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Steam in China, December 2007 – January 2008

by Adrian Freeman

Shibanxi, Yinghao, Pingdingshan, Xingyang, Huanan, Fuxin, Jinzhou 701 & Nanpiao

A three and a half week trip made with friends Don White and Charlie Petty. KLM flights from Leeds to Amsterdam and then to Chengdu. Despite assurances at the transfer desk, our luggage didn’t make it to Chengdu with us. Fortunately we had arranged to use Zebedee whilst at Shibanxi and he was able to have it forwarded to Sanjing and picked it up there. This saved us losing a day or two.

Shibanxi, 10th – 14th December 2007

The traffic pattern was generally as previous reports, four passenger trains and one or two coal trains per day. On two days there was only a morning coal train and in the afternoon the loco was used on track maintenance duties around Mifeng.

For any photographer who wants to take pictures of trains as they were a year ago, this line is now a real problem and can no longer be recommended. The second and third passenger trains of the day always include the tourist coach – in December these are the only two in ‘proper’ light. The cosmetic alterations applied to C2 no. 9 now make it a joke. If this loco had worked the passenger trains during our visit, at least the freights would have looked OK, but it was mostly on the coal trains so wrecking them too.

The main observations are as follows:
In addition to the tourist coach in the passenger train, a further five were present at Shixi, with a sixth under construction.
Loco no. 9 now has deep running boards down the side, fill-in plate under the smokebox front, and brass boiler bands. It and all the tourist coaches have brass nameboards fastened with adhesive to their sides. The all say the same thing: “Pride of Leicestershire” and are dated 2007.11.09. No. 9 has the tender from ex Pengzhou no. 67. The Pengzhou tenders have eight wheels and look rather like small SY tenders. At least the loco is still painted black, but with white lining.
Ex-Pengzhou loco nos. 67 and 72 are in the back of the workshop area but are in ‘as delivered’ condition.
Loco no. 10 has no. 9’s tender.
Loco no. 14 was usually running on the passenger trains.
A further loco was in pieces in the works, with cab freshly painted, but not numbered.
The staff on the passenger train have new uniforms, which are black with trimmings and peaked caps and makes them look like police, an infinite improvement on the grey and orange predecessors.

A halt has been constructed near Jaoba, close to the point of the ‘two lakes’ view. It comprises of a concrete platform and a toilet block in the crude shape of a toy locomotive. No trains stopped there during our visit.
At Xiaorenjiao station, a new concrete toilet has been built in the shape of a simple railway carriage.
There is a government programme to link all villages to the national road network. However, the local areas are expected to come up with about 40% of the costs.
A narrow road bridge is under construction between Xiaorenjiao and Jaoba, but as yet no evidence of the road on either side.
A road is being built to Bagou, which will cross the track beaten the station and the tunnel mouth (yes I know that seems an improbable place but it’s true). It will be very steep and may only provide access to a nearby coal mine for blue lorries, but time will tell.
A mining museum is being built at Huangcunjing. Work on this was progressing and involved reopening/digging out an old shaft and tunnel.

Staying at Bagou remains a delight, but the changes happening to the railway are, from a photographic point of view, most unwelcome.

Yinghao, 16th December 2007

We travelled on an overnight train from Chengdu to Mianchi, it being scheduled to arrive at 19:17. Not wishing to waste time here if the line was not working, we devised a slick plan. I would wait at the station with all our baggage, whilst Don and Charlie piled into a taxi, and armed with torches, would go to Yinghao, where they would inspect the condition of the track near the highway crossing to see if it had been used recently. If not they would ring me, I would buy tickets for the 20:34 departure to Pingdingshan, and they would take the same taxi straight back. That would save staying here a night and wasting all of tomorrow moving on if the line wasn’t working, a beautiful plan, which failed when our train arrived over half an hour late at Mianchi, and then no taxis appeared at the station for ten minutes.

So we overnighted here, investigated the line the following morning and, of course, found it not working. C2 nos. 8, 9 and 15 were cold in the shed/works area.

We then travelled to Pingdingshan via Luoyang and Baofeng, taking a taxi the last stretch from Baofeng.

Pingdingshan, 17th December 2007

A filler for a day since we had allocated two days to Yinghao. Although increasingly dieselised, there were four steam departures from Tianzhuang yard with westbound empties between 08:55 and 11:00 in addition to the passenger (JS8421). We were surprised that the double-track section between Tianzhuang and Shenxi yards had not been completed in the year since we had last visited. The small crossing keepers hut at Tianzhuang had, however been cleared out of the way and replaced with a larger, yellow-tiled structure, and whilst we were there, concrete bridge span sections for the second track were lifted in place.

In the Pingdingshan Fandian is a China Rail ticket agent. It won’t sell tickets from Pingdingshan, but will from Zhengzhou. We took advantage of this and booked tickets for our onward journey to Beijing on train D132. At this stage, I hadn’t twigged what sort of train this was, although it was clearly much quicker than any other.
We took train 1511/4 to Zhengzhou and checked into the sprawling hotel opposite the station, which has bars across the room windows and three different names, depending on which entrance is used.

Xingyang, 18th December 2007

Taxi to the brickworks railway, where we found shiny rails, so paid the taxi off and walked down the line. In the shed compound was C2 no. 07 looking ex-works. Along the line, the drainage ditches at either side have recently been dug out in various places. About 500 metres beyond the brick bridge, maintenance teams were removing defective sleepers and C2 no. 207 was in attendance. So the short-term prospects don’t look bad for this line.

Zhengzhou to Huanan
Back at Zhengzhou we were impressed with our train to Beijing. I had requested hard seat tickets but we had been given ‘first class’, rather than ‘second’, the hard and soft classification not being applied to these trains. It was a very new eight coach set, with a front end like the newest series of Japanese Shinkansen trains. I thought that 256 Yuan was a very reasonable price to pay to travel first class to Beijing in 4 hours and 51 minutes. At Beijing Xi, we took a taxi to the Capital Airport Hotel as our flight to Harbin was at 07:25 the following morning. They booked us on to the 06:00 shuttle bus to the airport and said they would give us a morning call at 05:30.

I was woken up at 07:20 when Charlie said “what time does this flight leave?” For once I had trusted the hotel and not set my alarm – how amateur! We knew the next flight wasn’t until after midday so now no rush to the airport. At the airport, we thought that rather than immediately buy new tickets, it wouldn’t cost anything to see if our old tickets could be exchanged for new. The girl at the desk typed away at her terminal and minutes later, we had tickets for the next flight, at no additional cost! Where else in the world would that happen?

Mike Ma had tipped us off that Huanan was about to start working again, so we took train 1393, the overnight sleeper, to Jiamusi and train N80 to Huanan the following morning.

Huanan, 20th – 26th December 2007

We hired a taxi for the day, to deposit us at the track worker’s house in Tuoyaozi in the afternoon, where we would lodge. At Huanan, the rails were shiny so we went to Xiahua and waited for some action. It was a very long wait. We found out later that the train we eventually saw at 15:20 returning to Huanan had been chartered by a couple of Japanese photographers as the line had not started yet.

The traffic was to be clearing the stockpile of coal as the mine was not operating. Two miners had been killed and an inspection of the mine would need to be carried out.

Traffic commenced mid morning the following day and with snow and trains, we decided to extend our stay on this line from four to seven days and abandon plans to visit Jalainur. Prospects for this line do not look good, however. Normally several hundred new sleepers are supplied to Tuoyaozi each year. This year they have received none. Instead repairs are being made with offcuts of softwood planks being driven between the old sleeper and rail. The condition of the wagons was atrocious with holes in the sides. Three locos were working, nos. 004, 041 and 043. No. 041 was in bad shape but the other two seemed mechanically OK. Since my last visit in Jan 2004, the loco servicing tracks close to the road crossing have been lifted. Servicing is now carried out within the walled shed area.

On 26th Dec we took a taxi from Tuoyaozi to Jiamusi, where we caught train 2008, the 19:34 overnight to Shenyang. At Shenyang a cross-platform change allowed us to be moving again within five minutes of arrival on the Chifeng train, which we took as far as Fuxin.

Fuxin, 27th – 28th December 2007

Not originally on our itinerary but we decided to call in on the way to Nanpiao. The Zhan Qian hotel is directly opposite the new China Rail station. It snowed on the morning of 28th Dec, transforming the otherwise rather gloomy scene. A smokebox-first working in these conditions was missing, though. We didn’t stray very far from the Wulong area and found things generally as described elsewhere with passenger trains diesel, and the gathering of SY at Wulong at around 08:00. The nearby loco servicing area is quite attractive with coal loader – a rare sight these days. SY1195 was ex-works and immaculate.

Train 1230, the 16:35 from Fuxin, got us to Jinzhou in two hours and we got rooms in the Fang Yuan Guest House, opposite the station. We had agreed to meet Dave Habarken and guide Tina, from Chifeng, the following morning to visit Jinzhou 701 works.

Jinzhou 701 works

Upon arrival, we found an ex-works SY1096, which had just been dragged out by a rather less smart JS8162, the works shunter. The SY was due to be picked up and returned to Lingyuan steelworks. We were told that the works was now closed until 2nd January and that there were no locos present at the moment.

Nanpiao, 29th December 2007 – 1st January 2008

We then went to Nanpiao, where we found a tatty SY1708 (but with unusual worksplates) in the China Rail exchange yard. It was soon joined by JS6307, arriving in a freight from Jinzhou. This SY was also from Lingyuan steelworks and the JS from Huludao chemical works. They were marshalled together and a couple of hours later taken by diesel to Jinzhou 701 works.

At the Nanpiao mining railway, four BJ diesels are now present, although somewhat under utilised during our visit. Only three SY were in steam, nos. 1092, 1299 and 1478. Most of the passenger trains were SY-hauled, with occasional random appearances by BJ. Traffic levels were low, with lengthy lulls. SY0754 was ex-works, but cold, in a compound close to the junction at Xiamiaozi.

Our return to Beijing involved another high speed train, D12. We had bought tickets for this train whilst at Fuxin, but had not been able to get them from our intended boarding station of Jinzhou Nan, but only from Shenyang Bei, the train’s starting point. We simply thought this to be a ticket allocation issue as the printed timetable and the online timetable both showed the train stopping at Jinzhou Nan. However, it didn’t and a frantic taxi journey ensued to get us to Huludao Bei, where it did stop (although not mentioned in the timetables). We made it with eight minutes to spare. Bizarrely, this station had no luggage scanners – perhaps high speed passengers are not considered a threat.

In Beijing, we walked to the nearest hotel in sight, the Paragon, which at 758 Yuan for a twin with breakfast, was quite reasonable, I thought. I wanted a hotel with a view onto the station, but although the tenth floor offered a good view, the morning sunlight on the dirty windows prevented a worthwhile photo. Return flights home on 2nd Jan went without incident.


I have now been to Yinghao twice and Xingyang three times without finding ‘normal’ running so I think I’ll just live without these phots. Of the places visited on this trip, I must say that I don’t really feel inclined to return to any, with the exception of Huanan, which when running in the depths of winter, is absolutely magic and now without equal anywhere in the world. Of course, if I see a gem of a photo taken at one of the other places, I reserve the right to change my mind!

Adrian Freeman

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© 2008 Adrian Freeman