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Steam in China - May 2005

Shibanxi, Liujiaxia, Baiyin, Pingdingshan, Guye(Tangshan), Fuxin

by Roger Blundell

Air China was used this year, ticket from Gerrard Street Travel Agent cost £376. After booking my return flight was cancelled - or perhaps never existed, so I had to come back a day later than planned.

Saturday 07 May

2025 departure from Heathrow, CA938. An Airbus with very cramped seating configuration. About 80% full

Sunday 08 May

Arrive Beijing 1258, 17 minutes early. Rush to change money, reconfirm flight home and book ticket to Chengdu on the 1530 flight, having just missed the 1400. Considerable expense this at 1490 yuan (£99), no discounts were available all day. Chengdu arrive 30 late, taxi into town 49 yuan to near South Bus Terminal. Nearest hotel full, taken by tout to a lodging place in a block of flats next to bus station exit. Small room 70 yuan (£4.65), a bit overpriced but clean. While away the evening round the corner with a massage from a sexy little 20 year old for 65 yuan, much better value.


Monday 09 May

0730 bus to Leshan (the first of the day), others at 0800 & 0850. No direct buses to Qianwei from here so change in Leshan to small old style bus arriving Qianwei 1100. Small taxi to Shibanxi for 20 yuan (£1.30), the end of a 2 day journey from Orpington. At the smart new station 14 arrives on a coal train at 1150 & 10 arrives on the passenger at 1300. These 2 locos were to remain on these duties throughout my visit. My bash this day was: -

1400 Shibanxi - Huangcunjin 1520
1525 Huangcunjin - Shibanxi 1640
1730 Shibanxi - Bagou 1845

A superb line. The first section is electrified to the grotty mining town of Yuecin although almost the whole line is rural through what becomes superb scenery amongst steep forested hills (including bamboo) with rice terraces and vegetable growing lower down. Water buffalos were preparing the paddy fields and rice was being planted out. Train clings to the side of hills with steep grades, tight curves and tunnels. From Bagou the line runs on the hillside above the town and valley, gradually dropping to river level alongside tenement blocks. The river even has clear water.
The riding of the train is very rough, including the bogie pig wagon. This is not the fault of the track though which seems to be in first-rate condition by narrow gauge standards. All seating is longitudinal, there is no glass in the windows merely solid steel shutters. Each of the seven coaches has a gripper and there is a chief gripper, guard and shunter. The train has no continuous brake but a handbrake in each coach operated by the gripper. At Huangcunjin (Qidian on the station name board) staff take watering cans to river fill them up and use the water to wash down the coach floors Special ticket grip for tourists of any nationality is 15 yuan (£1), a policy that I agree with. Sometimes the grippers don't charge for short or intermediate journeys though. Departures from Shibanxi are at 0700, 1030, 1400 and 1730.
The weather was hot and sunny and trains well filled. The 1400 was heavily delayed at Caiziba where some 100 sacks of ginger were loaded on board, taken 3 stations to Bagou and unloaded there.
Stay 2 nights in the lodgings at Bagou just down the slope from the station, 50 yuan (£3.30) for a decent room without facilities with a toilet & shower across the courtyard with caged ducks and roaming chickens. Good views out over the valley & of part of town. Granny rambles and rants on non-stop. Phrase book little use here, the women seemed to be unable to read & granddad is too short sighted.
Bagou an amazing place with no roads and no cars. I can't even remember seeing a motorbike in use. The only direct transport seems to be the railway. There is a steep track leading down the hillside on the other side of the valley from the end of a paved road but how they get goods into the town heaven knows. Most houses are old traditional and single storied, old people sit outside and mothers carry babies on their backs in wickerwork baskets or wrapped in cloth. Town is very quiet during the evening; the ladies do the Chinese dance thing in the square while others watch and knit. Go for hair wash and body massage at the hairdressers in the square, 50 yuan, the girl, a rather sweet 21 year old lives and works here day in day out - what a life, and she is one of the lucky ones who has a job. Wander back late to lodgings, accosted en route by granny who had been sent out to look for me.

Tuesday 10 May

0810 Bagou - Huangcunjin 0815
0825 Huangcunjin - Shibanxi 0940
1030 Shibanxi - Huangcunjin 1150
1510 Bagou - Huangcunjin 1515
1525 Huangcunjin - Caiziba 1600
1815 Caiziba - Huangcunjin 1845
1855 Huangcunjin - Bagou 1900

1030 crosses coal train coming down at Jiaoba. Off at Huangcunjin at 1150 to phot the departure. Barely time to get to a decent position, so quick is the running round. People alight from train and disappear up the hillside on steep paths. Walk back along valley on paved path into Bagou past the old style house and tenements, a slow pace of life here, people sit around and talk, stare at mad foreigner.
At Bagou two pigs are unloaded from the 1400 ex Shibanxi with much bleating and screeching. Porter with hand trolley meets this and most other trains. As well as the pigs a dining room suite, water coolers and a motorbike were unloaded from trains here. At Caiziba in the afternoon watch and phot train rolling round the hillside on the sweeping curve in murky misty light. Wander off into village some quarter of a mile away, it actually has a poor dirt road and some substantial buildings. At shoe menders hut get duffle bag patched up, last intermediate repair was in Jiayuguan almost 15 years ago. Empty bag out amongst the chickens scurrying around on the floor. Entertain school kids for a while then value the 1730 ex Shibanxi flogging up around the curve. To dull to photograph with the train almost indistinguishable in the misty evening against the green hillside - a superb sight though. Excellent views from the train looking down into the misty steep sided valleys in the twilight, a scene of great beauty with the paddy fields at the bottom. Following a grey dull day came the rain, starting at 1830 as a drizzle gradually becoming very heavy by late evening. No activity in the square, all the mature locals were gambling in the adjacent hall.
A wrong move was to decline the offer a meal at the Guest House, all the restaurants in town are shut in the evening, or at least on wet evenings. Luckily relief was at hand, the hairdresser girl fed me on peanuts, hard-boiled eggs, fruit, soya milk and tea. Her friend then turned up and there developed a long session with the phrase books. Eventually I was sent away with a big bag of breakfast provisions.

Wednesday 11 May

0810 Bagou - Huangcunjin 0815
0825 Huangcunjin - Shibanxi 0940
1030 Shibanxi - Huangcunjin 1150
1155 Huangcunjin - Shibanxi 1315

A cool misty morning became warm with hazy sunshine. The 0825 was very crowded. I was moved into the grippers coach, thereby freeing up two seats. The formation is load 7, all are 4 wheelers except the middle vehicle which is mostly for goods and pigs and just has a small bench. When the train gets full small stools and benches are put in the aisles for the lucky ones, others have to stand and cling to ceiling rails. Crossed the coal train going up at Mifengyuan. The speed of the reversal here is amazing, helped by the lack of continuous braking. The loco is off and moving away before the train stops and is normally back on and away in less than 3 minutes. The fastest stop to start time recorded was 1 minute 54 seconds. The 1030 was held at Yuecin for the returning coal train.
Time for a last noodle meal at Shibanxi and filling in the station policeman's comments book (some famous names in here) before photting the departing 1400. The 1030 and the 1155 were not too full but the 1400 was absolutely heaving.

To sum up this line is absolutely first rate, a real gem with atmosphere and a character all of its own. On any list of all time great narrow gauge lines it would be up there with the best of them. I would say to anyone who has not been there to go and do it immediately. What a discovery in the 21st century!
Down into the town for an almost empty bus to Qianwei local bus station. From the stop just the Qianwei side of the slope there are also long distance buses. None to Chengdu but direct services to Leshan at 0730 and 1300. The long distance bus terminal at Qianwei is further down the road. Get bus immediately to Chengdu at 1450, 39 yuan (£2.60), it cruises the streets of Qianwei for custom then after 2 short stops and tour of the outskirts of Leshan arrives at Chengdu Shiyang Bus Terminal on the southern outskirts at 1750. Taxi to airport, which is nearby (38 yuan including toll and bus station fee).

Book ticket on 2200 flight to Lanzhou for 600 yuan (£39.70) price is a discount to 60% I was told. Expensive meal at airport restaurant, fatty pork delicacy with pickled vegetables 48 yuan, Ginseng tea 38 yuan (£5.70 in total). This tea must be an acquired taste, they say ginseng increases virility, perhaps it does for those under 58. The flight took 63 minutes, touching down at Lanzhou at 2306. Out of terminal at 2311 on to smart new bus, which departed at 2319, ran along new expressway and reached the centre of Lanzhou at 0015. The train journey would have taken nearly 22 hours and a soft sleeper probably wouldn't have been much cheaper. Stay at swish Lanzhou East Hotel where the bus terminated, 428 yuan room discounted to 217 yuan (£14.35).

Liujiaxia-Hekou Nan

Thursday 12 May

Taxi to Liujiaxia, 165 yuan (£10.90) including toll for new mountain road. Took 75 minutes. JS 8352 arrived Liujiaxia 1157 on the one coach shuttle, a fine sight through the market stalls set up on the crossing street and platform. Not that this time is slightly earlier than previous reports.

1202 Liujiaxia - Gucheng 1210 JS 8352
A pleasant little trundle with the Yellow River and the mountains in the background

1400 Gucheng - Liujiaxia 1408 JS 8226
Two separate coaches and a van are brought out of the depot for this train. Seats very dusty, attendant wipes them down with wet mop (? Same mop that spreads the gob around the floor). Note the departure time of this train (and others here), a change on some previous reports.

1420 Liujiaxia - Hekounan 1730 JS 8226 + JS 8352 banker Gucheng to Baijiba
Load ex Gucheng 17 wagons, 2 bogies and van, at a rough estimate 800 tons gross. Gucheng departure time is 1445 The banker stayed on until beyond the river bridge. Train not overfull with passengers and schedule is very slow but noise was good out of Gucheng and here and there later on. The river/gorge section is very good with different with weird shapes and coloured layers of rock. Some fine British style semaphores are in use. The river didn't seem as muddy and yellow as it was back in the early nineties, perhaps all the dams are responsible for this. Train trundles gently along, a few passengers and railway staff on and off now and again. Long shunting session at Shangpo detaching wagons, this could be traffic serving Yanguoxia. After a brief wait at Xigousi we trundled along next to the Huang He to arrive 5 early at Hekounan. Good to get steam again across the Yellow River and on CNR metals.

1830 Hekounan - Liujiaxia 2042 JS 8226
Waited for pathway until 1903, then ran along the main line very slowly. Interesting scenes in the villages en route, though weather cool with showers despite forecast of 84ºF. Local people around here seem to be very poor, many are Muslims. Not much sign of the new China around here. Some good noise on the starts, the gorge was entered in twilight, the section after the river bridge was very impressive in the last of the light. Sharp work at Gucheng saw us in to Liujiaxia by 2055, whistling and rattling in over the series of level crossings in the town. Train returns almost immediately, it does convey the odd passenger.

Adjourn to the Huang He Binguan, booked earlier, room with facilities bargained down slightly to 150 yuan (£9.90) There are two other hotels en route, neither of which I recognised as I walked past them.

Friday 13 May

0748 Liujiaxia - Gucheng 0756 JS 8352
Nice if short run in the low morning sun. The fare on these shuttles is 0.50 yuan (£0.03)

Bus back into Liujiaxia and phot the 1157 arriving amongst the market stalls, or rather trying to arrive. A pushbike parked on the line by the platform caused it to terminate at the far end of the platform and fireman had to remove the bike then the loco ran round.

1202 Liujiaxia - Gucheng 1210 JS 8352
These short workings convey the school kids of the Gucheng railway families + ordinary adult passengers.

1400 Gucheng - Liujiaxia 1408 JS 8226
Again departed at 1400.

1420 Liujiaxia - Hekounan 1730 JS 8226 + JS 8352 on rear Gucheng to Shangpo
Load ex Gucheng 15 wagons, 2 bogies and van, 700 tons gross. 8352 attached with a few wagons to the rear and they came off at Shangpo, an operating convenience rather than the train needing a banker, the train loco doing most of the work. A fine run through the gorge and valley on a hot afternoon. Note that train retains a coal-fired boiler, quite a rarity nowadays. Train ran well, and consequently was held a long while at Xigousi for the double deck HST thing, two freights and the late running 920-ton Chengdu - Geermu Express. Even so we were only a few minutes late at Hekounan.

1830 Hekounan - Liujiaxia 2042 JS 8226
45 late away then held awhile At Bapanxia to cross a freight. After this ran well with some good noise and fine views on the curves by the river. Excellent sunset with sun sinking into a V dip between 2 mountains with the last rays glistening on a bend in the river as the JS rolled round the curve. At Shangpo two old ladies about 85 years old are put on the train. One is hauled up into the van and the other is raced up in the road in a handcart at the last minute.. At Yangguoxia there is a big wedge up, mostly school kids who get off at the next two stations. Again the gorge section was very good, it can be valued from the open door of the van. As the train left the gorge the mountains to the west were silhouetted in the river - very impressive. A long while shunting wagons at Gucheng saw as terminating at 2112, half an hour late.
The woman at the nearest hotel after phoning someone refused to take me so back to the Yellow River Binguan again.


Saturday 14 May

Slight oversleeping. Didn't matter though, just arrived at station in time to photograph the 0748 departure but it was worked by a draisine railcar (? train only steam worked Monday to Friday). Small old China bus to Lanzhou West, interesting ride through old style villages. Slow journey though, nearly 2 hours. Trolleybus to CNR station (at least 3 direct routes). Destination is shown as Lanzhouzhan On road up from the station unable to find correct bus station for Baiyin so resort to taxi. This costs 196 yuan (£13) driver insists on taking old road saying it is cheaper (no toll). What he really means is that he gets more money as the old road twists and turns and distance is further. Fairly quick journey though, 90 minutes to Baiyinshi CNR station forecourt. Walk along track from right hand side of platform to reach local railway platform (about 300 yards/metres)

1515 Baiyin - Shenbutong 1552 SY 2008
1705 Shenbutong - Baiyin 1740 SY 2008
1815 Baiyin - Shenbutong 1853 SY 2008
1915 Shenbutong - Baiyin 1950 SY 2008

A hot sunny afternoon. Derelict stock, filthy inside and out. Load 8 bogies. Very good noise all the way in the hills with a superb flail start out of Sanyelian on the 1515, exhaust echoing back from the high rock cutting through fierce rocky hills in rugged semi desert landscape. Note tunnel built on wrong alignment at higher level. At Shenbutong loco disappears for an hour, whole place very quiet, deserted station, no shops & houses close by, no officialdom, no police. Line is very scenic above Sanyelian, would be good for photting. There is no hassle involved in train travel, no police on the trains, in fact the two afternoon trains did not even have coach attendants, the only member of staff I saw was a shunter cum wheeltapper. The thrash was equally good on the 1815, even the sure-footed SY slipping on the starts. Starts with 10 coaches on a wet rail must be quite something. Passengers alighting at Sanyelian remain on platform to avoid being covered in cinders as train moves off. Others cover their heads with newspaper and walk alongside track.. We all know how awful Chinese cities can be but Baiyin must be one of the very worst. Factories ,mines, smelters and chemical plants belch out huge columns of obnoxious smoke and gasses and on the ground dereliction and waste is everywhere. If I had to live here I think the last thing I would worry about would be getting a few cinders in my hair.

Stay at Tongcheng Hotel `Copper City Guest House' in city centre. Room ok constant hot water but couldn't get a/c to work. Room price 120 yuan (£7.95) + deposit of 180 yuan - it was a hassle getting this back. I asked floor attendant to phone for masseur to come to the room, instead a scruffy git wearing vest and shorts turned up with a big grin on his face and proclaimed "Hello pleased to meet you, this is Miss Wong. Miss Wong 500 yuan!" The said Miss Wong tottered into the room, skirt up to her backside, very little on the top half of her superb body and sat on the bed with her legs wide apart. I explained that whilst Miss Wong was very nice she was not exactly what I had requested and would he please arrange for a masseur. Ten minutes later another knock produced a much more respectable but no less attractive 25 year old, the sort of girl you could take home to mummy. She gave me the fiercest work out I've yet had for 100 yuan (£6.60) which had the effect of sedating me as well as Miss Wong would have done and for a quarter of the price.

Sunday 15 May

Taxi to CNR station, unable to get driver to understand `Shenbutong station' The 0735 to Sanyelian as expected did not run.

0750 Baiyin - Shenbutong 0832 SY 2008
0915 Shenbutong - Baiyin 0953 SY 2008

The 0750 was crowded with workers to Sanyelian and Shenbutong (previous afternoons trains were busy but not full). After overnight rain a cold dull morning produced a lot of slipping from the loco, and not just on the starts. The weather made the whole area around Baiyin look even more evil.. For the first time attendants appeared, cleaning and gripping me 1 yuan (£0.06) Coming back down SY 1470 was crossed at Liugonli taking up a load of empty tipplers.
If anyone wants to access the top end of the line then catch the 0735 to Sanyelian low level terminal platform and alight from the rear of the train. This is adjacent to the through line and it is unlikely that anyone in authority would be around to stop you walking up along the track. Note also that the first station out, Yunshubu is outside the works complex and Baiyin - Shenbutong/Sanyelian trains use this platform.
I had hoped to get a taxi from outside Baiyin station to Lanzhou airport for the 1220 flight to Zhengzhou but on hearing that it took 90 minutes I judged it to be just too tight to buy a ticket and check in. On to plan B then, taxi to bus station, bus to Lanzhou, just leaving at 1015. Ran fast on expressway but slow through the traffic in Lanzhou to arrive at the bus station at 1135. This bus station is on the right hand side of the road leading away north westwards from Lanzhou station, beyond the three bus stations on the left.
Just time to book a hard sleeper to Zhengzhou on T118/115 the Lanzhou - Shanghai express leaving at 1205, 256 yuan (£16.95). My first CNR train journey, one week after arriving in China! And an excellent first week at that with three new lines in the bag, each very fine in its own way. T118 a very smart train, my coach had an electric water heater but even so attendant comes round with a kettle. Good to see old technology holding its own. Decent hot food from trolley and girl comes round selling fruit, including watermelon. Police come through doing an identity card check. The Lanzhou - Baoji section has superb scenery twisting along a river valley hemmed in by mountains. Must have been incredible with steam. Anybody done it? Best to do it eastbound, the new westbound line is in tunnel much of the way and often crosses the e/b line at right angles. Excellent snacks are available at stations en route. Very nice, like a rich juicy corned beef. Must see if my local Waitrose are stocking it.

Good fish meal in diner 37 yuan (£2.45).


Monday 16 May

20 late arrival Zhengzhou at 0308 after 317 mile / 511 km non-stop booking from Xi'an. Booking Office computer unable to book ticket for 1056 Shenyang train two days hence. Remainder of night in disgusting doss house type place above bus station across the road for 30 yuan (£2)
0950 bus to Pingdingshan North bus station, 2 hours 17 minutes. A dull wet day. If I hadn't seen Pingdingshan before in this mood I would never have believed how awful the place could look.. Go first the Pingdingshan Fandian, arrange room for 2 nights 128 yuan (£8.50 per night) including breakfast, should one ever be there for it. The travel agency in the foyer has a CNR computer and immediately books my hard sleeper on 1056 the 1608 Zhengzhou - Luanxian for the 18th. They can also book air tickets.

At Zhongxin phot the 1330 to Hanzhuang, barely light enough to do so. Both rakes are load 7.

1340 Zhongxin - Shisankuang 1450 SY 1209
1700 Shisankuang - Zhongxin 1810 SY 1209

On this afternoon barely able to see anything through the grime covered windows and with the hillsides completely cloud covered. Even so the rural far end of the line was still attractive with the loco having to work a bit harder to avoid dropping more time. Trains now terminate at the passenger station and no longer carry passengers into the mine although of course they still have to take the stock in so the loco can run round. Shisankuang in the rain is not recommended, pleased to be trundling back on the 1700.

Evening meal in smart restaurant at Fandian, total language barrier, does anyone know how items are laid out in different sections of Chinese restaurant menus? Order fish, which arrives live in plastic bag for inspection prior to cooking. Food is good though and none too expensive. Another total language barrier at the bathhouse centre but end up with good 75-minute massage for 116 yuan (£7.70) includes being walked all over. This is a different variety of being walked all over to that which one encounters at home.. Relaxation made perfect by the sound of chime whistles in the background. Torrential rain during evening and night.

Tuesday 17 May

0740 Zhongxin - Hanzhuang 0945 SY 1687
0955 Hanzhuang - Zhongxin 1200 SY 1687

Line is quite good beyond Baofeng, the SY chattering along nicely up the grades. Goes through some nice old style villages in between the coalmines. One place has market stalls either side where the train stops. On the return run when parallel with CNR we were overtaken by the Taiyuan - Guangzhou express which then slowed to be looped. SY clatters past it with whistle chiming continuously, much to the amusement of the passengers.

Chaos at Zhongxin level crossing with huge coal lorries grid locking the road.

1330 Zhongxin - Hanzhuang 1535 JS 6253
1545 Hanzhuang - Zhongxin 1758 JS 6253

The third new loco in 24 hours, the whole of my previous bash here involved just one loco. Less thrash than with the JS. Another police ID check on train. 20 minutes delay on return with crossing and pathing problems. Note 2 blokes ploughing a field using a converted bicycle, one of them pulled it along with a rope.

Another good meal at the Fandian but dearer this time. Manager apologises that none of his staff speak English. There is also a cheaper buffet restaurant in the block at the back. Run out of time to explore outside so indulge in the Fandian bathhouse again.

Wednesday 18 May

Up at five to cover:-

0600 Zhongxin - Shisankuang 0710 JS 6253
0750 Shisankuang - Zhongxin 1000 JS 6253
A pleasant trundle on a sunny warm morning. Good phots at Shisankuang where there is plenty of local colour with crops piled up to dry on the platform. Again passengers not carried into mine. Shisankuang is marginally more attractive in the sunshine.

The system was busy with coal traffic, mostly JS but with at least two orange diesels in use. Also 2 x QJ, one of which had no deflectors (7186). One of the diesels was seen at a mine near Pingdingshan on the line to Baofeng.

Bus from Pingdingshan North Bus Terminal to Zhengzhou. Given ticket for slow bus (35 yuan) why ?. Transfer to 1055 express bus, arrives Zhengzhou Railway Station terminal at 1305. Lunch in 32nd floor revolving restaurant, 38 yuan (£2.50) buffet, good value. Never been this high in a skyscraper before, let alone in a revolving restaurant. Hard sleeper on train 1056, 1608 Zhengzhou - Shenyang, to Luanxian, 207 yuan (£13.70).to try for steam on Kailuan Mining system passengers.


Thursday 19 May

Arrive Luanxian 20 late at 0608. Taxi to Guye. Dropped at derelict CNR station on the old main line. There is still a passenger service though, a train from the Tangshan direction called at 0715. The Mine Railway platform, known as Linxi can be best reached by a road leading from the main crossroads in Guye, turn right if coming from Tangshan, left if coming from Luanxian, go under old CNR main line (Tangshan side of Guye CNR) until a level crossing is reached then platform can be seen just up the road on the right. SY 1115 arrived on a passenger at 0945 - and that was the end of steam passenger action, a 1240 departure, 1720 arrival and a 1736 departure were all worked by 2004 built diesel GK1c 0618. I did not see the 0633 and 2100 departures. 1240 departure delayed whilst crew fill cab with large cans full of goldfish.

SY 1700 was up & down the line during the day on freight and departmental trains.

Adjourn to the Bathhouse of the Yang Yang Grand Hotel to pass the time away whilst waiting to check the 1736. Smart place, good relaxing massage but expensive. As well as the masseurs there are ladies here who give the impression of having a different profession.
Having already wasted half a day decided not to hang around for the following days 0633, this would have put another 24 hours on the bash. Bus at 1800 to Tangshan 4 yuan (most buses had finished running by this time), taxi to station then long wait for overnight to Fuxin. Out of boredom enticed into hairdressers for hair wash and massage, the girl, a very sexy 21-year-old starts to seduce me within seconds. Until my dying day I will never know how I managed to resist her advances!

Take 1229 (from Shanghai) to Fuxin at 2144. Excess into hard sleeper 112 yuan in total (£7.40). It seems that the CNR no longer allows you to excess off the platform directly into the soft sleeper as previously, everybody has to go to the ticket booth next to the diner and excess tickets are now printed on a portable ticket printer as on the Jitong train. Swishest train yet seen in China, brand new stock with a new style of hard sleeper giving more privacy, the softer berths even have reading lights. The attendants are very `customer focused' yet ironically the train runs two thirds empty north of Tianjin. Only about 30 people got on at Tangshan. The CNR staff cannot have been trained in their new attitudes and taught how to run a railway in Britain otherwise half the coaches air conditioning would be out of use, the train would have been delayed by infrastructure failures and the last section would have been replaced by a bus. Go to sleep dreaming of the days when this train was QJ hauled from Jinzhou to Fuxin.


Friday 20 May

Fuxin arrive right time at 0635 - this train must be the cleanest thing in Fuxin! Taxi out to Minzu.

0700 Minzu - Wangying 0707 SY 0076
Nice phot arriving but have to dash round loco to board train. Invited into signal box at Wangying for tea and a chat, passes the time away.

0859 Wangying - Xinqiu 1020 SY 0076
Good thrash, arrives right time, plenty of SY freight activity en route

1339 Xinqiu - Wangying 1455 SY 0076
More of a trundle. Note 1940s green U.S. Army style lorry in use at Ajin, first one seen working since 2001.

1708 Wangying - Xinqiu 1828 SY 0076
Good noisy tender first run on this busy commuter train

1840 Xinqiu - Wulong 1930 SY 0076
Passengers directed to the rear two coaches as usual but manage to travel with staff in front coach. Nice run into fine sunset.

Stay at usual hotel across from station on the corner. Good value new & clean en suite room 80 yuan (£5.30) but no hot water late evening.

Saturday 21 May

0620 Wulong - Taipeng 0628 SY 1396
Off to Taipeng to check out the Dido to the open pit. Electric loco unfortunately, as were the mine passengers. It starts from a siding behind the electric mine railway platform. I left at 0745 by which time it still had not departed. There were 5 SY hauled trains through Taipeng between 0625 and 0745, two passengers and three freights.

Taxi Taipeng to Minzu - 10 yuan (£0.66), and to think I gave 20 to the bloke who took me from Fuxin the previous day. Note the Fuxin - Shanghai set running through Minzu at 0830, with passengers in the seats. ? does it run as an unadvertised passenger to Jinzhou and is serviced there. In steam days it ran advertised at about this time.

0907 Minzu - Xinqiu 1020 SY 0076
Good run, train busy.

1339 Xinqiu - Ajin 1355 SY 0076
1408 Ajin - Xinqiu 1425 SY 1396
Only been to Ajin twice and each time I've been caught in a thunderstorm.

Take 3 wheeler to Xinqiu CNR through torrential rain on flooded roads for the 1502 to Tongliao, not a crowded train, just manage to keep a bay of 4 seats throughout. Booked into Tongliao at 1838 but in practise arrives later, it is looped for new train L722 1800 Tongliao - Shenyang. (L721 arrives Tongliao 1252)

Book ticket for Daban the following day. Not pleased to discover train is retimed since the printing of the April 2005 T.T.

Tongliao dep 1630, Chabuga 2029 - 2041, Daban 2359 - 0029, Jiningnan 1410,
Jiningnan dep 1438, Daban 0416 - 0434, Chabuga 0738 - 0750 , Tongliao 1138.

Usual hotel across road from Tongliao station had no decent rooms so use place to the left (enter through restaurant). 120 yuan (£7.95) for room with facilities. Poor value. Bathroom light goes off after one minute comes on again when you stamp on the floor, very convenient when using the toilet. I was told that the bathhouse further to the left does rooms for 40 yuan. The small supermarket just before the bathhouse was selling sachets of instant coffee mixed with milk powder and sugar, like you get in Burma. Not cheap though 9.80 yuan for 11 sachets.


Sunday 22 May

A long tedious time to wait for the Jitong passenger then suffer the diesel section to Chabuga. Huge hike in meal charges in the diner, many dishes are now 25 yuan (£1.65), dearer than CNR prices.

2041 Chabuga - Daban 2359 QJ 6911
With the retiming this section now had to be done in the dark. Luckily it was a cold clear night and an almost full moon was rising, illuminating the wild and beautiful Mongolian landscape to good effect. Diesel works forward from Daban. Staff on the train well prepared for the cold night with thick coats and hot water bottles. No sign of any lüdians open outside Daban station so walk down road to railway hotel. Door open but no one around so decide to sleep on soft sofa in foyer for 3½ hours. During this time nobody appeared just heard the occasional gob and cough from upstairs. My `room' had a toilet close by and a hot water flask was found by the reception desk. Good value here for a change rather than being ripped off 200 yuan for a room. So luxurious was my accommodation that I nearly overslept.

Monday 23 May

0434 Daban - Chabuga 0738 QJ 6911
Train arrives Daban with diesel.
Cloudy first thing, fully light by 0415 then sun beaks through to give marvellous light effects on hills and mountains which in some cases had the bottom half covered in mist giving a really eerie effect. I will so miss this line. Three Japanese cranks got into the sleeper at Daban, they slept to Chabuga then woke for the diesel section. Chabuga - Daban was busy with a good number of freights, one made a fine sight pulling out of a loop at right angles to us. The D.J. started broadcasting at 0700 & the QJ chattered along to the sounds of Mozart and Strauss Waltzes then we rattled passed Chabuga depot to the sound of Brahms lullaby, indicating it was time for me to get some sleep.

The Trans Mongolian Highway, only recently opened is starting to crack up in places. Many of the Mongolian shepherds and cowherds now use motorbikes - what would Genghis Khan have thought? 5 more hours to while away in dreary Tongliao before the 1630 departure..

2041 Chabuga - Daban 2359 QJ 6911
A heavier load tonight - 11, which included 3 vehicles off a diesel set, giving a load of over 450 tons and some better thrash. Also the 8-coach rake was a different one to that on the morning train Full moon - almost like doing the line in daylight, what a wonderful landscape. Sleeper less crowded than the previous night.. Train staff are still based at Daban and they and the restaurant provisions all change over at Daban on the westbound run now that the short Daban - Tongliao workings have ceased.

Rather than check the diesel working forward from Daban I left the station immediately on arrival and was duly accosted by the owner of a new lüdian. He must have missed me the night before. I was taken to a place just southeast of the station, but not visible from it. So new was it that the upper floor was still under construction. 50 yuan (£3.30) for a room which was cleaner and smarter than many a Chinese hotel I have stayed in. Even the bedding looked reasonable and I was given a call at 0400.

Tuesday 24 May

0434 Daban - Chabuga 0738 QJ 7010
Bright and cold with not a cloud in the sky, like a sunrise on the South African Veldt. Loco driven quietly and fast Watch the QJ run off and back to the shed at Chabuga, past a pair of QJs waiting to leave for Daban. All this for the very last time I suspect. My mind went back to BR in the sixties when similar last runs occurred regularly due to closures or dieselisation

On all days the Chabuga - Daban section was busy with freights. I did not see a single diesel and about 50% of trains were double headed.

Tongliao reached on time then 1220 bus to Zhengjiatun, a two-hour journey. Bus station is very close to CNR just to the left along the first side street. Zhengjiatun did not seem to feature on the departure screen at the bus station and this seems to be because it is in a town of a different name, which begins with S. . Bus runs through this town and then stops at a small bus station in front of the CNR.

Forward on train 2083 1758 to Dayan, immediate excess available into a soft sleeper lower berth, 288 yuan in total (£19.10). Hard sleepers also available but seats crowded


Wednesday 25 May

Dayan arrive right time at 0735. Book sleeper to Tieling for the following night.

Taxi to Sanjing (number 3 mine). Train should have been there but no sign of it. Eventually decide to walk back into town, whilst doing so SY 1307 rolls past light engine at 0845 heading for Sanjing. As the mine was temporarily not producing I suspected I had missed a trick and this loco was going to work the passenger. Indeed I had, not knowing that Sanjing passenger station is actually about 1 km / ½ mile beyond the mine. Hitched a lift back along the road to Chengjiangsuo, the nearest station (quite close to Dayan CNR and reached by a rough dirt road at right angles to each railway) and waited for the train to appear which it did after 10 minutes or so.

0910 Chengjiangsuo - Jipei Depot 0940 SY 1307
1440 Jipei - Sanjing 1525 SY 1307
1625 Sanjing - Jipei 1710 SY 1307
1820 Jipei - Sanjing 1850 SY 1307
1915 Sanjing - Erjing 1940 SY 1307

The times shown are the actuals on the day. Note the 1820 departure, before the`booked' 1830 and train did not stop until Erjing. There is also another intermediate station between Sanjing mine and Chengjiangsuo.

Dayan is a bleak and wild spot, surrounded by low hills with many small traditional houses fenced in by wooden palings. All rather like some of the forestry railway settlements although here there are plenty of new buildings as well. On the streets there are still a good number of horse and donkey carts. Winters here are harsh with temperatures of below -40º C and even by 25 May trees and shrubs were only just beginning to come into leaf. It was indeed a very cold day, dull wet and wintry with a cold wind. A bit like Scotland on a bad day. The line has character though, especially the Erjing - Genkunan section where it runs close by the traditional houses on some fine curves. The built up area near Jipei is a real Stalinist era hangover, eastern european bashers would liken it to industrial towns there, dreary beyond belief. By 1730 the sky clears to a beautiful low sun excellent for photting the three locos in Jipei station.
Fed and watered by the girls working the 1820. This shift works through until arriving back at Jipei Depot at 0940. Monthly earnings in this job are 500 yuan (£33.10), the new China has passed many people by. The 1915 from Sanjing made a very fine sight leaving Erjing, curving away amongst the hutongs with the sun setting behind the hills and leaving a long trail of clag in the cold evening air, the temperature seemed to be very close to the forecast - 1º C.

No decent rooms available in the Wuquanshan Binguan so off in taxi to the other Binguan, which turned out to be virtually the nearest building to Jipei so I could have arrived here half an hour earlier behind steam. A good clean room with hot water was 160 yuan (£10.60). Even the bedding looked suspiciously clean.

Thursday 26 May

0630 Jipei - Sanjing 0715 SY 1307
0905 Sanjing - Jipei Depot 0945 SY 1307
1440 Jipei - Sanjing 1520 SY 1307
1630 Sanjing - Jipei 1707 SY 1307

Remains of hard frost still evident at 0600 (sunrise 0350). The girls on the train give me a cushion and a thick coat to keep me warm. They are very surprised that I don't wear long johns (both men and women in northern China wear them all year) One girl showed me her three pairs underneath her trousers! Good run on the 0630 with brilliant sunshine passing the small houses with animals in back yards and people preparing vegetable plots. Big crowds at intermediate stations, full and standing on the three-coach train. They all get off at Sanjing mine, even though it is not producing any coal at present. Taken to station office where girls cook breakfast, again I am invited to share.
Another pleasant run on the 0905, involves some climbing from under the CNR main line up to Erjing. This train stops short of the platforms at Jipei and reverses into the depot. The small market near Jipei enlivened somewhat by a wild looking Tibetan medicine man selling all manner of unmentionable parts of a variety of animals. The 1440 was not busy but the 1630 filled up at the mine.
Again at 1715 there were 3 locos at Jipei , 1307,1308 and 1741 but on this day the latter two hauled and banked (tender first) an enormous length train of empties to Erjing. The train engine did most of the work and was totally thrashed, it must have made a superb sight on the curving embankment amongst the hutongs. It could be heard long after it disappeared from view. All three locos were on the move together with 1307 running back to shed parallel to the coal empties.

Glad I took the trouble to make the long journey north and visit this attractive little system in what I think is a fascinating part of China with a wild back of beyond atmosphere. Definitely one of the better mine railways with a charm of its own. Taxi to CNR station, driver gets lost three times

Plenty of activity in the evening near the station, people busy outside their small houses working their vegetable plots, sowing seeds and transplanting or just strolling about and chatting, quite a relaxed way of life really.
Off in hard sleeper on 2082 Hailaer - Dalian express to Tieling, 216 yuan (£14.30). Interesting scenery till nightfall, wild hills, clear rivers, small shack villages and little in the way of industrial pollution.


Friday 27 May

Tieling arrive right time at 1158. Not the best connection into the daily train to Daqing which is booked away at 1157. Luckily it was running 10 minutes late.

1303 Daqing - Diaobingshan 1332 SY 1771
Loco built 1999, new for me, indeed picked up 3 new locos out of the four working on passenger. A slow trundle with just load 4. Note a coal train on the mine railway line heading eastwards with SY's front and rear.

1406 Diaobingshan - Dongguantan 1539 SY 1683
Load 7. 26 late start due to signal problems. It waited for SY 1771 to arrive ex Daming at 1412 (28 late) on load 5 and SY 1772 to arrive at 1429 from Wangqian (33 late) on load 6., So two 1999 built locos together at the station. After some good thrash accelerations and climbs we terminated 21 late

1617 Dongguantan - Diaobingshan 1756 SY 1683
Again some very noise on the starts.

1820 Diaobingshan -- Daming 1906 SY 1771
Load 5 and not busy. Every visit here sees fewer passengers using the trains. Line seems more attractive in the twilight with the hills in the background.

1920 Daming - Diaobingshan 1956 SY 1771
Runs non-stop to Diaobingshannan where some of the staff get off. The stops on these new H numbered trains seem to be conditional on request.

Stay again at the Yu He Zi Ran Guang Cheng Bathhouse Hotel for two nights. Room 80 yuan, includes use of all bathhouse facilities and good one hour body & foot massage 100 yuan. With an exchange rate of £1 = 15.10 yuan this works out at £11.90 in total - tremendous value, what a life it is as a basher in China these days!. In addition to the obvious good points of this place they don't ask for a deposit and the bill appears immediately in the morning, however early, and you can check out in seconds.

Saturday 28 May

0628 Diaobingshan -- Wangqian 0752 SY 1751
Runs via Xiaonan. Quite empty on a Saturday with less miners around. Good early morning light. A pleasant run with some good noise near Wangqian.

0802 Wangqian - Diaobingshan 0845 SY 1751
Train surprisingly full, perhaps leisure traffic today.

0952 Diaobingshan - Daming 1037 SY 1772
1258 Daming - Diaobingshan 1344 SY 1772
The usual slow running for this line. At Diaobingshannan woman shampoos large family carpet on platform, probably ended up dirtier after she had finished.

1406 Diaobingshan - Dongguantan 1539 SY 1683
1617 Dongguantan - Diaobingshan 1756 SY 1683
Another service that seemed less full on this day. Some good noise going out but better on the return.

Watch the working at Diaobingshan, four arrivals and three departures within 70 minutes, locos whistling and running round etc, station busy with passengers - a fine sight.

1820 Diaobingshan -- Sanjiazi 1830 SY 1771

Sanjiazi almost as impressive, six trains run through within 64 minutes. Phot arrivals from Diaobingshan as they come out of the sunset. Note diesel going round the east curve on to the Wangqian line.

1856 Sanjiazi - Diaobingshan 1906 SY 1772
Good noise up the bank, the first decent climb up here on this trip.

Very fierce massage in hotel, totally knocked out, girl has to haul me up off the bed afterwards!

Sunday 29 May

0628 Diaobingshan -- Wangqian 0752 SY 1751
Good busy atmosphere at Diaobingshan then the three-train meet at Sanjiazi.

0802 Wangqian - Diaobingshan 0845 SY 1751
Very unpleasant at Wangqian, strong wind blows quarry dust into everything. Good lively running. Note smart new clean toilets at Diaobingshan, best ever seen in China including totally private cubicles.

0952 Diaobingshan - Daming 1037 SY 1772
1258 Daming - Diaobingshan 1344 SY 1772
Dust storms all morning. Thrash run on the return though

1426 Diaobingshan - Daqing 1452 SY 1772

Wait by roadside in Daqing in the hope that a Shenyang bus would come, it didn't, nor did a taxi with a seat available so it was plan B, a slow bus to Tieling then an attempt to book a sleeper to Tangshan. This proved surprisingly successful with Tieling having an allocation of hard sleeper berths for train 2048 (Changchun - Shijiazhuang) and was booked even though train was already on the move. Departed Tieling at 1843 on another very smart new train, good value tray meal served in sleepers, 15 yuan (£1) for 4 main dishes. Fellow passengers help with translations to assist following days bashing.

Monday 30 May

Tangshan arrive r/t at 0328. Taxi to Linxi platform 69 yuan (£4.50), took about 40 minutes on a clear road but involves driving across whole of Tangshan city. SY 1525 took freight out of complex to left of level crossing at 0520, returning light engine at 0615. This area is gated and only opened when a train is due. Another steam loco was heard shunting vigorously inside. Wretched diesel 0618 arrives with the passenger at 0600 then works the 0633 departure. I had no alternative but to catch it so as to see what was happening on the system - my first mining railway diesel haulage. The 7-coach train was very full, it reached Lujiatou at 0653 where the rear 2 coaches were detached. Here there was plenty of steam, SY 0015, 0379, 1115, 1212 and 1759 were in use. We terminated Qianyingzhen at 0716, the diesel ran off but returned to work the passenger out again at 0840. There were 2 new looking diesels at Qianyingzhen (including GK1c 0138) but no steam in use, just some stored JS and SY. The diesel fortunately came off the passenger at Lujiatou where SY 0379 was coupled to the other 2 coaches. It attached these to the main train and worked it forward. ? did this 2-coach set form a train anywhere whilst I was at Qianyingzhen?

0915 Lujiatou - Linxi 0942 SY 0379
Nice to eventually get steam haulage on a new mine railway even if only a short run through a real dreary area, flat and mostly rural with market gardening under huge plastic sheeting, the worst mine railway I've yet to travel on. Photters beware, this short turn could well be the sole steam passenger working and as Bruce Evans has already noted access is very limited, hardly a road anywhere, let alone a paved one except around Guye/Linxi where the main road parallels but the line is hemmed in by general clutter. Set against this there does seem to be plenty of steam activity.

At Linxi SY 0379 ran back light immediately followed at 1000 by SY 1700 with a long train of empty wagons. Once again the 1240 passenger departed Linxi behind the diesel.

Taxi back to Tangshan, 60 yuan (£3.95) then 4420 evening train back to Beijing, soft seat 37 yuan (£2.45), a traditional green set on this train, these are becoming rare on expresses nowadays. Stay at Hademan Hotel, quite full, I could only get a double room, discounted down to 400 yuan (£26.50). The massage facility here is just a cover for the naughty ladies.

Tuesday 31 May

Home on CA937 with a much more comfortable 747, about 75% full, a few minutes late back into Heathrow.

Total cost of bash just under £1200, the most expensive yet although it was the longest bash so far and involved two flights, one of which cost almost £100.

Finally this report is produced for the benefit of those who share information with others. For those that don't I unfortunately cannot stop you reading and benefiting from the information. All I can do is to hope that you will go forth and multiply.

Roger Blundell

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© 2005, Roger Blundell Roger.BLUNDELL@networkrail.co.uk