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Steam in and around China 2006/7
by Jan Willem van Dorp

Moscow , Trans-Sib , Huanan , Jixi , Jalainur , Diaobingshan/Tiefa , Fuxin , Weihe , Nanpiao , Huludao , Shibanxi , High (rail)road to India , Janakpur Rly. , Steam on 3 gauges , DHR/Darjeeling , Nilgiri Rly.(Ooty)

When on 30th September 2004 the appearance of the first three DF4 on the Jingpeng pass section of the JiTong Railway effectively put an end to the last great steam show on earth I wrote that the end of times was nigh and the only thing left for the last gricers remaining was sorting out our slides and wrapping it up . Well , in the end I somehow managed to knot together just enough loose ends to one more great Asian steam trip , surely the last one , although one of course never knows .

Trans-Sib practicalities :
Whereas the obvious way to get to North-East China by train , especially if including Jalainur in the itinerary , would be on train nr. 20 (friday night from Moscow , wednesday morning into Zabaikalsk) I , having taken both that train and the other Beijing train (nr. 4 via Ulan-Bator) before and now looking for a more Russian travel experience (on the international trains virtually all passengers are foreigners , mostly Chinese) in an open (3rd class/platzkartny) carriage rather than in the confinement of 2nd class/kupe as well as wishing to go to Huanan first , I chose train 350 Moscow-Blagovescensk (alternate days) . With the pre-booking requirement for Russian visas now dropped (all one needs is an invitation for a 30-day tourist visa , obtainable through a number of agencies - I used de Visumdienst in Amsterdam , www.visum.nl - one can now make up one's own itinerary and buy tickets at the station . Some trains (the Beijing ones for example) and indeed 3rd class tickets often sell out early though (the availability of tickets and inner Russian fares can -with some persistance- be checked 6 weeks in advance , 3 days at the time on

www.eng.rzd.ru/page.html?nav_id=46 using the "key" if one knows the origin and destination in Cyrillic script -switch between the English and Russian versions of the invaluable timetable website www.poezda.net -) so one is still well advised to buy such tickets through an agency (I used Svezhy Veter , http://www.sv-agency.udm.ru/ , which added a bit to the ticket price , but provided me with the ticket I wanted ; many other agencies are not interested in handling 3rd class tickets) .
An excellent summary of Trans-Siberian rail travel with many more useful links can be found on www.seat61.com
So on 4th September I boarded the London-Riga bus at Utrecht (EUR 44 o/w , 60-days advance purchase , www.eurolines.nl ) . Normal people of course take the train via Warsaw and Minsk , but I had done that twice already as well , or even fly to Moscow (but that is cheating) . In Riga I stayed one night at the Argonaut Hostel (LVL 3.50 dorm , www.argonauthostel.lv ) and bought a 4th class/obschych ticket to Moscow for the next day (LVL 13.84 , www.ldz.lv , plenty of space available ; indeed the carriage proved to be a 3rd class/platzkartny (i.e. sleeper) one at this low occupancy , just without the bedding) .
In Moscow I collected my train ticket to Blagovescensk and checked into the Sherstone Hostel (EUR 25 dorm!! , www.sherstone.ru ) for one night to get the required visa registration stamp and on 8th September I boarded train 350 for the 6 day , 7984 km. run to Blagovescensk (ticket price : Rbl 2421.20 , i.e. EUR 75) , which turned out to be very pleasant indeed with 3rd class travel much nicer than 2nd class , the autumn colours already in full swing and the search for local food (blini , chicken and potatoes , pierogi and of course the Lake Baikal omul) sold by the babushkas at the many longer stops (such as Danilov , Balezino , Ilanskaia , Slyudianka , Chernysh Zabaikalsk and Shimanovsk) as enjoyable as ever
Upon arrival in Blagovescensk I of course had only one thing on my mind : shower , shower and shower so although mashrutka 30 would also have brought me there  , I gratefully got in the taxi my caring povodnitsa had already chartered to take me to the Hotel Druzhba (Rbl. 1050 , www.hoteldruzhba.ru )
Moscow Rizhskaya (7th September) :
All the steam engines mentioned in CRJ 142 (Em 740-57 , Er 766-11 , FD21-3125 , L 2342 , LV 0441 , Ov 841 , SO17 2211 , TE 5415 and a 9R , now numbered 17347) were still present in the museum (admission Rbl. 25) . New additions were Ed 2450 , P 0001 and P36 0001 . Modern traction present was not noted exhaustively , but electrics VL22 1859 and VL8 1694 were also new .
More interestingly a second TE (number not noted) was in steam with one coach just outside the museum compound as my train (nr. 4) from Riga rolled in on 7th September
Steam sightings on the way (8th-14th September) :
The following plinthed steam engines were seen . Undoubtedly there are many more
Zuevka                   km. 1062         FD 020  2022
Verescagino                  1317         FD ?
Ilanskaia                       4384         Ex 730-57
Cheremchovo                5062         L/LV?

Ulan-Ude                       5649        Su 205-91
Belogorsk                      7875        P36  0094 
Blagovescensk               7984        L/LV?                 
Some 30 min./km. east of Ulan-Ude a dump/strategic reserve containing several L/LV was observed as well

Amur/Heilongjiang river crossing :
From Blagovescensk I caught one of the frequent river ferries to Heihe in China (Rbl. 850 for a 10 minute ferry ride , but in retrospect I think it should be possible to do that cheaper ; there seem to be first and second class ferries - and on arrival at Heihe , before the bank , I was hit for another CNY 45 -port tax I guess- , but rubles are accepted) . Immigration officers on both sides were clearly not used to foreigners coming their way , but quite friendly . Once past the usual horde of taxi drivers I quickly found a bus (CNY 1) into town and the Bank of China , which even had an ATM accepting foreign cards (as I think all Bank of China ATMs do these days , and many others as well) .
train  N34  Heihe 19.12 - Suihua 4.35 (-Harbin) , hard seat CNY 67
train 2095 (Xiliu-) Suihua 6.41 - Jiamusi 12.25 , hard seat CNY 33 , passing many places of great gricing in the 1980s , such as Bei'an , Suihua , Langxiang , Nancha and Jiamusi , but now all the QJ , JS , RM and C2 have gone
CNR tickets nowadays show origin and destination in Pinyin as well as in characters - only two more years to Beijing 2008 .
Anyway the bus station in Jiamusi is about 100 m. from the station exit , and within 1 minute of me stepping inside I was on my way to Huanan (CNY 17.5) thanks to an extremely helpful information officer .
Huanan (16th-22nd September) : 
The Bao Li Binguan is in the north-eastern corner of the main square , near the huge clock , and charges CNY 120 for a standard room , including an excellent buffet breakfast where you can stuff yourself for the rest of the day . Coming in on the bus from Jiamusi , get down in front of the hotel , or walk about 800m. back (north) from the bus station . From the railway station , take one of the green town buses (Huanan town buses - CNY 1- are coloured , rather than numbered) .
The narrow gauge station is quite a long way (some 3-4 km.) out of town to the north-east . Get there on one of the eastbound white (with the modern-art patches of red , yellow and blue) town buses just in front of the Bao Li Binguan , which eventually pass through the n.g. station and then continue a further 500 m. along the line .
After 12 days of travelling , I was not immediately up to facing Chinese village life , so I contended myself for the first 4 days on the line with the quite nice street-running section on the first km. out of Huanan . People are extremely friendly here ; time and time again chairs , maize , apples and pieces of melon were brought out for the waiting gricer . Operations were as previously described by Rob Dickinson and Bernd Seiler , with about 2 up and 2 down trains between 8.30 and 16.30 as well as the daily railcar . Active engines were 011 , 041 and 043.
On 21st September I caught the 9.30 bus to Tuoyaozi (CNY 7.5) and on arrival there I was quickly directed to a homestay , presumably the one opened up by Rob Dickinson (very basic indeed , but clean , friendly and lots of good food -as always in rural China you may want to tell that you are a vegetarian though , even if you aren't elsewhere- and beer being provided) . Some
very serious bargaining was needed , but after that , with a clear blue sky and the autumn colours just about right I was ready to start a couple of days of great gricing . Regrettably one quite essential thing was missing : trains ; coal traffic being suspended 21st-27th September for pw work (but the railcar still running) . With the 1st October/mid-autumn holiday coming up after that I guessed that the next coal train wouldn't run before 9th October , although my host tried to convince me that something (a pw train?) might run on the 23rd/24th September , so I took my loss and returned to Huanan the next day with the pictures from the street-running section (and my 1986 RM pictures) to console me .


In fact , with the holiday week 28th September-6th October rather than 1st-8th October as I had thought , traffic had resumed by 7th October as I later learned from trwo Japanese gricers I met at Weihe , but only for a few days until conveyor belt problems in Huanan put another stop to operations as two British parties experienced .

Buses from Huanan bus station to Jixi appear to be rare , so I took a taxi (CNY 5) to the main road , where I was soon picked up by a Jiamusi-Mudanjiang bus for the CNY 35 ride to Jixi .
Jixi (23rd-27th September) : 
The Jiamusi-Mudanjiang bus which had picked me up at Huanan dropped me in the southern outskirts of Jixi two hours later . A futher CNY 5 taxi ride brought me to the railway station and the Long Fu Binguan opposite where a CNY 130 standard room was quickly discounted to CNY 100 . A wangba can easily be spotted on the northern side of station square amidst lots of small restaurants .
Chengzihe : Jixi town bus nr. 3 (CNY 1) starts from the north-western corner of station square , just behind the Zhengyang buses , and terminates just south of Beichang , halfway in between Nanchang and Dongchang .
Engines facing both ways (SY seen 237 , 0590 , 0863 , 1058 , 1351 , 1437 ,and 1544) still congregate at Dongchang at about 8.00 a.m. after taking water at Nanchang and then start a day of hard working all over the system . Beichang appears to be busiest in the morning , when some horse carts -among mainly 3-wheelers- scavenging the discarded whet coal dust povide an interesting background On the Jixixi line some fair positions can be found around km. 3-4 , just east of the bridge . The Dongchang - Beichang bank isalso interesting
People are very friendly everywhere
Didao : Jixi town bus nr. 24 starts from the southern side of station square , just across the road from the post office and station exit , and brings you all the way to Didao Hebei (CNY 2) .
Most engines (SY seen 0407 , 1205 , 1213 and 1446) , all facing north , can be found at Didao Hebei at 8.00 a.m.
The Lijing branch line splits at km. 1 into an upper and a lower line . I only saw the upper line , which climbs further through a series of switcthbacks , used with empties going up and fulls coming down .
On the main line trains to/from Didao CNR , Wangjia and Dianchang were all seen . In the afternoon a good position for trainsfrom Dianchang exists drom the Wangjia ramp . Access to the electric narrow gauge system was denied though
Hengshan : All buses towards Hengshan appear to start south of the Jixi railway station , but not from one single terminus . Thus , I suggest taking town bus nr. 28 (CNY 1) , which also leaves from the southern side of station square , to its southern terminus and changing there ; DaHengshan and Shannan buses , amongst others , will bring you to XinHengshan (CNY 1.5) whereas Lijing and Zhangxin buses turn off for the Hengshan CNR - Zhongxin bank just east of Hengshan CNR (also CNY 1.5)
Most engines (SY seen 0341 , 742 , 0804 , 1095 , 1340 and 1369) , all facing east can be found at XinHengshan at 8.00 in the morning , whilst some others still bring in fulls , which are then pushed back -with some effort- to Hengshan CNR . Empties are then collected from Hengshan CNR and brought to the minesfrom Xin Hengshan , mostly in short single-headed trains even over the bank towards Zhongxin (well worth a visit ; quite steep) ; only once I saw a longer train being banked - but still single-headed- .
Initial reception at the XinHengshan servicing area was quite cool , with even someone asking for "money , money" (why do visitors put them up to that ????) , but everywhere else everybody was as friendly as ever .

train K412 Jixi 21.15 - Harbin 6.01 (-Changchun) , CNY 66 hard seat
train N 91 (Harbindong-) Harbin 20.00 - Jalainurxi 9.48 (-Manzhouli) , CNY 120 hard seat
Jalainur (29th September - 4th October) : 
Exiting the Jalainurxi railway station , cross the station square diagonally to the south-west , which will bring you to the multi-lane RenMin Lu . Follow that about 500 m. to the south , which will bring you to the Zhalainur Binguan (indicated ZLNRBG) on the square with the concrete/plastic tree . A standard room is CNY 100 , but hot water comes in thermoss flasks only .

I did not quite figure out the town bus system (there are destination shields , but no route numbers) , but the following worked well : take an eastbound town bus/van in front of the Zhalainur Binguan , after 2-3 km. it turns south , shortly afterwards west and then south again . Get down about 500 m. after it turns south the second time on the corner of the main shopping street , Busen Dajie , and start walking east ; from there it is about 1.5 km. to the Daqiao station of the deep mine system (or take another town bus till where it turns north) and a further 1.5 km. to the opencast pit (buses going there exist and probably leave from opposite the hospital , but are not all that frequent and difficult to distinguish from those circling the town to return west ; if you are heading to east side of the big pit , better pick one up near the level crossing) .

Steam operations were basically as described by Bernd Seiler and Florian Menius with the following observations :
Open cast mine system : WOW : Apollo 19 confirms : THERE IS STEAM ON THE MOON , AND LOTS OF IT . The sounds of upto 5 simultaneous uphill trains reverberating against the pits walls have to be heard to understand the marvel of this place  INCREDIBLE in 2006 (and by train it is only 5 days from Moscow) . No problems walking into the pit , only invitations to come into the pointsmens cabins , but this was during the holiday week .

Operations continue as previously reported with the occasional hick-up when a conveyor belt problem stops the chimney-first coal trains At any moment there are about 15-20 trains working in the big hole alone , with all engines facing south ; chimney-to-the-train on spoil trains and tender-to-the-train on coal trains ; an afternoon spell (good light only after 16.00 and the sun is behind the rim at 16.45 in early October, so not really for winter visits when there is less activity anyway) at the opposite (west) face of the pit easily brings 4-6 trains into the frame . SY noted  : 0471 , 0682 ,  0784 , 0794 , 0917/8/9 , 0958 , 1110 , 1192/3 , 1240 , 1256 , 1284/5 , 1303 , 1371/5/6 , 1450 , 1584/7 , 1617 , 1663/4 , 1689 , 1690 and 3005 , many still with a red star in front of the chimney .

The passenger service also continues unaltered ; the morning one coach trains from Nanzhan and the pit return to the 510/control office station often simultaneously around 8.55 . The Nanzhan train comes to the platform first , followed by the one from the pit . They are then coupled together and return to Nanzhan empty stock usually with SY front and rear . The empty stock reappears at the 510/control office station at about 16.50 , at that time with only one SY , where it is put into a siding until the evening departures .
Deep mine system : Most engines gather at Daqiao station around 8.00 a.m. where the horse cart ash disposal unit offers some good photo opportunities . One SY then takes the 8.20 passenger (often running as a mixed) south at about 8.30 This passenger service is now once daily only ; it does not return until after 16.30 and star engine SL-look-a-like 1416 (which in fact proved rather elusive) is no longer assigned to it either. The rest of the SY (0924 , 1126 , 1416 , 1424 , 1448 , 1618 , 1688 noted , all facing west) is kept quite busy on freights , as in previous reports to no obvious pattern . There is a quite steep bank between Dongfanghong and Daqiao
Train 1302 (Manzhouli-) Jalainurxi 13.16 - Tieling 7.52 (-Beijing) , CNY 129 hard seat
Diaobingshan/Tiefa (6/7th October) : 
The Tieling bus station is being rebuit and the Diaobingshan buses (CNY 8) now depart opposite the station from the middle of station square . The Tiefashi Zhanqian Binguan on station square in Diaobingshan still takes CNY 100 and they have now equipped the showers with boilers and got them working .

The passenger timetable on show in Diaobingshan station is out of date , but that reported by Bernd Seiler in January 2006 would appear to be still correct (the main differences are on the Daqing line where these days there is only one CNR passenger to connect with left) . No Faku passengers were observed , but all other passenger trains seen were SY , with 1751 , 1769 , 1770 and 1772 performing . Indeed the most significant change (apart from the dieselization of the freight service) was the disappearance of the shelter at Diaobingshannan .

The bus station (straight ahead from the railway station , right at the traffic circle and on the left hand side 200 m. further on , just around the corner) and the recently discovered 8.00 Fuxin bus (CNY 34) were duly found . A wangba is also between the railway station and the traffic circle , after about 200 m. on the right hand side .
Fuxin (7-9th October) : 
The Railway Hotel (Zhanqian Binguan) opposite the CNR station provided the usual CNY 80 room , breakfast included . For the rest the whole outline of Fuxin has changed with hutongs and even the coal dump north-west of Wulong having been levelled and filled up by incredible numbers of 6-storey appartment blocks , starting with the area around Wulong : instead of the hutongs previously there I only saw rubble from my (railway)hotel window . The CNR station has also been rebuilt .

On this trip I did not investigate the electric services around and into the big pit .

Steam freight service remains as yet unaltered , but newly delivered DF5D 0066 was a sign of things to come .
There have been major changes to the passenger service though :
- a Xinqiu-Wulong passenger was seen arriving Wulong at 7.08 , believed to be the former 9.55 arrival
- the former  8.59 Wangying-Xinqiu passenger was at Wulong  9.45/55 instead of  9.23/32
- the former 13.39 Xinqiu-wangying passenger was at Wulong 14.00/02 instead of 14.25/30
and other trains are probably retimed as well
In Diaobingshan I had already learned from Florian Menius' website that I no longer need to go to the DaGu line (so a QJ-less visit to China , a first...) as well as of the steam revival in Weihe , so instead of taking a bus to Nanpiao (two advertised at the bus station , 200 m. straight ahead from the railway station , at 6.40 and 14.40) as intended the first possible (end of holiday...) train to Weihe :
train L707 Fuxin 8.11 - Shenyangbei 12.28 , CNY 22 hard seat
city bus 602 (CNY 1) to the main(south) station
train 2017 Shenyang 18.37 - Weihe 4.59 (- Mudanjiang) , CNY 49 hard seat (at many CNR stations it is now possible to buy tickets for some , specifically advertised , connecting trains against a small -CNY 5- surcharge)
Weihe (11-16th October) : 
It may be a bit silly backtracking to Heilongjiang from Liaoning , but I was quite happy to do so when I learned about the steam revival here . The (single) Binguan remains outrageously overpriced at CNY 130/180 for rooms without/with shower .

Steamwise , C2 nr. (210)54 was indeed working four times per day to Baliwan , 10 km. away . In fact the real lay-over at the end of the line was the level crossing 300 m. below Baliwan ; the up train would blast through there (bank) , quickly run round at the new Baliwan station and then immediately return to that level crossing for the passengers to get down/be picked up for/from buses further up the road .
Chasing by motorbike was easy , but -partially because of the digging of some sort of pipeline just next to the line- the really good positions were only on the last 4 km. of the line , from Zhenzhu onwards
The timetable was amended as from 11th October , but closure was expected even before 28th October , perhaps on the 25th or 26th so this is probably only of historical interest now :
251           253         255         257                                 km.     252        254         256          258
6.20          9.00       12.30      15.10        Weihe                o        8.19      10.54      15.24       17.05
6.27/8       9.07/8    12.37/8   15.17/8     (Weihenan?)
     1        8.11/2   10.46/7   15.16/7    16.57/8
  4               2             2            2           stops                           2            2            2              4
6.58/7.05   9.38/9    13.08/9   15.48/9     Zhenzhu           6        7.40/1   10.15/6   13.45/6    16.25/7 
7.20          9.54        13.24      16.04        Baliwan           10        7.25       10.00      13.30       16.10
train 1452 (Mudanjiang-) Weihe 17.59 - Jinzhounan 6.33 (-Jinan) , CNY 96 hard seat
Nanpiao (17-18th October) : 
Arriving Jinzhounan I caught city bus 208 (209 would do as well ; CNY 2/paybox) to the main station and the bus station some 500 m. south and a bus to Nanpiao (CNY 8.5) . The hotel next to the Hungjia station has been renovated and the old CNY 62 rooms with wahbasin are no more ; the choice is now between a CNY 158 standard room with or a CNY 80 common/CNY 68 single room without facilities .

Steamwise the summer revaporisation appeared to be just temporally and diesels 3241/8 were once again spoiling the fun A morning visit to Zaojiatun found little activity , not even on the electric narrow gauge line ; perhaps a breakdown at the mine ? , otherwise no changes to my June 2004 report . SY noted : 0366 , 0973 , 1092 , 1299 .
And then there was SY 1386 , newly ex-works at Xiaomaozi CNR , apparently on its way back from Jinzhou 701 works to the Chaoyang steelworks ; see Barry Buckfield et al.'s October 2006 report for more details (and thanks for the ride) .

Buses to/from Huludao (CNY 9) and Jinzhou now stop in front of Hungjia station and the hotel , but for the Fuxin (2 daily) and Beijing (1 daily) buses one would have to go to the bus station , 200 m. straight ahead from Hungjia station and then 300 m. further north on the left handside
Huludao (19th-21st October) 
There are lots of hotels around Huludao station square , including two in the station itself . This time I chose the Huludao Jijiudian/Hotel (above the Agricultural Bank of China) , where a single room with bath goes for CNY 100 , including an excellent buffet breakfast . A wangba can be found on the road west from the bus station after about 100-150 m. on the right-hand side .

The spectacular and in its upper reaches quite scenic Huludao-Yangjiazhangzi line , which sees surprisingly few visiting gricers , is still going strong with JS chimney-first both ways and most trains -both west- and eastbound- stalling on the banks leading to the km. 23.8 summit . Indeed the schedule seems to have been altered to suit photographers better with a train of empties leaving Huludao about 12.00 and fulls leaving Yangjiazhangzi at about 9.00 and 14.00 , at least this was observed on both 19th and 21st October and the CNR gatekeeper near the summit told me the first day of the expected earlier eastbound afternoon train . I admit though that on 20th October between 9.30 and 16.15 I only saw one train  , about 11.30 ex Yangjiazhangzi . JS noted : 6243 and 6307 .
To get to the summit and other scenic spots around catch a Yangzhangzi bus from station square , in front of both the CNR and bus stations , to Yejiatun (CNY 4) . For the summit itself , get down just after the km. 35 road marker , cross the CNR line and walk back a few hundred meters on the old road , but the better positions are a bit furter down -either side- from there . See also my June 2004 report .
Train K388/385 (Shenyangbei -) Huludao 22.57 - Chengdu 13.40 (+2) , CNY 466 hard sleeper (l.b.) Even I am not foolish enough to contemplate doing a 39 hour journey hard seat , and Huludao has healthy hard sleeper quotas for a number of long-distance trains .
Shibanxi (26th October - 1st November) :
After a brief stay in Chengdu (see below) I caught city bus 28 (non-AC/AC : CNY 1/2) to Shiyang bus station and a bus (CNY 45) to Qianwei from there . Having stayed in the Feng Huang Binguan in 2004 I now tried the Tian He Binguan , where a CNY 120 standard room was indeed automatically discounted to CNY 80 and  warm water was available continuously (in the morning after running the tap for half an hour or so) .


For the rest , Ameling Algra has in his August 2006 report provided a map showing the hotels and bus stations in Qianwei ; let me just add that most Shibanxi buses (CNY 4) do not continue to Sanjin , but connect at their terminus ( some 500 m. beyond the railway station) with minivans for Sanjin (CNY 2) ; the main exception being the first bus of the day (6.20 from Qianwei) , which does indeed continue to Sanjin (CNY 5) . With the freight now running at least once daily it is strongly recommended to catch this bus out and get on the first up train to Mifeng or beyond if staying in Qianwei . The last bus back from Shibanxi to Qianwei is locally advertised to leave at 18.15 (this is to be checked)  

In Qianwei wangbas can be found on Bei Jie , parallel to the main road between the bus stations , but a bit further towards the river
If I ever come back I will probably stay at least part of the time at Mifeng though , where the friendly and hospitable doctor/pharmacist (see my autumn 2004 report) apart from selling beer (CNY 2.5-3) and egg noodle soup (CNY 3) also offers excellent rooms for CNY 25 per head ; just head for the yellow tiles .

In his May 2006 report -the latest of many highlighting this magnificent line- Rob Dickinson depicted the current timetable . For those less familiar with the line and/or Chinese characters here my transcription , with (aproximate) distances added according to the markers turned up now some of the undergrowth near the line has been cleared :
   1            3             5            7                                  km.          2            4           6           8
7.00       10.30       14.00      17.30      Shibanxi            19.84       9.30      13.00     16.30     20.00
7.15       10.45       14.15      17.45      Yuejin                16           9.15      12.45     16.15     19.45
7.32       11.02       14.32      18.02      Mifeng               10.3         8.58      12.28     15.58    19.28
7.47       11.17       14.47      18.17      Caiziba               7.0          8.48      12.18     15.48    19.18
7.57       11.27       14.57      18.27      Xianrenjiao          5.3         8.38      12.08     15.38    19.08
8.05       11.35       15.05      18.35      Jiaoba                 3.0         8.30      12.00     15.30    19.00
8.10       11.40       15.10      18.40      Bagou                 1.7         8.25       11.55    15.25    18.55
8.15       11.45       15.15      18.45      Huangchunjing     0            8.15       11.45    15.15    18.45
The freight (coal) train was running daily in the morning , at about 8.00 from Shibanxi , crossing train nr. 2 (numbers assigned by me) usually at Mifeng (8.58) or sometimes at Yuejin and the return crossing train nr. 3 usually at Yuejin , but sometimes at Mifeng . Most days there was a second freight , but its timings were much more erratic ; a one hour lay-over between the two freights in Shibanxi is about the minimum and then there are the crossings with the passengers to be taken into account . Once , on 31st October , there was even a third freight : LE up to Xianrenjiao to collect two wagons with logs . Engines noted : 07 , 10 and 14
The summit is at km. 5.8 ; there are 6 tunnels : nrs. 1 and 2 in quick succession between Bagou and Jiaoba , nrs. 3 and 4 also in quick succession between Jiaoba and Xianrenjiao , nr. 5 - the best known- at km. 8.9-9.0 between Caiziba and Mifeng and nr. 6 on the electrified section between Yuejin and Shibanxi . The poster picture with the lake in the background is at km. 3.5 .
Fares for foreigners are CNY 3 per section (o/w) ; section limits are : Shibanxi , Yuejin , Mifeng , Xianrenjiao , Jiaoba and Huangchunjing .

Unusually for foggy Sichuan , I had 3 days (2 full and 2 half) of sunshine against only one rainy day during the 7 days of my stay .
The high (rail)road to India (2nd-12th November) :
The Golmud-Lhasa railway over the 5078 m. high Tanggu La pass opened on 1st July 2006 (see www.chinatibettrain.com) . As all rumours about abolishment of the Tibet (T.T.B.) permit have so far proved to be just rumours foreigners still can not buy tickets to Lhasa at railway stations , but must invoke the services of a travel agent . This is easiest and cheapest done in Chengdu where most foreigners guesthouses have a travel agency attached for mainly this purpose .

When passing through Chengdu on my way from Huludao to Shibanxi I stayed two nights at Sim's Cozy Guesthouse (www.gogosc.com , from CNY 15 dorm) , one of those travellers guesthouse (and a cozy one indeed) with a travel agency attached . Here I booked my train ticket and Tibet (T.T.B.) permit for the train ride to Lhasa . Cost for the permit/handling fee/CNY 30 worth of food on the day of departure/first night dorm in Lhasa/transfers : CNY 450
So , on 2nd November train T 22/3 Chengdu 18.18 - Lhasa 18.28 (+2) , CNY 692 hard sleeper m.b.
Whereas it was convenient to have accomodation lined up when arriving late in Lhasa (at 3700 m.) the Pentoc Guesthouse provided proved , after a recent change of ownership , to be about the worst in Lhasa , so I moved to the Dongcuo Hostel (CNY 20 dorm) the next morning .

Apart from the Lhasa-Shigatse (and possibly the new once or twice weekly Lhasa-Kathmandu) bus service , foreigners can not buy bus tickets for travel in Tibet , but must hire landcruisers from one of the F.I.T. outlets in Lhasa . These can be shared by 4 people ; fellow travellers to share with can be met via/at the notice boards at one of the travellers guesthouses such as the Kirey , BanakShol or the Snowland

In early November it is low season (and cold) in Tibet and rates for landcruiser hire for the journey from Lhasa to Zhangmu on the Nepali border varied between CNY 2500 and CNY 4000 , depending on route/duration of the trip , age of the vehicle and the F.I.T. outlet used . High season rates are upto 50% higher

With three other travellers I hired a new landcruiser from the Kirey 108 F.I.T. outlet for a 5-day trip to Zhangmu via Rongbuk Monastery/Everest Base Camp for CNY 3900 (i.e. CNY 975 per head) including all permits except the Everest/Qomoloongma Conservation Area entry fee of CNY 405 per vehicle and CNY 65 per head .
After 5 very worthwhile days this duly brought us to the frantic border town of Zhangmu from where , after clearing Chinese immigration , a minivan (CNY 10-15 per head) brought us to the Nepali border post at the Friendship Bridge in Kodari , from where it is only four hours by shared taxi to Kathmandu .


From the Kodari border post both buses and shared taxis go to Kathmandu , from where , after a short rest to regain breath , I took an early morning bus for the 11 hour ride to Janakpur . With the good old Hotel Welcome full , I bargained an excellent room at the Hotel Manaki International down to NRs 500 .
Janakpur Rly. (16th November) :
In fact it is probably the Nepal Railway these days , at least that is the name the diesels and carriages show these days
Janakpur is online (www.janakpur.com.np) , but the railway timetable given there is out of date with the Bizalpura line well and truly closed .
The service on the Jaynagar line is now : Janakpurdham dep. : 6.45 , 11.30 , 15.20 and arr. 10.30 , 14.15 , 17.45 as on page 316 of the 2006 edition of the Nepal Lonely Planet guide , in which this line features prominently
Two engines are required to work this service and exactly two diesels are serviceable , ZDM5 524 and 533 . The frames and cabs of their two sisters 535 and 536 are at Janakpurdham shed , with the former possibly a long-term overhaul project but the latter clearly dumped as is a 4wD shunter . The 6th diesel , an (originally) about 600 mm Jung 4wD is dumped at Khajuri works .
All remaining steam engines are at Khajuri works . 0-6-2T nr. 7 (Avonside 2016/1928) appears to be serviceable and is indeed the only reserve in case one of the diesels brakes down , but both its bunker and ashpan were empty , so I would say it hadn't been used recently and there are no spare carriages to draft a third train into service on festival days such as 25th November 2006 .
Of the other engines both Garratts , two modern Hunslet 0-6-2Ts , and one older Hunslet (probably the 4-6-0T) could be described as stored , although most of their fittings had been removed (hopefully for safekeeping) . The DuCroo&Brauns 0-10-0 and O&K 2-6-2T SEETA were clearly dumped and O&K 2-6-2T RAMA is an incomplete building kit like one more small engine . Finally there are 2 boilers of unknown origin . Having seen them working twenty years ago the fate of the two Orensteiners and one of the modern Hunslets particularly touches me .
One is wellcome to look around in the works , but photography requires a permit from the Janakpur office
Morning bus to Kakarbhitta border .

After walking across the border I was first greeted by the big ledger at Raniganj immigration post and 500 m. further by 5 bus conductors , each trying to drag me to his (private) bus . Back in India (and loving it)!! Obviously I took the government bus to Siliguri .
Indian Railways now has an excellent website www.indianrail.gov.in , which offers timetables and occupancy information (go to : "trains between important stations" at the top of the page and if your station is not important enough , then go to "trains between stations" at the bottom of the page)
Steam on 3 gauges (19th November) :
On the evening of 18th November I checked with the Siliguri Jcn. ASM whether this steam event (advertised to involve a WP broad gauge special to Chalsa , a MAWD (MacArthur) metre gauge special to Bagdogra and a n.g. special to Tindharia , all leaving simultaneously at 10.30 about once a month , see the DHR website) would go through the next day and I was told that the event would start at 8.00 .
Arriving at 7.45 the next morning I found only WP 7161 at the head of its special and that indeed left at 8.00 with the clearly enthusiastic crew providing magnificent clag (is this engine oil-fired now?)  for this lone gricer . On board were some staff and about three westerners , but no Indian passengers as far as could be seen . Further enquiries learned me that the schedule had been changed on request of a visiting group and that the metre gauge special would probably run on the 21st instead of on the the 19th , timings yet to be determined (rather inconvenient for the single visitor , but of course sensible enough for them ; see Rob Dickinson's website
www.internationalsteam.co.uk for their report)
DHR/Darjeeling (19th-28th November) :
Heading to Darjeeling I -of course- took train 1D , despite it being diesel hauled these days . On 19th November this train reached Kurseong about 4 hours late at 17.15 after a sloppy track gang had caused a near-derailment and I duly retreated to the good old Tourist Lodge in Kurseong , still as great a place to stay as ever , but regrettably the room rate of INR 100 is no more ; these days it is INR 900/800 for the old/new wing , minus 25% for single occupancy and/or 30% in the 15th January-28th February off-season and plus 5% service charge , so I -with regret- soon moved on to Darjeeling where the Hotel Aliment (high up on the ridge) provided me a less luxurious but quite nice room for INR 250
Steamwise the daily school train , now leaving Kurseong at 6.00 , remains the only normal steam service , but with the 10.00 and 12.50 joy trains Darjeeling-Ghoom v.v. also running daily and quite a few specials and LE workings around there is enough steam activity to keep one occupied
At least on the DHR website
http://www.dhr.in/ (Link broken by January 2024. RD) the only stops advertised for the school train are now the main stations Tung , Sonada and Ghoom . Certainly it was noted running through at Churchgate Halt opposite the Kurseong Tourist Bungalow .
Regrettably , the earlier departure time of 6.00 from Kurseong also means that at this time of the year the school train does not catch the sun until reaching Rangbull siding , even if it is normally late (i.e. at about 9.00 in Ghum) . P.w. work and other things may delay it further though ( even the diesel-hauled NJP-Darjeeling trains rarely get to Darj before 18.00)
Road traffic on the Hill Cart Road has also increased tremendously , especially north of Sonada , since my last visit 10 years ago to the extent of seriously hampering photography and the jeep syndicates clearly have won the battle with the bus syndicate , which makes chasing by public transport much more difficult .
B class noted working : 780 , 782 , 786 , 788 , 791 , 792 , 795 , 802 , 805 .
Only the through NJP-Darjeeling trains 1/2D are diesel ; regrettably the timetable change on 1st December seems not (yet?) to have brought the expected reinstatement of the second NJP-Darjeeling service (after some 20 years) .
Calcutta (1st December) :

Whereas China has changed tremendously -to the extent of , in my humble opinion , being an entirely new country , with new people , over the now twenty years since I first visited it , preciously little has changed in India , apart from some inflation and the proliferation of ATMs (all linked up) and internet cafes . Indeed Calcutta was (still or again?) on strike .
Trams (at least from Raja Bazaar depot) were running though , empty and through empty streets , which offered excellent photographic opportunities .
Nilgiri Rly.(Ooty) (11th January) :
The Mettupalaiyam-Coonoor steam service was still suspended because of landslides caused by the East monsoon (which hits Tamil Nadu in October/November) , but X 37386 was in steam at Coonoor for work trains to the blockage point . The diesel service beteen Coonoor and Ooty was running normally (using biodiesel fuel) . In Ooty the shed has gone and so has most of the yard , with just a loop line and one siding remaining . X 37390 is plinthed at Coonoor .

Here and there :
Pune : F class 724 (ex Barsi Light Railway) is plinthed at the Engineering College in front of Pune Jcn. station

Margao : Reminiscing over Castle Rocks YDs ( Kingfishers are still cold and cheap and the sunsets over the Arabian Sea haven't changed either) I found an interesting white elephant in Margao : A "Skybus" system (based on the "Schwebebahn" idea) running from nothing to nowhere for about 1-1.5 kms. in front of the new broad gauge Margao (Madgaon) station . Two carriages were around ; one on one of the double tracks of that system and one separately on display at the Margao railway station . The old metre gauge station is totally gone

Home :
Although I also considered the new Hong Kong based airline Oasis with its cheap flights to Gatwick (www.oasis-air.com link broken by December 2021) ; a combination of JetStar (www.jetstarasia.com) and AirAsia (www.airasia.com) would have brought me to Macao from Bangalore with the nice train ride from Singapore to Bangkok in between , I in the end decided on the Air Arabia flights from Kochi(Cochin) via Sharjah to Istanbul Sabiha Gokcen (www.airarabia.com , EUR 160 o/w) and Easyjet Istanbul Sabiha Gokcen - Luton - Amsterdam (www.easyjet.com , EUR 89 o/w)  
Postscript :
Once again it was very nice to meet some old friends and make many new ones .

At present it seems likely that this , my 8th since 1986 , steam trip to China was the last one , as it is most unlikely that in a couple of years any serious steam operation will be left there ; but then again forecasting is difficult , especially if it concerns the future .

In the mean time , I may be able to sort out some more old slides , and perhaps I may here refer to the book "Dampf zu Honeckers Zeiten" (www.geramond.de) , which not only -in my obviously biased opinion- catches the atmosphere of East German steam in its last decades very nicely , but also contains quite a bit of (early) photographic work by yours truly.