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Steam in China - December 2004

by Dave Davidoff

Benxi, Yuanbaoshan, JingPeng, Daban, Lindong, Beijing, Handan, Pingdingshan, Yinghao

After some necessary rest, I could finally finish my report about my fourth trip to steam in heaven. This time, I leaded a group from the Belgian museum organisation TSP/PFT, I'm helping at. We made a tour via Benxi, Yuanbaoshan, JingPeng, Daban, Lindong, Beijing, Handan, Pingdingshan and Yinghao. Our Chinese guide was the one and only Tina from Chifeng and she did perfect!

On the 26th of december, we arrived at Beijing-airport to visit the railway museum in it's neighbourhood. Of course, this was not the best destination to visit but it was a nice starter after a short night. After this opener, we went to Beijing Bei where is situated a nice little depot with green DF4B's. Okay, I'm more for steam also but some of my group members wanted to see more then only steam as it was their first visit to China. This little depot is very photogenic and might be of some interest for other people on this list not wanting to visit the forbidden city once more (okay, it's not steam of course...). Many of the engins are decorated and acces was at least during our visit freely given. After this visit we had dinner and took an overnight train to Shenyang.

At Shenyang, the real yourney started as we were going to visit Benxi steelworks. At Benxi, we witnessed a special effect which until then, I thought only existed in the dreaming minds of other enthousiastic people: it was so cold and hazy weather that the steam engins and the factory produced snow on their own! Incredible to see! Although it was very scenic to see the SY's in hazy weather and the tracks covered with snow, we were all very happy when the sun brake trough and we finally were ale to get the blast furnaces in the picture together with the SY's. We made some nice shots of the busy traffic around the stabling point near the blast furnaces and then went to the shed where the museum engins currently stand outside. From here, we headed for the Eastern-German croco's followed by a returning to the nice steamers. It was a pleasure for me to meet group-member Ian over there. What a surprise! After this unexpected meeting, we went off for the walsery. On the way over there, we could make some pictures from a new blast furnace in construction. A very impressioning sight! To call it an day, we went back to the stabling point were a lot of shunting had to be done. After this very nice opener of our trip, we headed back for Shenyang were we took the overnight train towards Chifeng.
We quickly spoke to the railway manager and he said they expect at least one further diesel in march. When I asked him when steam would be gone, he said "soon"...

On the 28th of December, we visited Yuanbaoshan. Business as usual with the freight train leaving Yuanbaoshan CNR at 10.30 and a very heavy train towards the mines passing the mine shunting station (named JiPei according to Tina) on the line from Majiawan towards the mines. Afterwards, we saw the mixed train to Fengshuigou. Then, we left Yuanbaoshan for the long ride towards Reshu´. When passing Yuzhoudi, we could whitness QJ7009 with a freight train strugling it's way up over the pass. Of course, we stopped some times to hear it pass us in the cold Inner-Mongolian darkness. Great opening scene at the pass!

After a short rest, not "disturbed" (snif) by the in the past so typical workenings of hammering QJ's (allready a sign of the upcoming end), we heard the bad news: only 3 trains with steam of which one workers train on the same time as an upcoming train from Daban. The choice was quickly made and so we headed for Linxi to see the upcoming train. At Linxi we saw a steam engin leaving the station when we entered it. We directly turned the bus and only at the first level crossing, we saw that it had a diesel in front. This was truely the new situation around JingPeng :-( So we turned back to Linxi, not loosing further time with this horrible sign of the future at Jitong. The real steam train was still to come but only after another diesel... We even drove further away towards Daban and waited this train at Wenduoheshuo. After a nice first meeting with the QJ7040, we drove back to Linxi where the QJ had to take water. We made the leaving in this station, followed by run-troughs at Yuzhoudi (S-curve), Galadesitai, Sandi and Liudigou. Over there, this train crossed the workers train, a very short train oversized with QJ's 7003 and 7104 towards Daban. After this first train chasing and saying hello to Bernd and his group, we directly turned back to Galadesitai because the second train was allready on it's way. Just in time, we reached the big bridge at Reshu´ to make the shot of QJ6878 with his train passing over the bridge. Afterwards, we made the picture in the big turn between level 1 and level 2 at the warning signal of Sandi. Nice position, only 2 minutes walking from the level crossing. The last picture was made at Shidi, a classical position of course. After these shots, we headed for JingPeng, being discused of the double headed diesel climbing up towards Daban... At JingPeng, it was business as usual with QJ6878 being serviced. Very nice was that when the time had come for our QJ to leave, water leaks had made ice peaks over the rods allready touching the ground! Like if the engin had been there for days...

The 30th of december, the steam pattern even got worse: only 2 very early running loose engins towards Daban, a second train towards Daban and the same workers train sceduled in the afternoon would keep us busy. The loose engins allready past before sunset, beautiful atmosphere but allready being 33,33% of the total traffic, left us stunished being aware it would be a very calm day. At JingPeng, we could whitness a very special effect: an icebow, caused by the flying snow in the sky. On his site, Bernd Seiler allready put a very nice picture of this effect. Great picture from Hadashan, Bernd. We chose for the more classical shot at tunnel 4, almost perfect circumstances as there was no wind (yes, you read it right: 3 days at JingPeng and NO wind, unfortunately almost no steam too, snif). The sight of the hard working QJ's was great, it was only a shame that the smoke mostly covered the QJ's in the shadow. After this show, we had to wait for the worker's train to fill up the day.
In total, traffic was relatively calm while waiting at Erdi. Or did it seem like this because in the past I was always chasing steam trains and now just waiting the one left steamer to come? Normally, the workers train was sceduled to pass about 14:30 but at 15:00 still no sign of the steamer was seen... So we headed back towards JingPeng as the sun in Erdi hided behind the hills. At Xiakengzi, we saw it coming and made the shot over there. Instead of a nice golden train, we had bad luck with the smoke, turning the train totally black. When the double header arrived at Shangdian, the sun just got down but it still was a nice picture with the glow behind the hills and a pink sky behind the train. Conclusion: what a difference with the atmosphere from last year with steam running around everywhere...

On the last day, we just encountered a short train at shangdian. Because there was no more steam to come the next hours, we followed it down to Galadesitai. At Reshu´, we could make a picture at the bridge of a train running down. What a turn-off after all these beautiful moments of QJ's hammering up the pass some months ago... Some hours and lots of diesels later, we drove to Yuzhoudi to make a shot of the QJ's 7040 & 7038 pulling their train towards Haoluku. Of course, we chased this train making further pictures at Galadesitai station, 2 times at Sandi and at DaBa. After this train, also QJ7030 was on it's way with a second train. We made pictures of this train at Galadesitai, Sandi and Shidi. On the downhill side, most of my group members experimented with a golden train at Shimingzi-bridge. With tons of luck and liters of sweat, I managed it to get on the eastern head of the bridge just in time to make a picture with QJ7030 rolling over the bridge with the sun perfectly behind it. Very nice atmosphere... Also on the picture ;-) That was the point, my choice was made: this was a perfect goodbye to JingPeng. With so little steam's daily movements the facts were harder then my dreams. It's almost over... For my group members, it were a great three days as they never visited JingPeng before. I think for such people, visiting JingPeng is still worthwhile. For more frequent JingPeng-visitors, things might be quite dissapointing. At least for me as a fourth time visitor, they were. With 14 diesels and a very efficiŰnt usage, Daban is doing a "great" job to let steam around Reshu´ dissapear. It's sad it's almost gone but I am thankful that I could still visit some times with 100% steam. Thanks to Julien Leblanc for discovering it, thanks to all the visitors sharing all their information and thanks to the Inner-Mongolian railway workers and local's for being so hospitable for us gricers. It was thruely a dream, this place.

To quickly forget the sadness at JingPeng, we continued towards Daban depot where we made an evening visit. Nice sights with Qj's and lots of smoke. The souvenir sellers were still active but lot's calmer then the times before. After this spectacle, we went back to the hotel, we had seen our fire work on New Year's eve so it was time to get some rest.

On the first day of 2005, we visited Daban depot again, now with the first sun rays. Although, there was still a lot of steam activity, the sound of incoming and leaving diesels made things clear that the times are changing. With only QJ 7137 having little maintenance, it became very clear that the era of the QJ is coming to a final end. We saw 7 DF4B's in the depot, explained the morning after by Bernd who got the information that there were works on the pass until 2'o'clock in the after noon. Any good news: 2 QJ's left Daban for an overhaul. We only got the number of one of them: QJ6988. After this depot visit, we drove towards Lindong, making shots of a lot of QJ-headed trains on this part of the line. Although there are plenty of nice photo positions on this part too, I specifically miss one thing about the QJ's: the typical hammering metallical sound of the QJ's which is the trade mark of The Pass. We concluded the day with the sight of QJ6911 with the passenger train in the dark leaving Lindong with some 20 minutes delay.
With a big headake after a night not quickly to forget (lot's of alcohol and chinese dancers invited by the always smiling Tina) we started at Lindong with cloudy weather. This was not the only bad news: the first train we saw was a diesel headed freight train towards Daban. I don't know if this is a permanent development but it was pretty clear that also here we don't have to expect miracles concerning steam usage... After this dissapointing event, QJ6911 had a one hour delay leaving Lindong with it's passenger train. With clouds outside and a headake inside, it was much nicer to have a chat with Bernd and it's company then to make a dark picture at the pagode hill. So Bernd, did I hide well how sick I really was at the time? One hour later, the sun was coming true and this happened just at the perfect time to make the famous pagode shot. After this shot, we could whitness some shunting in the station, followed by a parallel with 2 other Qj's. After decoupling the first engin of that train who went shunting on it's own at the other side of the station, we could make a nice shot of the decorated QJ6978 standing perfect in the sun. We then had to leave Lindong to start our journey back to Beijing. I just hope, I can visit the Lindong area once again this summer once I can put the beauty of JingPeng aside and fully enjoy the also nice environment of Lindong.

On the third day of 2005, we started with a quick visit to the forbidden city. Afterwards, we went to the 7th February works on our way to Dahuichang. When I was searching about information on the internet, I never found a lot about this place so maybe there are persons having the same questions as I did and I will try to answer them now. First of all: even with official permission, at the start of our visit, they didn't like us to make video shootage. Taking pictures was no problem but they asked us not to shoot video. Only when it became clear the boss was out of office and Tina explained the local workers we were not going to use the video against them, we could also film the atmosphere over there. JF2446 and SY0732 were shunting very busy but although there are some nice shots to be made with the steam cranes in service, it gets difficult with one major problem: the engins are turned very badly for pictures at noon. Only in the late afternoon, you can make shots with the sun relatively well and only after 4PM which is a problem when visiting in december because at that time, the shadows are all over the tracks. On the roof of the railway building, you have a nice sight on this small location. The driver of the JF2446 was so friendly to give us 6 runpasts to make some pictures. I questioned them where they do run with there engins. Of course, they mainly shunt with the wagons around the factory but apparently, they now and then have to shunt some 4 kilometers further in eastern direction... I do not have more details (language problem...) but they confirmed this info after asking it again. Bigger maintenance to their engins is done at Sujiatun, "some" kilometers away from Beijing...
Will I visit the 7th February works again? Yes, especially because of the JF and because it's so easy when visiting Dahuichang, only would I go back in the late afternoon and not at 12'o'clock. At least when the sun is shining, otherwise it doesn't matter of course.
After this visit, we went to Dahuichang, to find the railway... not in service! Yes, this happens... It was monday the 3rd of January and although the factory was working, the engins were cold in the locked shed, guarded by a dog. So far for Dahuichang so we went back towards the wagon works to have a calm afternoon. The same evening, we took hard seats towards Handan. Quite an experience for some of my group members as the train was (of course...) overcrowded.

At Handan, we wanted to start at 8:30 when the sun is still at the eastern side of the tracks. Of course, this had to go wrong with our guides missing :-( Tina did her best to find them but with the engins in sight, I asked my group members not to take pictures until the local guides from the factory arrived. This happened only at 9:15, just in time to have 2 shots with the sun on the eastern side from the engins but such a waste because we were there on time. Thank you very much local guides :-(( In fact, the local guides were the chief of the engins and the chief of security. The chief of the engins was very friendly, which could not be said of the other one. It took hours and hours to slowly get things done from him. Par exemple: you have the level crossing before the blast furnaces. There is a second level crossing parallel 50m on the right for one track going to some type of terminal. Allready at that level crossing, he was causing trouble. Fortunately: Tina did a magnificent job slowly calming him down. Thans once again, Tina...
A place where I never saw pictures from but which is in fact great, is the second balcony from the railway building at the western side from the level crossing before the blast furnaces. Standing on this balcony, you have a great overview to the factory. when a train passed in the foreground, we could still see the 2-3 SY's standing under the blast furnaces, creating more depth in our pictures. This position was no problem at all, even when we could face the molten slag 10m besides us while standing higher then the train.
In the evening, we tried to visit the slag tipping. We could arrange it but we had bad luck: there was no train to come so we went back to the hotel to have dinner and to take the train towards Pingdingshan. The (near) future of Handan is certainly diesel... I allready saw much more diesels then during my visit last year and the technical guide explained, they are expecting even more diesels to come. He said they have 11 SY's left in normal service. We saw some (4-5) derelict engins aside 500m from the depot, when we were driving towards the slag tipping.

After our arrival at Pingdingshan, we directly headed for the daily parade at the depot. My group members were of course surprised by the intensity of this parade. I can just advise everybody who has never seen this parade to go there as quick as possible. This parade is so intense, you just can not describe it in words...
For the 4th time, I also saw a train with 60-70 wagons towards Shenxi leaving Tianzhuang around 8'o'clock in the morning. This summer, I saw it too on the two days I spent there. It seems to be a fixed train, strange that nobody reported it before, or did I miss something? It is definitely running since this summer (and probably even longer) as I saw it every morning on both visits. You can see a nice picture of this train on Duncan's site who didn't knew about this train neither when we met at Pingdingshan. Looking at the picture on his site, you can convince yourself that the leaving of this train, especially with an ucoming red sun with the pollution in the back, is great at Tianzhuang. In summer, it's not really the case but at least in december, I had the same morning weather on 3 occasions. Great atmosphere for the daily parade towards the depot but also for this very long train :-))
After the shift change, we headed towards Shenxi where it became clear that the sun was not coming true... Bad luck but traffic was of course intense as always. We had QJ2035 pulling a long freigth train towards mine 1 and JS6429 with the passenger train while 2 other SY's (SY1209 and SY1687) were in a major overhaul.
We then went to the branch lines and of course missed some trains while waiting on the wrong branch. But this was compensated by JS8120 (with the in my eyes great slogan "transport this engin to the better life, according Tina) showing up with an empty train to be delivered at mine 2 while we were there.
In the afternoon, we went to mine 7 which gives a nice photographical background. By a road deviation, we just missed the passenger train (JS6429 plus green coaches grrrr) but we had quite some other engins (JS8057 QJ7186 JS8122 JS5644)plus freights, some of them shunting at this mine. The last movements were put on celluloid with the sun, finally trying to break through. We concluded the day by a quick bus drive towards mine 2 where unfortunately, we couldn't see anymore action so we headed back to the hotel.

On the second day, a lot of people of my group stayed in bed to have some sleep or to see some diesels. With the rest of the group (only 4 people), we were just in time to see the sun coming up at Tianzhuang with my best Pindingshan's parade until now. Parallels up to 4 engins were seen in the station with a big red ball high above it. The parade lasted 20 minutes, definitely the 20 most intense minutes of our trip. The higlight was the leaving of JS8056 which, covered in golden steam, needed 7 minutes to leave the station with it's 68 coal wagons towards Shenxi. What a sight... After this very nice half hour, we went to the depot. We visited the shed itself where a lot of people still knew me after giving them some pictures last summer. By them recognizing me, access was freely given but it's true what other people allready stated here: visiting sheds like the one in Pingdingshan can quickly be forbidden by individuals not being carefull. I'm not the type of guy who tells other tourists how to behave but with JingPeng dissapearing and Pingdingshan becoming very popular, let's try to watch out not to spoil this location by all of us being careful plus not throwing with money like it grows on our trees... I really like Pingdingshan, not because of it's big photographical potential (it's not the same as JingPeng...) but because of the always friendly atmosphere. My biggest fear is that this will go away if we don't behave like guests in their environment.
Also this time, some people wanted to have some pictures and I must say, I prefer this way of giving them something which has to do with their work instead of giving them money, certainly when they don't ask for it. About the visit itself: some chiefs came to say hello and via Tina, I could ask them some information. The most important issue is probably that they want to keep steam running for a while. When I asked them how long, they answered "5 years?". This gives hope but we'll have to see what's going to happen in reality. When we asked some local workers the same question, they answered "we'll keep steam also after the olympic games". Maybe a statement that Pingdingshan doesn't agree with Beijings' decision to stop steam at 2008? Let's hope they can make a difference...
It was a great sight to see QJ7204, SY1687 and SY1209 in major overhaul while some others engins had some smaller repairs. Outside was QJ6813 parked out of use, which also would get repairs (overhaul?), dixit the railway workers. Interesting was that there are now two tenders with the number SY1687. The old one was standing outside while the "new" one was being overhauled.
After this very nice morning, we again waited for nothing on the steep branch towards mine 1. Afterwards, we went to mine 5 to see the passenger train (JS6429 plus orange coaches) and then to mine 4 where we met Duncan and Peter plus JS8122 pulling 12 coal wagons on the steep branch. Great sound and a great goodbye to Pingdingshan as we were heading of towards Baofeng. On this road, we saw construction works for a new highway from Shanghai (info given by our bus driver) towards I-don't-know-where-anymore. We took the train towards Luoyang and Tina will never forget anymore that Luoyang has two train stations :-))))))) We stayed the night at the railway hotel, not so comfortable especially with the heating system out of order :-/

The last day (7th of January), we went towards Yinghao, narrow gauge but big atmosphere. Of course, we started at the depot where the heater directly remembered our lunch together last summer :-) He showed us a little surprise... Loco 17 was just painted after an overhaul! They still had to paint the numbers, which was done 10 minutes later. What a co´ncidence! The engin was under pressure and it was no problem at all to put it outside the shed for us. What a sight! A chinese narrow gauge steamer with painting on it! I never saw this myself, not even on picture... Now, it was standing there in front of us in black, red and white, with an orange cabin. The big chief of the railway was also there, very friendly man, and so I could tell him why we are so interested in his railway. He understood and made no problems at all about visitors. He was very amused about our interest to see his steam engins at work. We could ask him a lot of information about this railway. Here we go (I just write down what he stated):
- the engins are thought to be built in 1960.
- he had no construction numbers of them.
- when asked, he thought, the railway was in it's original shape. He didn't know about former closures of other branches.
- he stated (!) steam will also last after 2008. He reconfirmed this answer after me asking it again.

Certainly this last answer is quite optimistic I think. The road towards Yinghao was much better then this summer but my biggest fear is the condition of the engins itself. But: apparently, they have no immediate plans to close the railway so let's stay optimistic.
After making shots from fresh painted 017 parallel with rusty 03, we went to the nice houses between Huangmen and Xiangyang. We missed loco 14 but were in time to have loco 04 coming back from the depot. When the loco appeared, a truck spoiled the whole image. Th engin driver then got his nomination for the award "nicest person during our tour": he drove back the engin out of sight only to come back when the ugly truck had left the sight. Great guys at Yinghao!

At Xiangyang, we made the usual pictures until... freshly overhauled loco 017 arrived. While questioning the boss about the railway, I obviously forgot one "little" question: was engine 017 going to run this day? This seemed so irreasonable because of the painting not dry yet, but of course, we're talking about China here :-) The engin was going to make one test drive towards Liangwa with only one wagon. With the results of this test drive, they will decide if the engin is good enough for line works to Yinghao or that they'll only use it on the branch towards Liangwa (like engin 014, dixit one of the heaters).
After this test drive, it became clear that the other "traffic" was a mess: engin 04 had left towards Yinghao with one charged train but a second train was also waiting charged at Xiangyang. So engin 014 was just waiting and waiting, only going towards Liangwa to have lunch at the same time we did. Loco 04 was not expected before 13:00 but of course, once we were eating the engin appeared much too early... After this, things finally got normal with engin 04 plus charged train going to Yinghao and engin 14 plus 4 wagons going to Liangwa. On the second drive, a derailment happened just before the mine. A problem which was solved in less then 2 minutes with only one little brick... Great video shot.
When the engin pulled his cars up to Xiangyang, he had to stop underway like I also whitnessed last summer. From this point, we could follow it by feet, the highlight being the engine driver leaving his running engin (!) to hammer a valve which actually prevented further loss of steam (before, the whole engin was covered in steam).
The mine itself is also worth a visit. The little mine cars are a true gem with the little tunnel they go through. We wanted to teach Tina how to become a mine worker but this ended up with the derailment of one mine wagon (you have to see the video shot of this one happening...) so we suggested her to stay a guide, which she is doing perfect.
To end this trip, we went to Houying where we saw engin 04 with his emty train struggling up and stopping 300m behind us. Perfect moment to create our own pessenger train (of course with smiling permission of the loco crew) and to continue towards Xiangyang. After saying goodbye to the always smiling old guard at the gate near Xiangyang station, we headed of for a long way home.

On the way towards Luoyang, we could whtiness an accident with the other narrow gauge railway near Mianchi (sorry, I haven't got the exact name of this one). Obviously while pushing a train, the last wagon hit a truck on the level crossing. We quikly stopped to make a picture of the engin. It was a diesel built in november 2004!

You need ideas to really get rid quickly of a steamy atmosphere? Our flight home with Air France did perfectly. It got delayed 40 minutes because of 49 (!!) adopted chinese babies who were all flying to Spain with their happy new parents. Those parents did not warn Air France they were having babies with them so the hostesses had to count over and over again while parents had their babies hidden under blankets. There is nothing to be happy about if you see a new mother shaking her freshly adopted child like a milkshake hoping that it will stop crying...



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© 2005, Dave Davidoff davidoff5181@hotmail.com