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Steam in China - August 2005

Hegang, JiTong, Yuanbaoshan

by Roger Blundell

A second Chinese trip of the summer. I just could not resist a very last visit to the Jitong line, especially with an express running. British Airways were not doing any cheap deals for midsummer and after considering the very cheap prices on offer with China Eastern to Shenyang via Shanghai (£415 but inconvenient dates) I again opted for Air China at a cost of £408.

Tuesday 02 August

Depart Heathrow 2025.

Wednesday 03 August

Beijing arrive right time at 1315. Change travellers cheques at 14.29 to the £, reconfirm flight home then book ticket to Harbin at 1050 yuan (£74) on next flight at 1540, expensive but a busy time of year so no discounting. Noted that different airline offices were quoting differing prices for a ticket. Flight was by China Southern from the smaller Terminal 1 but booked in the main Terminal. Many delays on this day, blamed on poor visibility and heavy rain, my flight left 70 late, arriving Harbin at 1815, about 45 late. Airport bus to Harbin station to find that no sleepers were available on N19 to Harbin. Buy unreserved hard seat then manage to position myself almost adjacent to one of the gates in the waiting hall then as soon as it opened hurry to conductors booth to be almost first in line to excess into hard sleeper (100 yuan/£7 in total) on a very wedged train.

Thursday 04 August

Arrive right time at 0537. Note this is an earlier time than last years timetable and connected into the 0600 Jipei - Junli, 7 wedged coaches hauled by SY 1498. The morning train to Shanzhuang was seen leaving at its new departure time of 0635 with SY 3014.

0640 Jipei - Xingshan 0709 SY 1370
0720 Xingshan - Jipei 0747 SY 1370
Very pleased to get steam on the morning trains on this line, on previous trips I had been caught out by electrics.

0815 Jipei - Junli 0904 SY 1498
0914 Junli - Jipei 1005 SY 1498
A slow trundle out but rather more lively on the return.

Off for a cheap haircut and a leisurely lunch.

1355 Jipei - Shanzhuang 1458 SY 3014
A good flail climb on the rural section up into Shanzhuang. The parallel dirt road here is now complete and is in use by mianbo.

1520 Shanzhuang - Dalu 1613 SY 3014
Return in one of the soft seat coaches at the front of the train. Fare is 4 yuan, double the hard seat rate but includes a bottle of water. Decide to chance the + 4 crossing at Dalu for Junli, no problem though, we left the previous station 6 early and arrived 10 early. We needn't have rushed, the control office sent out a departmental train from Jipei in front of the Junli passenger which eventually appeared 10 late.

1617 Dalu - Junli 1650 SY 1498
1726 Junli - Jipei 1815 SY 1498
Good thrash on the return from Dalu to Nanshan

1835 Jipei - Junli 1920 SY 1498
1930 Junli - Jipei 2015 SY 1498
Load 2 only but in common with all the Junli services still ran late, a slow dossy run on the return which compounded by a long signal stop outside Jipei saw us terminate 15 late.

A good days bashing with of course the usual mine railway long break of services from mid morning to early afternoon.

Some newly acquired and rather smart YZ22 coaches with conventional seating are now in the Junli and Xingshan rake. Trains arrive and depart Jipei to the sound of communist style marshal music, all very uplifting

Stayed at the old hotel just across from the CNR station, despite refurbishment facilities in the room were poor although bedding was clean. (60 yuan/£4.23)

Friday 05 August

0640 Jipei - Xingshan 0709 SY 0799
0720 Xingshan - Jipei 0747 SY 0799
Again steam haulage was very welcome on this short but fascinating line.

0815 Jipei - Junli 0904 SY 1498
0914 Junli - Jipei 1005 SY 1498

Book soft sleeper on train 2008, 2120 Jiamusi - Changchun, 176 yuan + 9 yuan fee (£13), at the CNR booking office

1418 Jipei - Xingshan was electric hauled.

1355 Jipei - Shanzhuang 1458 SY 1464
Very few passengers on this train. Not much thrash but a very pleasant run on a sunny summers afternoon.

1520 Shanzhuang - Jipei 1630 SY 1464
Despite the 0635 out being crowded in both soft and hard class this train was none too full ? did all the trippers come back by bus.

Take shared taxi to Jiamusi. These can be found outside the bus station next to the skyscraper hotel over the road from the CNR station. By this time of day the bus station was deserted.
Passengers and luggage were loaded into a red town taxi and driven round the block to a rendezvous with an unmarked car into which we transferred. At the end of the motorway on the outskirts of Jiamusi we stopped, the driver got out with a screwdriver in his hand, opened the boot, took out a taxi sign and screwed it to the roof. 50 yuan (£3.50) demanded for my seat, probably an overcharge but the 40 miles via the new motorway were covered in just over an hour so it did the business. Very few buses were seen en route. This new road runs close to Junli station on the mine railway, in fact you can see the mine from the road and there is an exit sign in both English and Chinese which says `Junde Coal Mine'.

Find excellent bathhouse centre in Jiamusi, 'Jinhaiwanxiyuyou' on Xiangongsi and phone 867 6777. Full use of bathhouse including sauna and hot tub and an excellent head to foot massage by a young lady, who was, to put it mildly, attractive, cost just 43 yuan (£3.03). You could pay more than this for a coffee in a London Starbucks

Saturday 06 August

Arrive on time at 0743 in a steamy (weatherwise) Changchun. Book soft seat on 4272 (from Jilin) to Tongliao. This train has now been slightly retimed, as booked to Changchun arr 1005 then depart 1026, Siping 1205 - 1215 and Tongliao arrive 1500. We had a poor run through some torrential rain and terminated at 1515.

At Tongliao crowds of student were waiting for the Jitong train and no berths were available. Book hard seat and as a precaution book a sleeper for the following nights train. No problem actually getting a berth though, girl lets me into the sleeper which was three quarters empty and gripper lady comes round with machine for excess ticket. It seems that Tongliao has a very small allocation of berths. Despite the apparent Mongol hordes even the hard seats coaches were not completely full.

2041 Chabuga - Daban 2359 QJ 6911
Some nice thrash was heard at times. At Dariqiga we crossed QJ 7030 on L113 Hohhot - Hailaer express, 13 vehicles including diner and soft sleeper.

At Daban taken to the same lüdian that I used in May. The upstairs has now been built and I was taken up to a smart room with facilities and asked to pay 100 yuan (£7). This I declined as last time I had paid only 50 yuan for an ordinary room and was only going to be there for 3 hours anyway. Women agrees price of 50 yuan, somewhat to my surprise.

Sunday 07 August

0434 Daban - Chabuga 0738 QJ 6911
Some good noisy starts. At Baomutu, the first station out we waited whilst a very long double-headed QJ freight thrashed round the curve and into the station. A superb sight in the misty post dawn light with the mountains as a background. All of the Jitong line from Tongliao to Daban was very lush and green, they must have had plenty of rain. Fot double-header leaving Chabuga at 0815 (this train ran everyday) but light totally wrong.

Now if someone had told me a month earlier that I would, in August 2005 be bashing a QJ hauled 600 ton express I would have said they were mad. But it was to come to pass: - Go to signal cabin on platform who confirmed that train was running (it is alternate days), and sure enough in it rolled behind a diesel at 0915

0921 Chabuga - Daban 1158 (L114 Hailaer - Hohhot) QJ 7030 13 bogies 600 tons gross
Not only express haulage but a new QJ to boot. A scruffy old train, a real relief set, some coaches had wood panelling on the inside. The train was mostly sleepers with just 5 hard seat vehicles at the rear. Although put on for the student holiday rush there were plenty of mature passengers. Both classes of sleepers were almost full but the seats were virtually empty. I had the choice of empty bays on both sides in the 9th coach. The loco rattled the train along well, a superb sight on the curves, the long green train rolling past the lush green grasslands and mountains. The QJs are certainly going out in style on this line. At Lindong we crossed two freights and an eastbound relief express (Y143?) but this one was diesel. I had hoped for a 94 mile non-stop run to Daban but we were looped once for a freight and there is an 8 minute booked operational stop at Gulumanhan, the second station out from Daban. 8 late off Chabuga, 18 late Daban.

Bus back immediately from Daban bus station to Tianshan (the town adjacent to Chabuga), a 2 hour journey. Vehicle very crowded, sit on stool at front of gangway wedged against the woman in front and the gear stick. Bus runs along Inner Mongolia Highway apart from detour in and out of Lindong, very scenic in places as it follows the contours of the land with steep grades and fine views. The new dual carriageway was virtually empty.

2041 Chabuga - Daban 2359 QJ 6911
Attendant totally baffled by me getting on at Chabuga with a ticket from Tongliao. 17 late away and 30 late in. Two extra empty sleepers were marshalled behind the diner giving a load of 10 and little audible noise from the loco reaching the 8th vehicle. Soon fall asleep.

Back to the same lüdian in owners mianbo, given room without facilities for 50 yuan (£3.52)

Monday 08 August

Lift to station in mianbo, its not far but a welcome ride.

0434 Daban - Chabuga 0738 QJ 6911
A dull grey morning until the sun breaks through halfway to Chabuga. Note mongolian herdsman on horse, a rare sight. Nowadays they mostly use motorbikes. 28 late away, 28 late Tongliao.
Excellent body and foot massage at a place on the way into town, 100 yuan (£7), after 2 hours had to tell the girl to stop otherwise I would have missed the 1630. Not only will the Jitong line be a great loss but I shall miss the layovers in Tongliao as well. Once more unable to book sleeper so excess in car - busier this day. Again book sleeper for following day.

2041 Chabuga - Daban 2359 QJ 6911
3 late throughout. Wrong side for the thrash most of the way.

Taken to lüdian in the van, even though the place was full. The owner had already given up the family bedroom to the previous arrivals and with bunk beds in use in the hallway I was relegated to the lounge floor where a mattress and clean bedding were set up. Charged 15 yuan (£1.05)

Tuesday 09 August

Mianbo to station for a late 6051 which turned up at 0500

0434 Daban - Chabuga 0738 QJ 6911
Load 10 with two empty sleepers behind the usual vehicle. All the bedding and carpets from these vehicles were thrown out onto the platform at Daban. A very good thrash run with a load not too far short of 500 tons and to cap it all 6911 became my first QJ over a thousand miles as we approached Dariqiga.

0921 Chabuga - Daban 1158 (L114 Hailaer - Hohhot) QJ 7030 13 bogies 600 tons gross
The second train of the day to be well late, not appearing until 1000. A real throwback to the past this train, with speakers playing traditional Chinese popular music and bored half asleep staff the QJ rolled its long green rake across the grasslands and round the hills of the northwest. Just like 15 years ago but thankfully though it was much less crowded than trains were then. Very impressive running through the crossing loops at near to 50 mph with freights, some double headed, waiting inside. Semaphores at the smaller stations also add to the atmosphere. Once again we were stopped for a crossing and again at Gulumanhan even though there was nothing to pass. 52 late off Chabuga, into Daban at 1303, 65 late.

No through buses available for Tianshan so change at Lindong with an immediate connection. Pleased to get a proper seat from Daban, especially as the gangway was adorned with vomit.

2041 Chabuga - Daban 2359 QJ 6911
Another rant from the attendant about my Tongliao ticket then settle down to enjoy some good noise. A double-headed freight roaring through Diaojiaduan made a very fine sight. Unfortunately succumb to sleep/exhaustion later in run, sleep has been in short supply here. I had even fallen asleep in Chabuga waiting hall, only waking after the train had arrived. Train ran about 15 late throughout. Proper room at lüdian for 50 yuan.

Wednesday 10 August

0434 Daban - Chabuga 0738 QJ 6911
Grey dull and misty for quite a while then sun breaks through giving good cloud and mist effects on the mountains. Some good noise from the loco. Train ran almost on time through to Tongliao, punctuality now is generally poor since the accelerations on the diesel sections. Throughout my visit to the Jitong line the Daban - Chabuga section was very busy with freight in both directions. Only two diesel freights were seen in 5 days of travel + one diesel/steam combination (diesel front). Just one light working was seen, a pair of QJs heading westwards. Only able to obtain an upper berth at Tongliao for 6053, which dithered into Chabuga 25 late.

2041 Chabuga - Daban 2359 QJ 6911
Once again a very atmospheric crossing at Diaojiaduan with a double header pounding through with a hail of cinders. It could be heard far in the distance as we departed. Some good noise in the Lindong area. Another notable crossing at Dariqiga where L113 express was in the loop - great long train, seemingly quite empty northbound, two very fine trains together. The express would have provided an excellent direct link between two of the Inner Mongolia steam centres, calling at both Daban and Dayan. The run finished with a good thrash climb to the summit before Daban where we terminated 20 late. Mianbo to the lüdian, room with facilities, including hot water, 50 yuan (£3.05)

Thursday 11 August

Mianbo to the station, a farewell to the lüdian owner then my final steam departure from Daban.

0434 Daban - Chabuga 0738 QJ 6911
15 late start, 18 late Chabuga. A fairly quiet run on a bright sunny and clear morning until we ran into fog near Lindong.

L114 crept in 20 minutes early - nearly caught me out.

0921 Chabuga - Daban 1158 (L114 Hailaer - Hohhot) QJ 7030 13 bogies 600 tons gross
After a stand of 30 minutes we were flagged away 2 early, the guard waving a traditional green flag of course and I started my last ever run on a real steam hauled express. And what a fine train too. Viewed from the almost empty 10th coach 7030 made a superb sight and sound roaring round the curves on the hillside above Chabuga, that sight and the significance of it almost brought tears to my eyes. Again there were some valuable crossings on what was to be a non stop run to Gulumanhan, each time we ran straight through passing a succession of single or double headed QJs. At Gulumanhan during our operational stop three QJ hauled trains stood side by side as we crossed an eastbound train and overtook a pair heading west. QJ 7119 seen en route was still looking very smart after arriving back from overhaul on 19 July. Being on time this day meant that there was no need for fast running and we rolled into the platform at Daban 4 minutes early at 1154, the end of an era for me (my first journey on a steam hauled express was in LMS days from Euston to Manchester back in 1947). And so it was with great sadness I walked the length of the platform to watch 7030 uncouple from its train and go off to shed, an occasion the like of which I will never see again.

1300 bus to Chifeng from the bus station in town, arrives at 1630. Book ticket for following nights train to Beijing, no sleepers available, only reserved hard seat, then taxi to Yuanbaoshan, 60 yuan (£4.23). I thought this was a bit steep but it was quite a distance, perhaps 23/24 miles from Chifeng station - nearly 40 km and an hours journey. Taxi arrives Yuanbaoshan just before a very smart JS appears at 1805 with the mixed, loaded coal wagons in front of the passenger coaches.

Stay at binguan just up from the crossroads that leads down to the mine railway station. 200 yuan demanded which I eventually haggled down to 150 yuan (£10.55), even this was rather poor value for money. Good meal at restaurant/bathhouse complex at the crossroads, whole roast duck 22 yuan (£1.55). A dish of comparable quality in Beijing would cost four times this price. Note that this place does neither massage nor rooms.

Friday 12 August

0700 Yuanbaoshan - Fenshuigou 0730 JS 8249 15 wagons + 6 bogies 600 tons gross
The passenger rake was very clean and smart, perhaps new to the line and the coaches even featured huge video screens - in use on this run, a real pain. With the heavy load we had the usual quiet trundle (apart from the video). On this day the freight trip on to Anqinggou did not operate, the loco remaining at Fenshuigou for the return passenger.

1025 Fenshuigou - Yuanbaoshan 1055 JS 8249
Note the 'early' departure. A mostly quiet run but there was even some noise from the loco. Route is partly rural and fairly pleasant, the line rather better than I recall it from my previous visit. Train formed by the passenger rake only.

Lunch at the bathhouse restaurant, a very fine joint of mutton. The sort of thing you would never see in the western world, far too tasty and flavoursome for all those millions of people brought up to accept prepackaged bland, tasteless and characterless food. Pricey at 36 yuan (£2.55) but hang the expense, after all it was a holiday.

1400 Yuanbaoshan - Fenshuigou 1430 JS 8249
Another run with just the six coaches. Train is not as busy as the morning turn, potters along slowly and quietly.

I decided that an 1805 arrival with the train back at Yuanbaoshan was a bit of a dodgy bet for the 2020 to Beijing as it involved a walk from the station back up into town, the possibility that buses might by then have finished running and potential problems with the rapidly deteriorating weather. So walk off in the rain into Fenshuigou village, a real dreary depressing place, especially as by then it was barely light, so low were the clouds. After about 20 minutes a bus turns up and reaches Yuanbaoshan about half an hour later. By now the rain which had started at 0800 as just a few spots had become torrential with a river running either side of the main street down towards the station. I was guided towards a Chifeng bus (up the road from where my local bus had terminated) by its conductor. Just before we reached the bus the rivers had merged into one covering the whole road and we squelched across between hooting coal lorries and 4 WDs and onto the bus. The journey to the big square in Chifeng, where the bus terminated, took about an hour and a quarter. Much to my annoyance I had to purchase a sleeper ticket from a tout. The extra cost to me was 65 yuan but at least the woman took my hard seat ticket in part exchange. The train, 2560, 2020 Chifeng - Beijingbei was very busy

Saturday 13 August

After reaching the suburbs of Beijing over an hour late we were held at the first station out from Beijingbei whilst a northbound local first vacated the one platform at the terminus and then had to clear the single line section to allow us to proceed - and we think the railways of Britain are a shambles! Eventualy arrive at 0756, 102 late and not an ideal time for anyone wanting the late morning BA flight to London. Not that it would have mattered because that flight and the relief to it were both cancelled because of a strike. Beijingbei station area is a real hole with the only exit being along a narrow street which eventually leads to the metro. There are now two metro sign/stations and of course the first one you see and walk to is the wrong one (new line 13). For line 2 the entrance is just to the left before the road interchange/flyover

At airport change more money for next trip, rate a very acceptable 14.62 against the pound.

CA937 to London at 1405, arrives Heathrow about 15 miutes late to round off a very sucessful and enjoyable trip.

Roger Blundell

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