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China steam, March-April 2003

Zhungeer - Wuhai - Daba-Guyaozi - JiTong - Yuanbaoshan - Tiefa

By Anders Falk Jensen, Bo Lindhardtsen and Ole Jensen

Zhungeer (Zhoujiawan) (March 23rd to 25th 2003)

Arrived mid-afternoon in Zhoujiawan. Unfortunately we caught a wrong bus in Hohhot, and we had to change bus a number of times to get to this railway - and a taxi was involved too. Therefore we strongly recommend taking the direct bus to Zhoujiawan, which follows the western main road pointing southwards from Hohhot. In Zhoujiawan there is another 3 km's to the western outskirts of town, where the steam-engines are working. This costs usually 5 yuan in a 3-wheel taxi.

The line is an extension of the electrified line from Datong to Zhoujiawan. All trains change from steam to electric and vv in Zhoujiawan. The loaded coal trains arrive here and the QJ's goes immediately on the turntable, ready for the next trip into the mountains.

The normal traffic-pattern is something like this: 2 eastbound trains consisting of 2 QJ's arrive with say 24 C62 followed by one last train with a single QJ and about 10 cars. (All this within about 2 hours). The coal waggons are then hauled towards Datong by a single SS3-electric in one huge train. Heading west to the mines we saw 2 QJ working uphill with all the empties in one train.

We got the impression that not many foreigners have visited this railway yet. A pity, cause it's really worth a visit! Great scenery with bridges and steep gradients in both directions - and every train with QJ's! Just outside Zhoujiawan the line moves uphill for about 6-7 km, and a tunnel is reached. The scenery is a bit like Jingpeng with mountains in the distance. The line is definitely worth further exploration.

Railway staff and the crews are very friendly, and they expect no money from you. -What a difference from Jingpeng! During our two-day visit we saw all 13 QJ's in steam, but the line-working changes from day to day. On the 24th, not a single train moved uphill in daylight, and only 3 came down with coal. But the next day was much better and started at 8 o'clock when QJ 6555 and 7067 moved uphill with 54 empties in the morning sun.
The steam activity varies from day to day depending on the coal production in the mines in Xiyingzi. There is a number of light-engine workings to Xiyingzi when needed.

The area is a bit remote, but there are hotels in the eastern part of Zhoujiawan. We were lucky to stay in a ldian just across the depot for only 5 yuan each with some very nice people. The place was recommended by a guy in the steam depot.

The condition of the QJ-engines varies from super shine-locos (6944) to others in rather poor working order. We saw one engine having an overhaul in the repair shop (the shed) and running the following day. Another engine was then brought in for a check. QJ 6565 stood in front of the shed all the time, perhaps serving as a steam-supply.

Engines seen in Zhoujiawan: QJ 6555, 6563, 6565, 6573, 6613, 6759, 6907, 6944, 6946, 6995, 7054, 7058 and 7067, all being operational.

Wuhai Xi (March 26th 2003)

Saw QJ 6829 steaming in the depot when arriving in the morning of March the 26th . Caught a taxi which drove us into the desert to the point, where the railway crosses the westbound road on a large bridge. Waited there for the 9:25 departure for Jilantai, which never showed up . At 11 o'clock suddenly QJ 6909 came from the opposite direction with a mixed 14 car-train. Nice shots in the outskirts of the Gobi-desert. No JS-engines seen on shunting duties in this area.

Daba - Guyaozi (March 27th 2003)

QJ-steam still rules this relatively new discovered line. Staying overnight in a hotel in Lingwu (153 yuan each). First steam seen in Lingwu at 7:49, when QJ 2869 was heading westbound with a coal train. The landscape is rather flat here. A taxi brought us to Guyaozi, the main depot of the railway. No problems by taking photo and video, and the staff were friendly. 5 QJ (1465, 2869, 7036, 7200 and 7205) were running, and another 5 (2690, 6545, 6832, 7061 and 7194) cold, some of them looking a bit desolate. QJ 7205 (Datong 1988, newest QJ) was shining with its brass boiler rings and many other fittings.

We spent some 5 hours there and saw a train leaving at 10:55 with QJ 7200 and another arriving from Daba at 12:18 with QJ 1465. A lot of shunting was going on most of the time (QJ 7036). The engines are turned on a triangle. The line is running through desert-like areas most of the time, and apart from a few places where the railway crosses the river and road, there seems to be few places, to be called photogenic. - But we haven't seen all the line!

JiTong (March 28th to April 3rd 2003)

Business as usual, one can say. Plenty of steam-action with 10-12 trains over the Pass in daylight. Saw diesel DF4D 4070 in the middle of a westbound fright in the Pass.
In Reshui area no trouble with "the Mafia"; we did not see them. Seems spring is coming early this year; we had temperatures reaching 17 degrees C and almost no wind in the hills for some days.

In Daban depot they now charge you 200 yuan each for a photo permit. In Daban it self there is a lot going on: all trains changes engines, steam-shunting (QJ 6639 without deflectors), and especially on the east side the terrain is great and offers heavy work for the engines that moves uphill until Gulumanhan. There is a road-bridge over the tracks in the east end of Daban. Here the light is perfect for the morning passenger to Chabuga! Some freights are double headed east of Daban too. For 3 persons we paid 140 yuan for staying at the Railway Hotel in Daban, placed about 700 m's from the station (eastside).

Yuanbaoshan (April 3rd 2003)

Apart from being a very dusty and dirty area, this place still offers quite a lot JS-steam. During our 4-hours stay we saw 4 different engines either with trains or on shunting duties. No problems by taking pictures, even inside the shed. The "Mixed" at 15:00 consisted of JS 8250, 14 C62 coal waggons and 8 passenger cars. At 17 o'clock JS 6246 arrived with a coal train from Majiawan.
JS-engines seen: 6245, 6246, 8246, 8249 and 8250. Cold were 6544 and 8218.

Tiefa/Diaobingshan (April 4-5th 2003)

Lots of steam-action offered on this system west of Tieling - really worth a visit! Highlights are the rush-hours from 6 to 7 in the morning and again around two o'clock. Some good positions for watching the movements are at Sanjiazi, where the lines split into four directions to the mines. Especially in the hours after 13:00 a steam train could be seen every 10 minutes! Unfortunately there is a lot of tender-first working on the system. No photo-problems at all, and the crew were very friendly.
SY-engines seen: 0063, 0860, 0979, 1147, 1255, 1412, 1683, 1749, 1751, 1764, 1767, 1769, 1770, 1771 and 1772.

We also observed SY 0201 shunting in CNR-station Xintaizi about 50 km northeast of Shenyang.

Conclusion: a hard, but also a very "giving" tour; we saw more than 100 steam locomotives in two weeks; about 90 of them under steam. There seems to be x-ray control on almost every larger rail station now, but this does not represent a problem to your film material.
Last, but not least: we managed to get home to Denmark by Scandinavian just ahead of the SARS-disease, which now has reached Inner Mongolia (Hohhot).

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© 2003, Anders Jensen