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Steam in China - May, June 2007

by Roger Blundell

Shibanxi, Liujiaxia, Baiyin, Sandaoling, Pingdingshan, Nanpiao, Dayan, Jalainur, Tiefa, Fuxin

Sunday 13 May
BA039 to Beijing at £410, could have got this a bit cheaper but unable to be flexible on dates.

Monday 14 May
Arrive 0930, 5 early, then Sichuan Airlines flight at 1050 to Chengdu. The first two airline counters I tried had no economy seats available to Chengdu until 2030 but girl at second counter told me to go to the Sichuan Airlines window and they had tickets for sale. A snip at Y1570 (£107). Departs at 1105, full in economy, arrives 1325. Book ticket to Lanzhou for 17th, my favoured 2200 hrs flight seems to have been discontinued, schedules now 0840, 1125 and 1410. Take the latter, Y550 (£37). Note that the 1125 goes on to Dunhuang, useful perhaps for Sandaoling.
Very few taxis at airport but after a short while the driver of a big black unmarked car asks me where I am going. I tell him Qianwei and he quotes Y700 (£48). I burst out laughing and then tell him that last year I paid Y280 (not quite true). To my surprise he agrees to take me at this price and off we go. Down the road he reports to his office on the lines of ‘I’ve got this laowei in my cab and I agreed to take him to Qianwei for Y280’. The reply appeared to be along the lines of ‘you effing did what?’ So after more haggling I had to accept an increase to Y320 (£22), not too bad really, after all its over a hundred miles. We departed the airport 1410, changed vehicles in the suburbs then with speeds up to 85mph alternating with slower spells to take phone calls (we even stopped on the hard shoulder to facilitate two calls at once) and dithering beyond Leshan we reached the Qianwei roundabout at 1708. Depart again at 1710 in a local taxi at with a very keen driver who broke all the records with speeds up to 70 mph to deposit me at Shibanxi station by 1720.
So 17 hours 10 minutes after taking off from Heathrow I stepped onto my first steam hauled train of the trip.

14   1730 Shibanxi – Bagou 1840
Glad I made the effort to catch this rather than wait for next mornings 0700 because a notice in the train stated that this train and the 1030 now run an hour earlier. Travelled in the staff coach – in fact on most runs I was directed to this vehicle.
There were a few Chinese tourists on the platform as we left but after that it was totally old China on a typically misty evening on this lovely line.
Two nights were spent at the Cackling Crone Ludian, room Y50, breakfast Y5 and a meal on the second night for Y15. Her memory must be going, last year I paid Y25 for dinner.
Although there could only ever be one cackling crone the elder daughter (now with stained false teeth) does a passable imitation and is obviously being groomed to take over eventually. By the way, both daughters have split with their husbands so if any of you unattached enthusiasts fancy a new life with a charming 50 year old or a rather more glamorous 38 year old (slimmed down from last year and quite well turned out) this could be your big opportunity. I’m sure there’s someone out there who would love to have the cackling crone as a mother in law!

Tuesday 15 May
14   0710 Bagou – Huangcunjin
14   0715 Huangcunjin – Shibanxi
14   0930 Shibanxi – Huangcunjin
14   1530 Jiaoba – Shibanxi
14   1730 Shibanxi – Bagou
Very wet during the middle of the day, but all part of the atmosphere I suppose. Phot around Huangcunjin and Jiaoba, the latter quite good. Coal empties ran at about 1245 ex Shibanxi then the loaded train crossed the passenger at Jiaoba at 1505.
Some passenger trains not too full but others very crowded. Just a few Chinese tourists about plus three Japanese enthusiasts. There are now two tourist coaches available for use. The main problem with them is their high roof. Find an internet café in Bagou (a town with no roads!), down the wide stairway near the ludian end of the park and a few yards on the right. Get the latest Beipiao news here which saved me a wasted journey.

Wednesday 16 May
14   0710 Bagou – Huangcunjin
14   0715 Huangcunjin – Mifeng
14   1002 Mifeng – Huangcunjin
14   1515 Huangcunjin – Shibanxi
Phot at Mifeng in the morning, including coal empties up at 0800 with the loaded train returning at 0915. A huge fridge freezer arrives by train at Xianrenjiao on an open wagon and is carried away in a specially constructed bamboo frame. Stupid tourist coach appears at the front end of the 1400 train and drops off Chinese tourists at Bagou.
Bus to Qianwei and overnight there at the Fenghuang Hotel, a bargain Y60 room (£4.10) offered without even having to haggle, with all facilities including hot water and towels. No deposit required either, ideal for quick getaway in the morning.
Very good foot massage in side street off other side of main road between hotel and local bus station, also Y60.

Thursday 17 May
0640 bus to Chengdu Shiyang, first of the day I think, the next one may not be until 0730. Unable to find bus 804 easily so bottle out and take taxi to airport (Y40 including toll). Unable to change air ticket to 1125 flight . 1410 arrives Lanzhou right time at 1520 helped by Ryanair type breaking for the turn off adjacent to terminal. Lowest quote for taxi to Liujiaxia is Y400 (£27) so take bus into Lanzhou then taxi onwards. Gets along very quickly so I divert him to Yanguoxia to intercept the returning mixed. We hurtle down bendy mountain road then once over the river the road disintegrates either under repair or unpaved. Arrive Yanguoxia at 1812, perfect timing for the mixed through the gorge to Liujiaxia. But it soon becomes apparent that all is not well, the locals shake their heads and say go by mianbo. Confirmed by two young English speaking girls that the passenger no longer runs so after 45 minutes give up and start negotiations with mianbo driver for a price to Liujiaxia (plenty of buses arriving at that time but none leaving). Haggling starts at Y100, watched by a large crowd, eventually I get this reduced to Y65 (£4.40), the driver obviously didn’t realise what a weak bargaining position I was in.
We set off to find the road out of town blocked, a digger was removing the whole of the concrete surface layer and an incoming bus was completely stuck in the remaining gravel. So we diverted along the side of an irrigation canal above the town then back over the river and up the mountain pass to the summit then down the valley into Liujiaxia. To save fuel all the downhill section was covered with the engine switched off. Journey took almost an hour. Huakuang Hotel for the night at Y80 (£5.40) with all facilities but a bit scruffy. Massage upstairs Y88, o.k. but not good value for money, the gentlemen masseurs have been replaced by girls (at least for the male clientele).

Friday 18 May
Taxi to Gucheng at 0630, Y6. No sign of any coaching stock and a draisine railcar works the school shuttle to Liujiaxia. One JS was in steam and another arrived light engine from the Lanzhou direction at 0800. Wagons and brake van were in the yard. I was told firstly that the train would go at 0900, it didn’t, then at 1100, but again not and during the late morning JS 8227 was still bringing wagons in from nearby sidings and Liujiaxia. I suspect the train went out during the early afternoon but at 1130 I gave up waiting and decided to cut my losses and head off to Baiyin. Take town taxi from Liujiaxia to Lanzhou station, Y150 (£10.20) agreed in advance. A good run, took about 90 minutes, not too much traffic & the new road along the river helps. Book hard sleeper to Hami for 20th (Y292/£19.90) then bus to Baiyin. Stay at Tongcheng Hotel, Y80 single room with all facilities except that a/c not working – just open the window – no problem, it’s only the sixteenth floor!

SY 2008   1815 Baiyin – Shenbutong 1855
SY 2008   1915 Shenbutong – Baiyin 1950
Outward train makes emergency brake application just after leaving Baiyin almost hitting a cyclist, he and bike were manhandled onto train and handed over to authority at Gongshi. A very good thrash run up through the hills to Shenbutong and a brilliant sunset on the return highlighting all the beauties of Baiyin.
Relax in bathhouse just round the corner to the hotel, like last year all very pleasant, use of bathhouse and massage Y118 (£8). Highly recommended. Have the most expensive oil massage and ask for the room with wall and ceiling mirrors – something to look back on when things get a bit boring and tedious at home. Judging from the sign language even more is on offer at the bathhouse from different young ladies.

Saturday 19 May
0735 to Sanyelian did not run.

SY 2008   0750 Baiyin – Shenbutong 0830
SY 2008   0910 Shenbutong – Baiyin 0945
Train is load 6. Again some very good noise. Draw cash out on Bank of China ATM on corner just past bathhouse with Nationwide card.

SY 2008   1515 Baiyin – Shenbutong 1555
SY 2008   1700 Shenbutong – Baiyin 1735
SY 2008   1815 Baiyin – Shenbutong 1855
SY 2008   1915 Shenbutong – Baiyin 1950
Thrash not so good on the 1515, I may have been on the wrong side. 1815 was superb though, flailed along for 25 minutes. Alighting passengers at Sanyelian run for cover or wait behind loco to avoid being showered in cinders as train moves off.
No passengers on the platform at Sanyelian for the 1700 so it didn’t stop.
Another relaxing evening in the bathhouse. If your after bashing choice in China is alcohol you can drink what passes for beer at the open air bars in the square.
Fall asleep to the sound of chime whistles.

Sunday 20 May
0735 to Sanyelian again did not run. This is a change since my visit on Sunday 18 June last year when it was running.

SY 2008   0750 Baiyin – Shenbutong 0830
SY 2008   0910 Shenbutong – Baiyin 0945
Getting a bit boring with the same loco for three days but must not complain. Good noisy climb up from Sanyelian.
Back to hotel to remove cinders and soot then bus to Lanzhou and T295 at 1601 to Hami. Train runs to Wuweinan in little over 3 hours, the steam timing over the old route was about 7½ hours, the current timings benefit of course from much realignment and new diversions including the Tianzhu tunnel which must be at least 10 miles long. Try hard not to look out of the windows – it would have brought back too many memories.

Monday 21 May
Arrive Hami 5 early at 0609.
Book hard sleeper to Zhengzhou for 24 May on T198 (Hami has an allocation for this but nothing available on T154) Y424 (£28.90). Very helpful girl on the window checks that I have got my dates right, the train leaves at 0126.
Taxi direct from Hami station, past Sandaoling town to the end of the paved road in Nanquan, the closest point to Dongboli station on the mine railway. Arrived 0730 & cost Y171 (£11.60) on the meter, expensive but it did the business. Something I only then realised about metered taxi journeys in China is that if you go at high speed the meter ticks up more quickly – no wonder taxis are driven so fast.
Hami station to Sandaoling centre (km 134.5 approx) is 80 km/50 miles and the nearest point on highway 502 to Dongboli station is Km 131 post.

JS 8193   0843 Dongboli – Xiboli - Opencast Mine – Xiboli – Dongboli 0925
No problems in travelling on this train, formed of two box vans and a driving trailer for reverse running. At Xiboli eight JS worked spoil trains are lined up waiting the crew change with four other JS close by – a very fine sight. The line leaving the mine at the east end was busy during the morning with both coal and spoil traffic.
Walk down towards Nanzhan to find SY 1729 emptying a coal train at Xuanmeichang. The pilotman invited me into his cabin for the next round trip.

SY 1729   1345 Xuanmeichang – Opencast Mine – Xuanmeichang 1500
An interesting experience, train ran a fair way towards the west end of the pit so as to be able to reach the very bottom. Loading took about half an hour. Loco crew apologise to me for not allowing footplate, no room with a crew of four. Plenty of traffic on the move in the mine. Very rough riding at anything other than very slow speed, thoughts crossed my mind of derailing and being buried under 500 tons of coal.
Many thanks to Bernd Seiler, Mr H.H. Wu and John Agnew for posting maps of the system, all very helpful for the lone traveller.
The line leading into Sandaoling town just north of 502 seems to serve the towns’ coal depot. A train came out of the opencast with two JS and reversed up onto this line.
Taxi back to town late afternoon, charged Y10, Yinhe Hotel full, taken by hotel chef to Jinhun Hotel, just east of the lower traffic lights. This hotel also busy so unable to bargain down the price of Y110 (£7.50) for a room with facilities. Even that room only became available when the bloke in front of me in the queue who was given it did a swap with the suite that I was offered. The hotel does food and it was quite good quality.

JS 8193   2039 Dongboli – Xiboli - Opencast Mine – Xiboli – Dongboli 2122
At the last minute as we climbed back to Xiboli a fierce sunset appeared through the clouds with the low light glinting on the row of eight JS tenders.
This train and the morning one both ran beyond Xiboli on the return up towards the tips as reported by Duncan Cotterill.
There is a bus back from Dongboli into Sandaoling at 2140 and there are also workers buses at Xiboli at 0900 and 2100.
I walked back though and savoured the sight of a downhill JS passing with a shower of red cinders in the twilight. Bus splutters past on the outskirts of Sandaoling doing all of 20mph. Note two Uighyr ladies tying up a goat by the roadside on the edge of town.

Tuesday 22 May
Taxi to Nanquan in heavy rain. Once more I was told fare is Y10. The ladies again by the roadside with their goat, surely they hadn’t been there all night?

JS 6430   0839 Dongboli – Xiboli - Opencast Mine – Xiboli 0908
Train does not run up to tip this morning, nor indeed was it to do so in the evening.
Walk into pit, cold and windy morning, much snow had appeared on the mountains, perhaps as low as halfway down. Plenty of action, could see 6 or 7 locos at any one time usually something on the move uphill. Most of the activity is at the Xi end of the mine and much of the spoil that is being removed is from a higher level, not really within the pit at all, and all on the south side. The coal seam at the bottom is long and deep.
No sooner was I in the pit than it started raining heavily and soon got very muddy underfoot. Stop half way along in signal cabin to warm up and dry out – and this is supposed to be a hot desert!
Continue through mine to the Dong/east end where there is a good level of activity with spoil and coal being taken out uphill and you can get good photos, sometimes with a background of snow capped peaks. Good noise from the locos, mostly JS but SY 1729 also in use (load 11, the same as the JS take up).
Back into town for food. Judging from the angle of growth of the newly planted trees strong winds from the mountains are commonplace here. There is a very high level of police presence in the Sandaoling area (and also in Hami) but they don’t bother you. Although Sandaoling is a typical Chinese town many people are Uighyr/muslim and a lot of older folk wear traditional clothes and headgear. Men laid out carpets for sale in the street and I even saw one old boy grazing three goats under the trees on the main street.
Back out again for the workman’s train. This time charged Y5 for the taxi so this would seem to be the norm. If you hail a taxi along 502 that is going back empty to Sandaoling they don’t argue if you give them Y5.

JS 6261   2044 Dongboli – Xiboli - Opencast Mine – Xiboli – Dongboli 2121
Another brilliant sunset over Xiboli at 2105 hrs with the usual 8 JS lined up for the crew change. Due to exhaustion I decide to go back into on the bus, an old bendy bus with wooden slatted seats and no lights. Very full, grinds and clatters along struggling to get into third gear and reach 25 mph – real old China stuff. It doesn’t run straight up the main street but turns left by the bus terminal.

Wednesday 23 May
Investigate the Nanzhan area. Taxi out to approximately kp 128 on Z502 highway then short walk into yard which you can access from immediately beyond the factory area.
A trip to the washery is ready to leave and I am invited up onto the engine.

JS 8081   0830 Nanzhan – Xuanmeichang – Nanzhan 0850
No wagons ready for transfer to CNR but at 0840 JS 8358 takes empties to the nearer deep mine and returns at 1115, giving me a long tedious wait to photograph it on a clear sunny day with a strong biting cold wind. By 1200 a train for the CNR is formed up and JS 8081 is attached but shows no sign of movement.
Walk back to Dongboli for lunch and then some more fotting. Traffic is blocked back for some reason but a spoil train trapped on the curve into the station made a good photo with the snow capped mountains for a background. Taxi back to centre at 1530 passing an Iveco minibus outside the terminal loading for Hami. Do some shopping, walk back (½ mile) and bus is still there, eventually fills up and departs at 1630. Many of the ‘passengers’ are elderly relatives of younger people who are simply keeping their seats for them, as the bus slowly moves through town they phone them to say the bus is coming and as they appear the bus stops and they swap over. We reach Hami by 1800. These buses start up fairly late, 0730/0800 but run later than usual for China, the last one from Sandaoling is said to be at 1800.
Hami is a smart modern and characterless city. While away the evening in the plushest bathhouse centre yet – at the back of the Jiageda Hotel where a Baiyin style all inclusive body and foot oil massage costs Y188 (£12.80)

Thursday 24 May
To the station at midnight where there is an internet café in the basement of the frontage then onto T198 at 0126. The operations on the eastbound island platform are very impressive. T54 rolls out at 0111 as T198 enters the other face then as we leave T194 the 0138 to Hankou pulls in alongside – all 17/18 coach trains of course.
T198 not crowded all 4 berths above me empty all night and hard seats not full either. Comfortable journey but air conditioning not working, and there was me thinking how much more efficient the Chinese Railway system was compared to Britain. Even on to Zhengzhou 25% of the sleepers were empty.

Friday 25 May
Zhengzhou arrive 8 late at 0644 then bus to PDS North at 0745 arriving 1005 (Y51). Taxi to station where the 0850 from Shisankuang had just arrived with JS. On to the Pingdingshan Fandian where following a price increase a standard room is Y160. Got this lowered to Y140 (£9.50) for a two night stay.
At Travel Agency attempt to get sleeper on K370/367 from Zhengzhou to Jinzhou for 28 May but none available, only seats. Surprising this because train only starts at Hankou. So to plan B and a hard sleeper on train 1056 to Huludaobei (although a slow train it does not stop at either Jinzhou station). Even on this train accommodation was tight, no lower berths available Y230 (£15.70) for middle berth.
On the next block to the hotel (towards Baofeng) on the same side of the road is a cash machine which accepts a debit card and gave a good rate of Y15.06 to the £..

JS 8068   1330 Zhongxin – Hanzhuang 1535
JS 8068   1549 Hanzhuang – Zhongxin 1758
1340 to Shisankuang also steam, JS I think.
Two quiet runs with 8068 on a hot sultry afternoon, a bit disappointing after some good thrash runs with SY on previous visits to this line. Not a bad afternoon though, how many places in the world nowadays are there where you can savour four hours of continuous steam haulage.
After a good but expensive meal at the Fandian adjourn to the bathhouse to enjoy the respectable end of the up market massage business (the girls here are very sweet here and pamper you more than usual) then to bed where like in Baiyin you can fall asleep to the sound of chime whistles.

Saturday 26 May
SY 1209   0740 Zhongxin – Hanzhuang 0945
SY 1209   0955 Hanzhuang – Zhongxin 1200
Better runs than the previous day with some good noise from the loco.

SY 1209   1340 Zhongxin – Shisankuang 1450
SY 1209   1700 Shisankuang – Zhongxin 1810
More good running with the SY on both trains, better than usual for this line. Harvesting in the fields was almost complete and corn was out drying on the roads and station platforms. Another hot (96°F) day. Return train arrived back at Zhongxin 25 late after a long signal check at Tianzhuang – this problem often seems to befall the 1700 train.

The whole system was busy with coal traffic and many new sidings and mines are under construction. There remains a good volume of JS action despite much diesel activity. At the shed QJ 6850 was on the scrap road having its tender emptied of coal but on a more positive note QJ 6786 was forming up a coal train at a station on the Shisankuang line.
At Zhongxin JS 8030 makes a fine sight and sound restarting an 1800 ton eastbound coal train up through the station with exhaust echoing off the surrounding tall buildings. At present the first section east from Zhongxin is effectively roadside for about 300 yards, the parallel road has been widened and all the buildings and walls between the two have been demolished.

Beware of high charges for international phone calls from your room in the PDS Fandian. First you have to pay Y200 deposit to have the line unlocked then 3 calls to UK cost me nearly £20. Better to get people to phone you. Direct line to your room is 0086 375 268 8XXX, the last three digits being your room number.

Sunday 27 May
SY 1209   0740 Zhongxin – Hanzhuang 0945
SY 1209   0955 Hanzhuang – Zhongxin 1200
JS 8068   1330 Zhongxin – Hanzhuang 1535
JS 8068   1549 Hanzhuang – Zhongxin 1758

Rather a quiet trundle with the SY on a warm humid morning and by afternoon the temperature was up to 98°F. Travelling gets a bit hard going, hot air blows into coach, just like being in an oven and brings back memories of bashing in India during the hot season. To try and cool down passengers were actually shutting the windows (coaches all have working fans). Heat and atmosphere made worse by widespread stubble burning with fierce fires, smoke and ash everywhere.
The Friday and Sunday afternoon trains were full of school kids who stay in PDS all week and go back home at weekends.

Monday 28 May
JS 8068   0600 Zhongxin – Shisankuang 0710
JS 8068   0850 Shisankuang – Zhongxin 1000
A good run out in the early morning light but more of a trundle on the return with another late arrival. 1110 bus PDS North bus station to Zhengzhou arr 1335 (Y52). Pleased that bus was air conditioned, temperature this day in PDS 101°F. Also of note is that PDS taxis are all air conditioned and metered with friendly drivers, a journey in one is almost a pleasure! If only taxi travel was like that everywhere in China.
Train 1056, despite its lowly status now has ‘new’ a/c stock but rather scruffy, tatty and smelly. Gets looped frequently for faster trains (i.e. all the others, including parcels). It now departs Zhengzhou earlier at 1559.

Tuesday 29 May
1056 is due to be at Huludaobei from 0937 to 1007 but because we were just a few minutes late they looped us at the previous station for two high speed trains and consequently we arrived at 1028, 51 late. The station is way out of town but local bus 21 runs out there & taxis are available. Asked the price of a taxi to Nanpiao and to my surprise told Y120 (£8.20). I dived in before the driver had time to change his mind. We go via the town, passing Huludao station and stop for petrol although there is a more direct route avoiding the town – perhaps that involves a toll. Give driver Y130 and we continue directly to the new Xinghe Hotel just beyond Xiamiaozi where we arrive at 1210.
A leisurely lunch en route to the station where I am very pleased and relieved to see smoke rising from the front end of the 1435 to Huangjia.

SY 1092   1435 Xiamiaozi – Huangjia 1441
SY 1092   1446 Huangjia – Linghe 1534
SY 1092   1640 Linghe - Huangjia 1728
SY 1092   1733 Huangjia – Sanjiazi 1827
SY 1092   1840 Sanjiazi – Huangjia 1928
SY 1092   1933 Huangjia – Xiamiaozi 1939

The other passenger circuit was BJ diesel worked. Four SY and two BJ were in use with much coal traffic on the move.
The system was as delightful and ramshackle as ever with some good noise on the banks, especially on the 1733 to Sanjiazi.
Room without window at the hotel Y120, good fish dinner in the restaurant downstairs.

Wednesday 30 May
Wake up call at 0350. A bright chilly morning. Once again very glad to see smoke rising from 1092 at the platform.

SY 1092   0440 Xiamiaozi – Linghe 0514
SY 1092   0521 Linghe – Huangjia 0617
SY 1092   0622 Huangjia – Sanjiazi 0731
SY 1092   0845 Sanjiazi – Huangjia 0941
SY 1092   0945 Huangjia – Xiamiaozi 0951
SY 1092   1435 Xiamiaozi – Huangjia 1441
SY 1092   1446 Huangjia – Linghe 1534
SY 1092   1640 Linghe - Huangjia 1728
SY 1092   1733 Huangjia – Sanjiazi 1827
SY 1092   1840 Sanjiazi – Xiamiaozi 1911

The other circuit was diesel most of the day but SY 1299 worked the 0849 from Linghe into Xiamiaozi.
The sun rose above the hills at 0455, nice light for the early morning trails of clag. Even at this time people were up and about their business, working fields, tending smallholdings, travelling behind steam or merely scavenging for coal. The morning trains were average for noise, afternoon was better, good coming back from Linghe and both ways on the Sanjiazi run.
The long gap between morning and afternoon activity is a pain but boredom was alleviated by a spell at the hotel bathhouse centre where a one hour massage (Y60) degenerated into a very close study of my phrase books with the skimpily clad young masseuse on the bed. Even though I didn’t get much of a massage I suppose there are a lot worse ways for a sixty year old to spend an hour.
SY 1387 appeared in the CNR Xiamiaozi yard during the evening in ex works condition, so someone is still overhauling SY. Whilst eating at the hotel restaurant from 2015 to 2055 two SY freights went out on the Sanjiazi line.

Thursday 31 May
A warmer and misty morning. Both the passengers steam today, SY 1299 on the other set.

SY 1092   0440 Xiamiaozi – Linghe 0514
SY 1092   0521 Linghe – Huangjia 0617
SY 1092   0622 Huangjia – Sanjiazi 0731
SY 1092   0845 Sanjiazi – Huangjia 0941
SY 1092   0945 Huangjia – Xiamiaozi 0951
Good thrash running on both routes. At Xiamiaozi there were about 300 people on the platform off the 0849 form Linghe waiting to board the 0845 from Sanjiazi. A wonderful sight for 2007, two steam hauled passenger trains at the same platform and masses of people travelling. The trains generally were busy but you do get the impression that some traffic has been lost to road. Once again very pleased that passengers were steam throughout my stay. A wonderful little system of great character.
Check out of hotel, bus immediately into Nanpiao, driver unable to change Y5 note, says no need to pay – a first for China! Taxi to Jinzhou, driver demands Y120, price was Y100 last year. Old road blocked just outside Nanpiao so back we go & driver heads towards Banjita, the road is very bad in places. I expected us to go on the expressway but oh no, that would cost him money so instead we wound our merry way along winding country roads until we met the old road from Chaoyang. Departed Nanpiao at 1051, Jinzhou station arrive 1215.
Unable to buy a ticket there for the evening train (1301) from Jinzhounan to Jalainuer, told to get it at Nan. Go instead to the Jinzhou China Travel Service office just over the road from the station and across road from local bus station. They sent a woman over to the station and got it done in 45 minutes, having had to wait for the relevant person to get back from lunch (presume this was why I was unable to get it myself). Y296 (£20) plus Y20 service charge for hard sleeper lower berth. Lucky to get it really, surprising that Jinzhou had an allocation for this train.
Good meal at Army Hotel then a foot massage helped to while away the afternoon then bus 208 to Jinzhounan from the local bus station opposite the travel agents. Departs 1650, arrives 1752, it’s a long way out of town, the bus is actually ‘fast’ through Jinzhou city not stopping until it reaches the out of town areas. It terminates at Nan station which is in the middle of nowhere. Taxi fare out is about Y50.
So off on another long steamless journey, departing at 1901. Just like train 1056 this thing gets looped for everything, pointless it using the new line.

Friday 1 June
At Dayan SY 1308 was in steam in the yard next to a diesel and another diesel was on a coal train. At the head of the smart new passenger rake forming the 1440 train was an SY. I couldn’t get off and cover the passenger, 1301 does not stop at Dayan!
We departed from Hailaer right time, its 78 miles/126km to Jalainuer and partly double track. On this section there are just 5 passenger trains a day yet they managed to loop us twice to cross eastbound expresses. This and engineering works in connection with the doubling caused us to arrive 10 late on a very slack schedule. Book sleeper back to Tieling on 1302 for 3 June, only hard upper berth available at Y234 (£16).
Take taxi to lutian meikuang/opencast mine. Ask driver the price bearing in mind the taxis have no meters or displayed prices and foreigners in Jalainuer often have hassle with taxi drivers. Drivers quotes Y10, seemed almost too good to be true, and it was. Taken instead to the mine company office which fortunately was near the Daqiao level crossing. Direct driver to pit and explain with a degree of sarcasm who an opencast mine looks like. Proffer Y10 fare, driver explodes and demands Y20, I shout back and give him 15 which is quickly accepted although the ranting continues. Does anybody know if the town flat fare (later found to still be Y6) applies to journeys out to the mine?
Just time for a quick dinner of noodles at the little shop on the road by the path down to the platform.

SY 0867   1937 Control Office – Opencast Mine 2023
SY 0867   2024 Opencast Mine – Control Office 2058
Good atmosphere on the way back in the twilight, trains thrashing uphill above and below the passenger.
The Nanzhan line train left at 1940 and was back at 2052.

Stay at the ludian near the level crossing, arrive there at 2130, all very quiet but door still open. Offered a slightly bigger and better room at the back with Y50 demanded. I pointed out that last year I paid just Y30 for a room at the front and after a brief argument and lots of waffle from the owner my offer of Y40 (£2.70) was immediately accepted. I’ve paid twice this price for dirtier rooms elsewhere. It’s very convenient for the pit, just 25 minutes walk, there is a breakfast dumpling place on the way, a good restaurant just across the road and internet access a few doors away. Bring a photocopy of your passport details page or else they will want to keep your passport and copy it themselves.

Saturday 2 June
SY 1654   0740 Control Office – Spoil Tip 0817
SY 1654   0818 Spoil Tip – Control Office 0853

Pit train leaves at 0737, back at 0906.
Uphill trains from the control office at 0831, 0852, 0915 (passenger, chimney first loco pushing 2 coaches), 0930, 0942, 1020 (SY 0867 pushing failed loco and train), 1100, 1115 crane, 1130. Weather hot out on the lineside then wind gets up and visibility drops with clouds of dust. Better late afternoon with some good light.

SY 1371   1939 Control Office – Spoil Tip 2016
SY 1371   2017 Spoil Tip – Control Office 2053
Good run, plenty of other steam activity en route. Pit train departs 1937, back at 2106.
Door of ludian locked at 2115 but wife appears eventually.

Sunday 3 June
SY 1600   0737 Control Office – Opencast Mine 0827
SY 1600   0829 Opencast Mine – Control Office 0904
SY 0682 worked the tip train, 0739 – 0903. A dull grey morning with a gale force wind. Too unpleasant to open the window. The coach attendant says half jokingly where is my mine company identity card to enable me to travel. Other passengers tell me to take no notice of him. I don’t think he was being too serious.
Wind becomes very cold with more dust storms, barely able to stand up. Retire early to town and then station.

To sum up, plenty of action around the pit this year with large amounts of spoil being taken out, not only from the bottom but from the sides also to widen the pit. At times the amount of action was almost unbelievable. It certainly does not give the impression that the place is under threat of closure in a couple of year’s time. Up to 14 locos seen in use at any one time, down from last year when 20 could be seen but traffic levels seemed much the same as June 2006.

1302 caught to Tieling, departs at 1320, not 1344 as shown in the new timetable but back to booked time at Hailaer leaving at 1622. There are two trains a day from here to Beijing and they depart within 17 minutes of each other.
At Dayan there were two blue diesel & two DF4s on coal trains at the station east of Jipei. If these blue locos were the mine company locos it would seem that the passenger, which was at the other end of the line at this time, was again steam.

Monday 4 June
Tieling arrive 0819, a few minutes late. No small buses for Diaobingshan ready to leave and no Faku buses around either so take taxi. Y50 (£3.40) – it’s been this price for years now. Arrive at the station 0908.

SY 1772   0952 Diaobingshan – Daming 1037
SY 1772   1258 Daming - Diaobingshan 1344
SY 1751   1451 Diaobingshan – Wangqian via Xiaonan 1553
SY 1751   1644 Wangqian – Sanjiazi via Xiaonan 1736
SY 1772   1753 Sanjiazi – Diaobingshan 1803
SY 1751   1832 Diaobingshan – Wangqian via Xiaonan 1933
SY 1751   1953 Wangqian - Diaobingshan 2025
Some fairly lively running on both routes. Again strong winds with dust everywhere. 3 car sets in use on both branches. 0952 to Daming very empty but other trains were busier, especially the 1832. On the 1953 ex Wangqian just one other passenger. This train arrived back on time, very unusual for these late workings.
The warning siren at a level crossing near Wangqian plays ‘we wish you a merry Christmas’.
The 1406 & 2120 to Dongguantan plus the 1617 return were diesel, as were the 1426 and 1731 to Daqing. Other trains to Wangqian and Daming were SY 1751/1772. Also in use was SY 1770.
The famous bathhouse near the station has been reconstructed close to its original site. A big advert for it has replaced the chopped up cow. They wanted Y150 for a windowless room and Y168 or Y198 for a massage. With the extras this would have come to nearly Y400 so I decided this was a bit of a rip off and made the unprecedented decision to walk away. Also part of the equation was that I was a bit unwell with a stomach bug so it was back across the road to the old favourite hotel by the station where rooms with facilities are still Y100 (£6.80).

Tuesday 5 June
0640 to Dongguantan and 0628 to Wangqian both diesel. 0547 from Daming and 0640 to Daming both SY. Perhaps the 0532 to Wangqian was steam?
I decide that another day of bashing the short branches would not be that exciting and head off for Fuxin.
Buses leave the front of the station for Shenyang at 0623 and 0719. I catch the latter which passes close to Shenyangbei station then runs via a bus lane to terminate at the remains of the bus station almost opposite Shenyang station at 0924.
Traffic in Shenyang is quite bad and a metro is under construction.
N128 on to Xinqiu, departing 1004 and arriving 1232. A nice green train with a soft seat coach at the front and a coal fired boiler in the middle of the train. Very empty though, it’s an addition to the timetable and actually runs on to Jinzhou and Huludao.
Note also that there have been many other timetable alterations in the Fuxin area. Trains no longer call at Ajin but there are more stops at Xinqiu.

SY 0540   1313 Xinqiu – Wangying 1430
A slow trundle on a hot afternoon.
Load 7 smart refurbished and clean coaches which seem to have just arrived from the CNR. The Mine Railway must think that passenger services have a future, unless it’s the old BR trick of spending lots of money on something to prove it is uneconomic and to justify withdrawal. The times quoted above the actual, booked timings not known.
There is now a three hour wait for the return at Wangying where there is absolutely nothing so embarked on a long hot walk into Minzu ‘town’ where there are a couple of decent restaurants just before the centre. 3 wheeler back to station Y3, there is no paved road access just a track up to the station limits.

SY 0540   1728 Wangying – Xinqiu 1844
1728 is the booked time, 1844 was the actual arrival. An enjoyable run on a real commuter train with some good blasting starts. Less passengers than last year but still an impressive sight and sound.

SY 0540   1904 Xinqiu – Wulong 1951
Times shown are actuals. A quiet run into a very impressive sunset. You have to travel in the rear two vehicles of this train. A number of locos were congregating around Wulong, assume this is for the shift change.
Once again stay at the Railway Hotel across the road from the CNR Y80 (£5.40) for an adequate room with all facilities. The place is good value and the staff are all very friendly and helpful.

Wednesday 6 June
To Wulong to photograph the 2 coach local from Xinqiu which arrives at 0710 with SY 1210. Not a good shot, light is poor. At shift changeover time 6 locos present. Also noted pottering around was diesel DF5D 0066 although I didn’t actually see it hauling anything.
Good dumpling breakfast at café beyond crossing then taxi to Minzu (Y10) where there was a colourful market with stalls set out along the road next to the railway. SY 1414 (plated 1818) arrived from Wulong at 0925 with a freight for Wangying.

SY 0540   0932 Minzu – Xinqiu 1044
Waited at Wulong from 948 to 954. Not a bad run with a fair number of passengers.
Foot massage in bathhouse in centre of town to escape the heat (Y15). Also here are several attractive and sexy young ladies of the naughty variety.

SY 0540   1314 Xinqiu – Wangying 1428
Not a well used train this but gets along better than the previous day. Another hot walk into Minzu.

SY 0540   1728 Wangying – Xinqiu 1844
A good run with plenty of noise and clag.

SY 0540   1912 Xinqiu – Wulong 1956
Late start following the freight which left Xinqiu at 1850 – a long train, it could be heard far into the distance.

Thursday 7 June
Taxi to Taiping (Y10). Driver ends up getting trapped in dead end roadworks but even with that and a long level crossing stop for a CNR freight in good time for :-
SY 1210   0659 Taiping – Wulong 0707
A short run but at least it gave me my 61st SY for haulage.

This system is still busy with plenty of coal traffic plus of course the passengers and is well worth a visit. Wangying mine sees a goodly number of trains and there is usually something happening around Wulong crossing.

To bus terminal near the CNR, arrive 0744 book ticket and away on the 0750 bus to Jinzhou via the empty JinFu expressway to arrive at the sight of the demolished bus station close to the railway station at 0940. This arrival was much earlier than I expected so a long wait for train 2590 to Beijing at 1350.

Just along the road straight ahead from Jinzhou station on the left hand side is a supermarket which stocks three bottled conditioned beers! Go up to the first floor, not to the beer section where you get the usual factory produce but to the section where you get health type products like yeasts. Here you will found three Coopers (Australia) bottle conditioned beers, Stout, Sparkling and Original.

Soft sleeper to Beijing Y234 (£16). This train seems not too busy, serves all the medium size intermediate places. Despite the slow timings they manage to loop us in all the unscheduled places and we arrive Beijing 35 late at 2255. The common practise of middle aged ladies touting for hotel customers outside stations has moved up a gear. On 2590 one of the attendants went down the train touting for customers and on arrival at Beijing a mixed group of us left the station by the parcels exit and were taken by mianbo to the area south of Tiananmen Square. The less wealthy looking in the party, including three very large Muslim ladies were dropped off at a cheap place and these deemed to be more prosperous were taken on to a fairly smart binguan where rooms cost Y180 (£12.25).

Friday 8 June

Up early for taxi to airport (Y116/£7.90). Hopefully next year the metro will be open. BA1038 to Heathrow, arrives 15 early at 1350. Poor in flight service, no better than cheaper airlines on this route.

Roger Blundell

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