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Steam in China, 25/12/06 - 06/01/07

Jixi, Jalainur, Meihekou, Yanzhou

by Dave Habraken

Today, I could finish the trip report of my latest China trip in December and January. This time, I decided to stay a longer time at each destination instead of losing a lot of time between a lot of destinations. I visited Jixi, Zhalainuer, Meihekou and Yanzhou.

Jixi area, 25/12/06 – 28/12/06

Hengshan :
They've created a sort of siding on the line from Xin Hengshan towards Zhongxin, just aside of the CNR exchange station (so in fact just after leaving Xin Hengshan). There is also a second connection here with the CNR-tracks. I saw this track in use for shunting, but watch out as suddenly one train leaving Xin Hengshan can pass a train shunting at this other track. So: it's not so clear anymore what will happen next if you are standing at the level crossing at the east of Hengshan CNR and you see a train coming…
Also: to protect this new situation, they had to place some extra signals. At the west side of the well known level crossing on the road to Zhongxin (in the middle of the gradient), they've placed a warning signal (is this the correct English term?). So: if you want to make a shot at the level crossing, this signal will definitely be in the picture, but like I already said last summer: there is a new and better place for pictures now some 150 metres east from the level crossing.
For the rest: everything was business as usual with a lot of empties leaving Xin Hengshan just after shift change.

Didao & Chengzihe:
Nothing new to report…

Also here: business as usual with SY0951 just coming back from smaller repair at the workshop at Jixi and SY's 0477 and 1118 in service. The train pattern was identical as last summer: trains to and from Pinggang and Qikeng before noon, the train to Pinggang was sent to Lishu CNR while the train from Qikeng was emptied at Xinfeng. In the afternoon around dusk, a second train was sent to Qikeng. Very friendly staff at the station who kept sending SMS-messages in English to me, even some days later when I was at Zhalainuer :-). Although it's always dangerous to make speculations about the future, staff at Xinfeng said they're not expecting any diesels over there in 2007. So, if diesels arrive at Jixi, it seems Lishu is not influenced yet.
On my departure at Beijing airport, English gricers told me that the following days, traffic was not running according the here above described pattern, so apparently you'll need some luck visiting Lishu…

Jixi shed:
For the second time in a row, I got refused at the gate… Next time, I'll have to put on a happier face I think :-)

Jixi in general:
Although my visit here was influenced a lot by fog and grey weather in general, this place stays one of the biggest steam resorts in China to me. The amount of heavy action is okay, staff is friendly everywhere and due to the amount of different small systems, you can choose for yourself which system is your favourite (for me, this is most definitely the Lishu-system). It was also nice to meet some British gricers, thanks for the nice time guys :-)

Zhalainuer 29/12/06-1/1/2007

Hehe, I think almost everything must already be said 100 hundred times on the newsgroup so I'll try to give some particular details from my visit.

Deep mine system:
- SY1416 (the misses with the long ears) was used for shunting at the washery on the two days I searched for her. This made it impossible to get a "30 sun ahead-shot" :-(
- I've seen no steam passenger train at the deep mine system although I was at Daqiao long before the shift change around 7:15 on the 30st of December (Saturday). There was one passenger coach standing in the station, but it clearly hadn't moved for some time and I hope this is not the normal car for this service as it missed some windows…
- The gradient between Dongfanghong and Daqiao is interesting for trains in the late afternoon. Depending on the weight of the trains, some engines keep on working, even while entering Daqiao.
- There is quite a lot of traffic between Dongfanghong and Daqiao (at least during my visit…). I saw a lot of light engines moving from the washery to Daqiao to be serviced, but in 2 hours, I also saw 4 trains (3 up, 1 down) between these two stations.
- I've seen SY1284 (open mine loco!) riding towards somewhere beyond Daqiao (I passed at Daqiao later and I didn't see the engine over there…). My guess is that it went to search for spoil tipping cars, used for transport of sand somewhere as I saw the same kind of operation the day afterwards being at Nanzhan (then, SY1371 left Nanzhan in the direction of Dongfanghong, only to come back 3 hours later with this kind of cars).

Open mine systems:
- new to me (second visit here) was the sight of banked trains and even some double headers! Both compositions were in use for longer spoil trains. On two days, they kept one of the passenger train engines in the mine to assist where needed.
- A very interesting train which you can chase by foot, if the dynamite train, bringing in the explosions into the mine. This train was seen on three of four days, and everytime, it entered the mine around 9'o'clock. The entering is of for course not interesting, but when it leaves the mine, you can make pictures of it on the different levels by taking the stairs between these levels while the train has to go all the way to the different reverse stations.
- Passenger trains run as described before. On one day, I've seen the train leaving the mine as described by someone before composed SY+2 cars+SY. The following day, the second engine was kept in the mine to assist where needed
- The light during sunset is magnificent for some more experimental photography, standing near the control station. The sight of the smoke coloured orange and red by the low standing sun is really magnificent. Pictures are on my website at

In general:
Zhalainuer is a world on it's own… The freezing temperatures in contrast to the warm people who work there are almost a reason on
it's own to go there. The continuous action of some 20-30 SY's in the mine make this system an absolute gem in the shortening list of steam
locations in the world.
I had some heavy discussions with taxi-drivers here as they really asked unreasonably high prices… Par example: for a ride from Zhalainuer-centre to the Zhalainuer Xi-station, someone wanted 70RMB! The normal rate is somewhere around 10RMB… Maybe this is given by the fact of the Russian border nearby, but it might be interesting for first time visitors to keep this in mind.

Meihekou 2/1/07-3/1/07

3 steam engines and the diesel were in service on this little system. There was not so much freight traffic, but the passenger train was steam and like John Raby stated some weeks ago: this really made life a lot easier :-) The only problem was the fog (which appeared in big parts of China those days, according CCTV news).
I rented a taxi to follow the train from Sijing towards Sanjing and back. I found a young and very enthousiastic taxi driver which was reasonable with his price: 80RMB for the whole trip, taking us more then 2 hours. His phone number is 13624455513 . I can really recommend him, as he understands "what gricers want". During one ride from Sijing to Sanjing, I was able to make 4 decent pictures of this train.

In general:
This was my first visit to this system which I made for two reasons:
a lot of people are relatively enthousiactic about this system and the opportunity to finally make a nice shot of a decorated engine was difficult to resist. Yes, after 7 previous trips, I still don't have a satisfying shot of a decorated engine working with a train… Of course, the curse continued as both decorated engines were nice put one aside the other in the shed… Will this curse ever stop?????
Not all Chinese train guards want to rob gricers: when I boarded the passenger train at one occasion, the woman didn't want me to pay for the ride, I was her guest :-) "Of course", the Chinese passengers had to pay as always…
There is a very good restaurant (mainly fish but also other very nice food) on the road in front of the station a little to the north. It's called TangLongJoZhian. The boss here even brought me some free dishes as he was really excited to have a foreigner in his restaurant. Really great atmosphere!

Yanzhou 5/1/07-6/1/07

After the reports from previous visitors, I decided to give it a go and also to visit Yanzhou during two days. Looking at this decision afterwards, I don't regret one single bit of it :-)

On the way from Tienjin towards Yanzhou, my fellow passenger was an engineer who had worked in one of the mines around Jining for 2 years. His English was quite good, so I could get some extra information from him. The mines north of Jining (Daizhuang and Xuchang) indeed belong to the Zibo Coal Mining Company as Peter Haworth stated before. The other system (operational centre at DaDongZhan) belongs to the Yanzhou Coal Mine Group Industrial Company. He could confirm that steam is still running but that it would vanish soon…

You have hotels/guesthouses of different quality classes around the big square in front of the station at Yanzhou. Renting a room here
suits fine as you'll easily find a taxi here and a lot of busses depart here (I didn't check them out though).

About transport around Yanzhou: it's very unadvisable to go by bus to the steam railways in the neighbourhood as once you are left behind around the mines, you won't find another taxi to continue your steam chase so chasing trains or reacting to changes in schedules might become very, very difficult without a private taxi.

I started my QJ-chase at Dadongzhan at 7:30. As mentioned before, the QJ's under pressure (4 in total) were gathered here around this time for shift change. The stabling point (there is no real depot at Dadongzhan in contradiction to some previous reports) is not extremely scenic. However, 4 QJ's standing 2 by 2 next to each other provide are a nice sight to start the day with :-) The guy I met on the train the day before translated a lot of useful phrases into Chinese language concerning the schedule for the engines. Unfortunately, this didn't help as the local railway workers gave me completely wrong information, so watch out with their hints about where to go… Around 9:00, high deflectored QJ7126 ran loose towards Fucun to search for a long rake of empties. It then ran directly towards Jining-Sankuang to get this train loaded. I followed this train and met QJ7190 at Nantun which just left with a long and loaded train towards the power plant at Zouxian. Now, I could continue to Changying, where staff was very helpful and told me that QJ7126 was about to leave with it's train at Sankuang. So, I searched for a place nearby the station but then the police showed up… An old guy, not even in uniform but definitely a cop wanted me to stop taking pictures. I showed him other pictures, my passport and so on, but this didn't help. Of course, the train was just coming: I already could hear it whistle. I was just in time to go back to the taxi and to go some kilometres further down the line to take my picture there. Unfortunately, this place was a lot less scenic with electricity poles in the picture, but at least, I didn't miss the picture of this very long and heavy working train… After this short excitement, I continued towards somewhere near Nantun and we could catch this train a second time. Also here, it was working, but trees just aside of the tracks at both sides made this shot less attractive standing relatively close to the tracks… Oh, before I forget: on the loaded coal trains around Dadongzhan are some 20 police men with fighting equipment (stick, helmets). Apparently, they have had some coal robberies here in the past? Anyhow, to us gricers, they are no problem: they were all very friendly, waving, and one of them even making the peace-sign to me :-)
After this first real action, we continued to Baodian, where we heard a train shunting. Apparently, we have just missed it because when we arrived, it had left… We then headed back to Nantun, where QJ7189 was shunting with a coal train loaded at the washery/mine (?) here. Anyhow, this installation is quite big: also a diesel was shunting here. It was now 16:00 and the QJ's were expected at the stabling point at Dangzhuangzhan again. This was only partly the truth as QJ6811 was here all day long as spare engine and just QJ7126 came in to be serviced. Interesting though was the diesel crane used to load the tender with extra coal.

About the diesels:
Yes, there are of lot of D4DD's running here, but once that you've figured out where the steam engines are going, they don't give much trouble. I even have the idea that the diesels are concentrated a lot around the same places (Nantun and Dadongzhan for shunting par example) but I'm not sure of it. Can anybody confirm/correct this info?
Questioning a lot of people when steam will vanish here, they all pointed out 2008 as the year that the QJ's will be gone. I didn't see the new arrived diesels described by Peter but I didn't go to the shed at Zouxian neither. Are they still in there or have they moved to another location of this mine group?

Anyway, at Dadongzhan, I got the information hat there's a second place where some of the former Dadongzhan QJ's should be active. They called this place Yanzhou Zioguachang. I visited it the day afterwards and it turned out to be a newly opened washery. They normally have 3 QJ's here, 6936, 7188 and 7191, but this last one was in repair somewhere (Zouxian?). So, I've only seen the first two engines (both with big deflectors). They were being serviced (7:30-9:30). Afterwards they went shunting in the yard. The problem here is that this whole factory, including the yard and the stabling point, is protected from coal thieves by a big wall. At the stabling point, there was a whole in the wall so I could easy enter the facilities, but I don't think it is a good idea to try the same trick around the yard… So: I had to be satisfied with some pictures at the stabling point, but anyhow: I didn't come to China to see some QJ's shunting in a modern yard… So: yes, I've discovered a new locations with QJ's, but it isn't that interesting I'm afraid… (read a little further for a possible exception though)

I then continued towards Yanzhou Xi, which is in fact very easy to reach from the washery as it is just aside of it, following the railway line. On the branch coming from Dongzhuan, there was a train hauled by high deflectored QJ7127 waiting at the entrance signal of the station. I only had to wait 5 minutes before it came in, unfortunately only with minor exhaust. Now, THE interesting thing about Yanzhou Xi is that both QJ's from the Zibo Coal railway as also QJ's with trains from the washery enter this station. So: you can make pictures from both company' QJ's in this station! I didn't check it out any further as the weather was to nice and I wanted some garanteed results, but it must be possible to make a nice picture of a QJ entering this station coming from the washery.

After having digitalised the incoming QJ7127, I headed for Dongzhuan where I couldn't get in to the workshop. The guard phoned the manager but he was afraid the language problem would be too big so he preferred not letting me in, so I was told by somebody who translated this to me. The guard then made it clear that he could let me in for some money which I refused. I was not so keen on spending a lot of time here anyway but I wanted to get an idea from the whole situation in this depot as… I saw 2 diesels from a distance :-((((( So: bad news is on the way from this steam location :-( I then headed for the two mines at Xuchang and Daizhuang but no trains were seen at these mines. The only logic conclusion was to return to Dongzhuan and to see what was happening over there. This turned out to be a very good decision as just when I arrived, QJ7127 was leaving with a very long train of loaded C62's. It must have formed this train while I headed for the mines of course. The departure of this train was quite spectacular by the way! Once the train was gone, I could see the two diesels a little bit better. Looking the place where they stood, it seems, they already replaced 2 QJ's around here so only QJ7127 was still in service. I could see 3 other QJ's cold at the depot in a distance so this seems to confirm they are only using 1 QJ anymore. Luckily, this one was doing all the work during my visit. With this bad news, we headed for Yanzhou Xi where I could just see the train coming in again. After this engine returned to Dongzhuang again, I headed for Dadongzhan (Yanzhou system).

On the way to Dadongzhan (half an hour ride from Yanzhou Xi), we met QJ6811 on it's way to Xinlongzhuang. It started shunting there directly and was ready to leave with a very long coal train towards the power plant within half an hour. I found a scenic point between the two cross roads in front of the mine, but while waiting for this train for 2 (…) hours, the sun turned too far so the light wasn't that good anymore. Quite disappointed, I headed for Dadongzhan-triangle where I then wanted to make a picture of this train as the sun would be in a better position over there.

Arriving at Dadongzhan, only QJ7189 was in the depot and high deflectored QJ7126 just left towards Baodian. Within 5 minutes, I could hear a train moving in from Nantun. It was QJ7190 with a very long coal train. Unfortunately, it was impossible to make a picture from it as the sun was really in a bad position for this train, but it definitely was a very nice sound with this QJ working hard. I then walked about a mile towards Baodian when I saw QJ6811 coming with it's long train from Xinlongzhuang. This engine was really giving the best of it with this heavy train, taking the triangle to the power plant at Zouxian! I made my picture at a cross road, where it was very difficult to cut all the electricity poles out of the image. Anyhow, I've got my picture from a QJ with a long train working hard and it certainly was a very nice moment to hear a hammering QJ once again :-)
Believe it or not: only 10 minutes later, also QJ7126 returned with a short train of loaded C62's, towards Dadongzhan. Wow, this was the third train with a QJ in 30 minutes! Also this engine was working at the gradient towards the triangle. I've made a picture from it when it crossed a small bridge, which suited fine for this short train. Finally, I headed for the stabling point, where QJ7126 just arrived, giving me superb possibilities for a glint shot. With 10 children looking at the laowei, 2 QJ's and a magic sunset, this was a nice end of yet another China-trip

Conclusions about Yanzhou:
The good news: I saw 7 QJ's in steam on three locations (that's one more then expected hehe). Their appearance goes from nice to "like new"! What a sight to see such clean QJs, great!
The bad news: it seems the end is very near for at least one of these systems (Zibo coal mining group) but probably for all three of the systems…
A good taxi driver is definitely needed to get the maximum out of this place. Not only will you drive around a lot on one day, you also will have to take some very bad roads (my brand new taxi had only 4000km's on it's counter, ouch…). Also, your success will depend a lot of the driver itself: if he doesn't help you to get information about the whereabouts of the tracks, you will loose a lot of time. My driver did perfect over the whole line. I really can recommend him a lot. His number is 13054950919. I paid 260RMB per day for his services.

Conclusions in general about this trip:

If you don't like SY's, it's probably best to stay at home from now on… If you do like them however (and why shouldn't you?), there are still a lot of nice things to see. Okay, the distances between locations are increasing but you can counter this problem by spending more time at interesting, heavy action locations as Jixi and Zhalainuer. If Bernd's info is correct and Jixi will dieselise as fast as predicted from may on, this will hit hard as it is one of the most intensive steam locations dissapearing…
The biggest problem this trip was the fog in a lot of places (5 days on 12…) but I suppose this was really bad luck as it was the head news on CCTV9 for two days…

Thans a lot to everybody sharing the info about their trips. Especially to the people who helped me with my visit to Yanzhou. This info turned out to be very, very usefull at this relatively unknown place.


The pictures of this trip are on my website. The photographical trip report, you can find at: http://www.spoorwegnostalgie.be/China/China8/China8.htm

A special report, dedicated to a superb sunset is reachable via: http://www.spoorwegnostalgie.be/China/oudejaar%202006/oudejaar%202006.htm

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2007 Dave Habraken