a traditional Chinese booking office queue for a half an hour on a very hot afternoon.  The two windows were only open for an hour and as a result many passengers had to be allowed onto the station ticketless and gripped on the train.  To further the chaos only one small entrance to the station was open so pushing & shoving was the order of the day.

K994    1454 Dongsheng - Baotou 1647           QJ 6088      12 bogies 545 tons gross
Downhill virtually all the way so no thrash to enjoy.  Despite some fast running in places arrival at Baotou was 20 late.  As we rolled in over the Yellow River I wondered if this would be my last crossing of it by steam or more to the point my last ever journey on a real genuine steam hauled express.
Unlike my June 1999 visit to this line a fair amount of freight was on the move.  On the outward crossed 3 freights plus a trip and on the return 4 freights plus a loco shunting.  Noted in use was 8 wheel tender QJ 3162.  In addition to these 6088 returned from Baotou with a freight. Continue on K994 to Baotoudong where suburbans 7473 and 7475 were seen diesel hauled.
Transfer my custom to the West Lake Hotel down the road on the right, 116 yuan (£10.15) for a small but clean western style room with facilities including hot water and tea urn.  Other services also seemed to be available if a phone call from a very pleasant sounding young lady was anything to go by.  It sounded like a recording  ? press 1 for a quickie, press 2 for silver service, press 3 for leather special, press 69 for ??.   I think we had better stop there.  Immediately before the hotel is a very good quality restaurant.

Monday 11 June
Day express to Jiningnan at 0820, this time with a reserved soft seat – which someone was already occupying.  The electric water heater in the coach, broken in 1999 was still out of use, its replacement was a woman who shuffled along just once with a kettle.  All the while I was at Jiningnan only one ticket window was open and reaching it was impossible.  Enter station from gate down the line at the west end and welcomed ticketless onto the JiTong train.

6051/6054   1613 Benhong – Daban 0800  QJ 6304 Benhong – Zhengxiangbaiqi
       QJ 6483 Zhengxiangbaiqi – Haoluku
       QJ 7007 Haoluku – Daban

Apart from a green diner this was another 2001 built set. Once again pleased to get steam on the Benhong section.  On this bit of line we crossed five freights, all QJ including one double header.  A good run during the evening through some typically wild Mongolian style scenery, curving round the hillsides past small stations with semaphores in the middle of nowhere.  When this section goes box it will be a great loss.

Tuesday 12 June
Yet another run on the Haoluku – Daban section with 7007.  A reasonable climb up from Jingpeng.  Cloudburst at Daban, drenched in seconds.  Buy kiosk woman’s umbrella for 30 yuan.  On to Reshui for photography.

Wednesday 13 June
Not allowed to stay in the cheap bungalow in Reshui behind the Jingpeng road sign.  Sent to the adjoining more expensive hotel on the street and that was full.  Problem solved when a well oiled Mr Big turned up at the hotel reception and told the unhelpful girls to accommodate me in a small sub shed at the back.  Price 100 yuan for a good room + bath with hot water eventually.  There must be some problem/scam going on here with foreigners because I was asked to leave early in the morning. Watch passenger climbing the hill in the dark, a fine sight.

Thursday 14 June
Oversleep planned early morning session on mountainside.  Out at 0625 and reach riverbed at 0635 to value uphill trains silhouetted crossing the river & on the embankment at the start of the climb. Perfect weather, not a cloud in the sky.  Bang on cue at 0640 a goods could be heard approaching from Linxi.  The noise continued for half an hour then stopped until it restarted from Galadesitai at 0755.  By then the magic lighting had gone and it was just an ordinary climb over the mountain by a pair of 2-10-2s on 1000 + tons.  But even without any steam it would have good to be out in the hills early morning watching the villagers bringing their animals out for grazing and observing rural Mongolian life in a beautiful setting.
Take minibus to other side of the pass from just up the road to the cheap hotel.  Whilst I was waiting an English speaking girl came out from the adjacent building which was also a hotel, she had rooms available for 64 yuan.
Get off minibus at side valley.  Climb up above road and almost immediately uphill freight appears.  Fine sight high on opposite hillside leaving the valley. Down into village to search out some breakfast.  A typical small Mongolian hamlet, no shop could be seen so phrase book had to come out, would you believe the word for shop is Shangdian, the name of the next village.  After this small confusion some youngsters took me into a house where there were two old ladies, one of whom unlocked the door of a room that hardly merited the description shop with barely half a dozen items on sale.  Luckily one of these was bags of noodles so I was able to breakfast in some comfort with a proper dish inside the house.  A further slight misunderstanding over the price. 8 was communicated by finger counting, this threw me until I realised it was 8 jiao – a whole 7 pence, the bargain of the trip.
After a short study of village life including a piggery inspection make way high up mountain for view over side valley.  Almost tread on unfriendly looking coiled snake, cannot imagine how they survive winter temperatures.  Good wildflower showing up here.  Short wait for uphill train at 1140, very impressive with full thrash.  Leave immediately for curved viaduct a mile or two away, despite getting a minbus after a few minutes walk I only just managed a rather bodged phot of QJ 7012 (only) with a short freight on the viaduct at 1217. A long tedious wait as the weather deteriorates.  Wind gets up and cloud starts to build. Next uphill is at 1520, watch it flog up the valley and then blasting over the curved viaduct.  Superb to hear and see, photting spoils the enjoyment.  Bus away from viaduct then to Daban for an overnight at the railway hotel down the road near the shed.  200 yuan (£17.50!) for a clean room with facilities.  Views from window to yard throat.  I was unable to get a 120 yuan room as others had.  This was due to a breakdown in communication or perhaps no communication even with the woman behind the desk.  It seemed that to qualify for the cheaper price I needed some specific documentation or to write something in her book.

Friday 15 June

6054   0819 Daban – Tongliao 1743  QJ 6631 to Chabuga, QJ 6478 forward
A cold, dull, wet and windy morning.  Huddle in hard sleeper as train rolls along just below cloud level with Inner Mongolia in one of its bleak and desolate moods.  Rain pounds down on cracked earth in the barren fields, no doubt washing more topsoil away and spreading the desert.  It was not until near Tongliao that the weather brightened up.  Train wedged up at and around Kailu.

Phot 6478 leaving Tongliao on the Daban train at 1713.  Light is good for this shot. At 1915 a steam hauled freight was heard passing through the station.

Another run on the Ulanhot – Beijing express, this time to Chengde.  Helpful little girl attendant in the soft sleeper arranges excess into sleeper whilst I wait in diner.  Berth materialises in hard sleeper rather than soft but only two of us in the six berths so journey was quite pleasant especially after attendant gave me two sets of bedding.

Saturday 16 June
A visit to Chengde was not high on my priorities but it was just about the only thing that could be fitted in on the last day.  Spent the time in town, by the river bridge and the main level crossing.  Trains uphill at 0931, 1018, 1122, 1201, 1248 and 1430.  Very difficult to phot at the level crossing but it’s an amazing sight with plenty of local colour.  Positions around the bridge are plentiful and the flail here can be valued for quite a time.  Among the locos in use was the JS with smoke deflectors (6368?).

Back to Beijing on the afternoon express.  Soft seat expenditure was a waste of money.  The coach was full whilst the hard seats were ¾ empty.  3 yuan (26 pence) demanded for a cup of tea, this was declined and there was actually a working boiler in the coach.
Stay, as usual at the Hademan Hotel down the road.  This was reasonably priced but sad to say it has now been refurbished and is now much smarter and more expensive.  Room rates, from memory are now about 560/580.  I managed to negotiate this down in stages to 420(£36.80) still a lot of money but it was a smart room.  Beijing Duck dinner in hotel restaurant, not bad value actually.  Tea in coffee shop 10 yuan (88 pence).
Sunday 17 June
Bus to airport at 0730 having overslept the 0700 in my soundproofed room.  Airport tax to Europe is 90 yuan.  Western breakfast at airport, cup of tea 50 yuan (£4.38) ! at least refills were available.
Flight arrives Amsterdam 66 minutes early, long wait for connection which gets into Stansted 10 late.  Although KLM were quite happy to bump me off my outward flight to Amsterdam they refuse to put me on an earlier flight to Stansted.  One law for them, another for the passenger.


China is changing fast.  On the roads the bicycle is giving way to motorised transport and long distance bus services expand over new express highways and bypasses whilst in the fields two and four legs are being replaced by tractors.  There is a growing middle class with people more smartly dressed and filling the restaurants, fast food outlets, the new shopping malls and supermarkets.
Much grinding poverty remains however, as a stroll round any Inner Mongolian village will soon remind you.
On the railways many trains are still crowded but the introduction of new expresses and through semi fast trains coupled with a higher proportion of sleeping cars to seating accommodation means that most journeys can be undertaken in comfort.  The almost universal adoption of computerised ticketing/reservation with less queuing at ticket windows also makes travelling around much easier.
The new layout of the timetable, with trains divided into areas is a definite improvement.
RMB Yuan up to 6000 can now be taken in and out of the country and the authorities are for the first time issuing tourist visas at Beijing airport in connection with a special event this summer.
Food of reasonable or good quality is readily available and virtually every station a basher is likely to use will have hotel(s) outside.
Reverse charge phone calls back to the U.K. by B.T. chargecard can be made at great expense from some payphones.  If the code does not register you can always use the red phones in kiosks and shops by paying the owner a flat charge of 1 yuan (and B.T.£2 17 per minute or part of minute!)
It’s just a pity than that in most of the country there’s sod all steam to see.

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© 2001, R.Blundell