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Steam in China - May, June 2008

by Roger Blundell

Shibanxi, Xingyang, Pingdingshan, Sandaoling, Baiyin, Nanpiao, Tiefa, Nanpiao(more)

Sunday 18 May
BA039 to Beijing at £459, one hour late departure due to a baggage discrepancy. The 747 was not full, the two seats next to me were empty. A nine hour flight, helped along by a 100 mph tail wind at speeds of up to 666 mph.
Total cost of the 27 day bash was just over £1200, this low figure partly due to buying Chinese Yuan last year for the 2008 trip at a rate of 15.1 to the pound. It’s a bit different now, the current rate is about 13.5

Monday 19 May
Arrive 1008, 33 late at Terminal 3, now very busy, mostly with Air China internal and international flights.
Decide to avoid Chengdu (just 7 days after the earthquake) and fly instead to Chongqing at 1140 from terminal 3. Air China flight, no discount available, ticket price 1550 yuan (£105). Airport bus into town then taxi to main bus station, which is next to railway station. Arrive there at 1520, last bus to Qianwei had gone so take next bus to Leshan (113 yuan), unfortunately not leaving until 1800. Buses to Qianwei run at 0620, 0800 + others, including one about 1100.
Bus is midi size & comfortable, runs along the usual mix of expressway, dirt/potholed ex road and ordinary road to arrive by the long distance bus station at Leshan just on midnight. Fall into the adjacent Xinhua Hotel, 120 yuan (£8.15) for a good quality room.

Tuesday 20 May
Taxi to Qianwei roundabout, takes about an hour, 120 yuan on the meter. Bus on to Shibanxi.
There are two bridges under construction over the Min River.

7   0930 Shibanxi – Mifeng
9   1002 Mifeng - Huangcunjin
Note the loco change at Mifeng. There seemed to be problems with number 7 resulting in a delay of 45 minutes. Spend the remainder of the day photting around the top end of the line. A sunny hot morning gradually turned into a dull then wet evening. No coal trains seen but a light loco went back through Bagou at 1500.
Stay at The Cackling Crone Inn, everyone in their usual good form. Prices unchanged, room 50 yuan, dinner (quite good) 20 yuan and breakfast 5 yuan.
In the square the shop nearest to the railway has a phone which does international calls. The internet place down the stairs near the Cackling Crone has now moved to a house on the left of the pathway leading from the bottom of the stairs.

Wednesday 21 May
10   0710 Bagou – Huangcunjin
10   0715 Huangcunjin – Shibanxi
10   0930 Shibanxi - Mifeng
10   1817 Caiziba – Huangcunjin
10   1845 Huangcunjin – Mifeng
Once again no coal moving but several trains ran as mixeds. Weather cloudy and cool. Stayed at Mifeng for two nights, above the shop/café on the opposite side of the line to the pharmacy. There are at least 3 rooms upstairs, one with 3 single beds, the other two with one double bed each. I offered 10 yuan for my dinner (having already paid this amount for lunch) and 30 yuan for the room, this was accepted without question. Future visitors please don’t pay more! Along the corridor is a hole type toilet and a heated shower room with hot water, soap, towels and shampoo. All rooms were clean.
Nothing much happens in Mifeng during the day apart from its one main occupation – that of gambling. I suppose some of the inhabitants work for a living but you wouldn’t have known it.

Thursday 22 May
10   0632 Mifeng – Huangcunjin
10   0715 Huangcunjin – Shibanxi
10   0930 Shibanxi - Xianrenjiao
10   1530 Jiaoba – Shibanxi
10   1730 Shibanxi – Huangcunjin
10   1845 Huangcunjin – Mifeng
Still no coal train running. Number 7 worked up through Jiaoba at 1530 with a coach and two wagons loaded with tiles. It returned later with just the coach. A warm sunny afternoon. The last train back down carried 8 pigs, the pen must have been a little crowded.
Another good dinner at Mifeng, more dishes appeared than actually ordered.

The foreigners fare for a throughout journey is 15 yuan. I was also charged this for other longish journeys and 5 yuan for very short runs. For journeys of less than the full length of the line the head gripper decides the charge on the spur of the moment.

Friday 23 May
Awake to a fine morning although misty lower down. The 0600 from Shibanxi made a wonderful sound thrashing and whistling in the distance and then an amazing sight coming into Mifeng up the valley through the mist just as the sun rose above the hills. An unforgettable scene.

10   0632 Mifeng – Huangcunjin
10   0715 Huangcunjin – Shibanxi
As always very reluctant to leave this lovely line, especially unspoilt this time as of course no tourist coaches were in use.

From Qianwei on the 0955 bus to Chengdu Shiyang. It actually departed at 0942 and arrived at 1224. Taxi to airport (28 yuan), arriving at 1247. Straight to airline ticket desk, no seats available to Lanzhou until 0755 the next morning so I booked on the next available Zhengzhou flight at 1330. Cost 1100 yuan/£75. Ticket girl input details to computer, rushed off with my passport and came back 5 minutes later with my boarding pass, pushed me to the front of the security queue and by 1259, 12 minutes after arriving at the airport and 35 minutes after getting off the bus at Shiyang I was in the departure lounge.
Chengdu airport very busy with queues everywhere. I was to learn later that the reason for this was that the railway north was still closed as a result of earthquake damage. Hence the scarcity of air tickets and lack of discounting.
The plane was actually going to a place called Ordos via Zhengzhou. This is the first time I’ve ever been on a plane and not known where the destination is. The plane was held on the ground for some while, the airport being very busy with military transport planes. Cabin crew decide to serve a meal, inevitably as soon as they do this we are cleared for take off. In the air at 1430, Zhengzhou arrive 1553.
Taken by car into Zhengzhou by the husband of a girl who I sat with on the plane. They ascertained how I could get to Zhengzhou West bus station then dropped me off in east central Zhengzhou and put me on a 101 trolleybus. A very slow journey in heavy traffic with a long circuitous loop to serve the railway station. Eventually reached the terminus, which is on the main road west a couple of hundred yards/metres short of the bus station which is on the south side of the road just beyond the next set of traffic lights.
Buses to Xingyang were still running at 1900, indeed it was very busy with a long queue of passengers snaking round the bus station where a row of buses waited to take them west. The journey to Xingyang took about 40 minutes (bus went beyond here so different destination was shown on the windscreen). Bus route 5 to the station. After a couple of fierce arguments with drivers it became apparent that the flat fare is now 1 yuan.
Room at the hotel by the station offered at 100 yuan, bargained down to 80 yuan/£5.40. This place has seen better days but quite adequate apart from lack of hot water, but even that not really a problem in high summer. There is a very good kebab restaurant just across the main road into town, probably a muslim place.
Xingyang CNR station may well be closed, the place was deserted and the main doors to the hall were locked.

Saturday 24 May
The narrow gauge line was easily found with the help of published sketch maps – many thanks to JWvD & RD. A recent change is that where the number 5 buses turn right to run under the CNR there is now a new wide road to the left. This runs through the brickworks area (note the unusual ”level crossing” arrangements in use for internal brickworks vehicles) and then passes the railway depot area which is just to the right of the road by the narrow gauge level crossing.
At the depot it soon became apparent that clay trains were not running because a set of wagons was in the yard (i.e. when system is operating both sets of wagons are out on the line). No.7 was in works and 207 was missing. I was told it was expected back at 1200 so I walked off down the line to find it. A short while after crossing the bridge it shuffled along pushing a flat wagon with a few gangers on it. I was invited up on to the footplate of the single manned loco – the first time I can ever remember seeing a steam loco single manned out on a running line.

207 footplate on p.w. train Xingyang system

It transpired that the staff were returning to base so as to go home for lunch. We picked up another group nearer the bridge and ran back to Xingyang. I was told to come back at 1330 and sure enough soon after this we set off again, dropping two work parties off near the mosque for a three hour stint on track maintenance.
It was unbelievable how little work was actually performed by a gang of 13 people in that time. Brief periods of strenuous activity were interspersed between long rest periods in the shade, eating ice lollies and trying to keep awake.
We set off back at 1630 and actually ran across the bridge 3 times, someone’s hat blew off, or was thrown, towards the water but it rolled back along the track & we set back to retrieve it. Note that on summer evenings trains can be photted from the other side of the bridge, light is better than side on from about 1730.
Told by driver that clay trains would operate next day (Sunday).

The brickworks seemed quite busy and do seem to still have a role to play. Although many new higher rise buildings are concrete framed, bricks are still used to infill in many cases and much rural house building is largely of brick even though concrete fronting is often used.

Visit bathhouse across the road in the evening for foot massage. Good value at 20 yuan/£1.35 from male masseur, the link between traditional Chinese massage and a sexually attractive young masseuse does not yet seem to have reached this Stalinist outpost.

Sunday 25 May
To the depot by 3 wheeler (2 yuan) at 0640 to find loco being prepared. A different crew, of three, welcomed me on to the loco with hesitancy, not too much room with four people.

207 Xingyang - Loading Point
207 Loading Point - Outer Brickworks
We set off with the empties at 0703. En route a huge pile of straw waste had been tipped down the embankment on to the track. The crew cleared a way through then set the waste alight with a shovel full of burning coal – Railway Safety Organisations to note this practical method of dealing with a blockage of the line. Arrived 0728 at the loading point where filling of the other set of wagons had not long started and soon came to a halt as the conveyor belt stopped for a while.
It was not until 0835 that we got away.
It has been said before that loaded trains roll down all the way to the viaduct. This is not so, there is a substantial climb a little way out from the loading point and here our loco was in trouble, gradually slipping to a standstill on the bank. After about 5 minutes of violent uncontrollable slipping with the loco shaking and shuddering the driver gave up. The assistant fireman was left with a shovel full of sand to spread on the rails and we set back about a quarter of a mile/400 metres then took a long run at the bank at what seemed a dangerous speed & thrashed all the way up. We got over the top ok but not with too much of a margin & then ran on to Xingyang without further incident to arrive at 0913. A superb experience, bashing in 2008 doesn’t come much better than this.
The train was discharged at the outer brickworks, it ran straight in, wagons discharged, loco pushed train out, wagons fly shunted then loco coupled up and away to loading point again at 0924. The next return was at 1015, it made a nice photo approaching Xingyang past a row of trees. This time the wagons went into the northern siding, loco uncoupled and ran into depot for a quick service before leaving again at 1025.

A lovely little line with great character and charm. Glad I came for a first visit here and very pleased that I was able to travel the length of the line.

Number 5 bus to centre cross roads then 1100 bus to Zhengzhou, 4 yuan. It started from the Zhengzhou side of the crossroads. Arrived 1130. Take number 1 bus to station. From this bus station the No.1 runs straight past, west to east and the stop is just to the west of the bus station.
Lunch at the Tian E Binguan restaurant upstairs then 1400 bus to Pingdingshan North bus station arrive 1617. To station to see JS arrive on passenger at 1755 from Hanzhuang. Loco runs light to servicing point, presumably then worked 1915 to Hanzhuang. 1810 arrival from Shisankuang is a diesel which comes off then runs back light towards the depot.

Three nights stay at the Pingdingshan Fandian 160 yuan room offered and accepted at 130 yuan/£8.80.

Monday 26 May
JS 8062   0600 Pingdingshan – Shisankuang 0710
JS 8062   0850 Shisankuang – Pingdingshan 1000

After an unsuccessful attempt to change travellers cheques at the main branch of Bank of China it was back to the Fandian at lunchtime to book a sleeper for the 28th from Zhengzhou to Hami on T197. Hard sleeper middle berth 416 yuan/£28.20.
Berths can only be booked from Zhengzhou to the far west on two trains, T197 and 1045, the latter leaves at 2052 and is overtaken soon after by T197. Noted also that bookings were available on screen for at least 15 days for T197.

JS 8062   1330 Pingdingshan – Hanzhuang 1535
JS 8062   1549 Hanzhuang – Pingdingshan 1758
Better to go to Shisankuang in the morning, there is less time to hang around than in the afternoon. The 1340 to Shisankuang was steam this day with JS 8065.
The Hanzhuang line has its attractions with traditional rural villages and some characterful stations, one has a row of shops fronting the whole length of the platform.
JS 8065 was at the servicing point west of Pingdingshan indicating that the 1915 to Hanzhuang would be steam.

Renamings are all the fashion in this area. Zhongxin has been renamed Pingdingshan and Baofeng CNR is now Pingdingshanxi.

Tuesday 27 May
JS 8062   0600 Pingdingshan – Shisankuang 0710
JS 8062   0850 Shisankuang – Pingdingshan 1000
JS 8062   1330 Pingdingshan – Hanzhuang 1535
JS 8062   1549 Hanzhuang – Pingdingshan 1758
The same bash and the same loco all day. There is still a fair amount of JS freight activity and at one mine on the Shisankuang line QJs 6450 and 6650 were on either end of a long set of wagons.
The 1340 Pingdingshan – Shisankuang was again diesel.
At the Fandian enjoy some good food again in the restaurant at the side of the hotel then a nice massage. Use of bathhouse + massage 100 yuan/£6.80.

Wednesday 28 May
JS 8065   0740 Pingdingshan – Hanzhuang 0945
JS 8065   0955 Hanzhuang – Pingdingshan 1200
A different loco at last, in fact a new one for haulage. After arriving back at Pingdingshan 8065 went light to the depot. Over the three days there was some reasonable thrash in places along this line but the JS are not as noisy as the SY were.

The 0600 to Shisankuang was steam this day, chime whistles could be heard from the hotel as it departed.
Very pleased that all went to plan at Pingdingshan on what could well have been my last visit. All 5 trains I intended to cover came up steam, it seems that the 1340 to Shisankuang is the dodgy one, it’s been seen diesel at least three times recently.
1430 bus to PDS North to Zhengzhou, arrive 1655. There seems to be an airport bus service from outside the smart Zhengzhou Hotel. From the railway station turn left then immediately right (bus station is on your right) & you can see the hotel to the left on the next corner. Hotel has good restaurant on 6th floor and bathhouse on 4th floor. Foot massage 38 yuan/£2.60 for 40 minutes. There are lots of naughty ladies here as well
T197 departs at 2156.

Thursday 29 May
20 minutes before reaching Lanzhou is a petro chemical complex where amongst the diesels was SY 1459, seemingly in use.
At Lanzhou a large number of passengers with reserved sleeper berths boarded the train. It seems therefore that the computer can now reallocate berths that have already been used for the first part of a train’s journey.

Friday 30 May
Hami arrive 0055 (15 early). The computer in the booking office was down for maintenance from 0030 until 0430 so unable to book ticket back east. No hotel or ludian nearby was willing/able to take me in for a few hours so I ended up in a massage place a little way to the left (on main road) where following the purchase of a 50 yuan(£3.40) foot massage they let me sleep in the room until 0500.
Back at the station the computer was up and running and the helpful lady was then able to book me a lower berth hard sleeper to Lanzhou on K296 at 2114 two days hence for 262 yuan/£17.80.
Ignore the crowd of mercenary taxi drivers in the station forecourt and instead go to lone driver in the street and ask price to Sandaoling. He quotes 130 yuan (£8.80); this was 41 yuan less than I paid last year going by the meter. Journey took about an hour.
The hotel that I stayed in last year (Jinhun, I think it was called) was full and they sent me on to a place which I think is known as the Sandaoling Binguan, it’s newly reopened & refurbished and is on the corner by the bus station. A very smart if rather small room, perhaps the smartest Chinese hotel I’ve ever stay in with a gleaming toilet and white bedding. The only problem was that hot water was not always available. Priced at 128 yuan/£8.70, staff very friendly and helpful.

Outside again for supposed 0830 bus to Dongboli. Sure enough at exactly 0830 an old Stalin era bendy bus appears, not from the side road as expected but spluttering down the main street. It stops outside the hotel as expected so on I get. Once inside all did not look right, most of the passengers were Uighyr women and sure enough the bus didn’t turn off for Nanquan village and Dongboli but ran to a big building at the south end of Nanzhan yard. So all was well, I had intended to go there one morning to phot the trips arriving from the CNR.
The yard was busy. Unfortunately whilst I was trying to find out the workings from the staff a train with JS front and rear rolled in at 0910 from the CNR. Next, 2 trains pushed out to the deep mines, a JS at 1008 and SY 1729 at 1023. At 1036 JS 8358 and 8366 went light to Liushuguan CNR. Their return train stalled on a curve way out in the distance. Whilst it was restarting SY 1729 left the deep mine and arrived back at 1235 & the two JS (front and rear) slogged back up the bank to arrive at 1254. Quite an impressive sight, both locos being worked very hard.

Start to walk to Nanquan village, luckily an empty taxi comes along & a very attractive lady driver takes me from kp 128 to kp 130 for 5 yuan. After lunch in the village phot around Dongboli but difficult with overhead sun and temperature of 93°F/34°C. Lots of activity though at the east end of the pit, both spoil and coal coming out and the evening light until 2030 was very good.

JS 8193   2048 Dongboli – Xiboli - Opencast Mine – Xiboli – Dongboli 2125
A good run with a fine sunset. Train did not run via spoil tips area. Only five spoil trains were at Xiboli.
A smart new bendy bus, its seats still covered in plastic wrapping, was on the 2140 service to town. 11 minute journey time to the stop by the binguan. I think it is coincidental that this service connects with the mine train, all the train crews live in Nanquan village, the bus passengers (it was full & standing) come from buildings nearby.

Saturday 31 May
Taxi to Nanquan. Another cheerful lady who very firmly insists that the fare is 10 yuan. A big hike from the 5 yuan that I paid more than once last year. Good dumpling breakfast at café in centre of village but expensive at 2.5 yuan (17 pence).

JS 8189   0844 Dongboli – Xiboli - Opencast Mine – Xiboli 0913
This time we did run up to the tip area.
Invited up onto the footplate of JS 8368 which shunted around the yard then ran to the tip sidings.
JS 8368   0930 Xiboli - tip area – Xiboli 1000
I was then transferred to another loco and train which was about to run down into the pit for a fascinating days’ footplating.
JS 6430   1030 Xiboli - Opencast Mine
JS 6430   Opencast Mine – Dongboli Tip (via Xiboli)
JS 6430   Dongboli Tip – Opencast Mine (via east entry)
JS 6430   Opencast Mine – Tip area of Opencast 1620
The tip is about 2 miles beyond Dongboli where you have to reverse if you are coming along the top line from Xiboli.
There was dust and dirt everywhere in the pit but all very interesting.
Another very hot day, 95°F/35°C but actually much cooler on the loco. The crew had fashioned a thick cloth, doubled over, in front of the firebox doors and constantly hosed it down keeping the cab surprisingly cool.
On the second loaded run uphill with the first fireman driving (driver was asleep on ledge bed at front of tender) we blasted out of the pit making an incredible noise with the standard 11 wagon set loaded with spoil. This load was dumped from a siding quite high up in the pit area in the corner closest to Sandaoling. From here I climbed out of the pit up a steep track and eventually reached the outskirts of town where a three wheeled taxi took me to the binguan for 3 yuan (sole occupancy, hence the high price).
Remove clag, spoil, dust etc from body & clothes, food break then another taxi back to Nanquan for
JS 6206   2046 Dongboli – Xiboli - Opencast Mine – Xiboli – Dongboli 2129
Ran back via the tip area. 8 spoil trains at Xiboli this time.

Sunday 1 June
JS 8189   0844 Dongboli – Xiboli - Opencast Mine – Xiboli – Dongboli 0930
Returned via spoil tip area.
Once again very busy around Dongboli with both spoil and coal coming out. Phot around here until the sun got too high and hot – another 95° day. Lunch at muslim café in Nanquan then the same 3 wheeler as previous day to Sandaoling. Cost 2 yuan – not sole occupant this time.
Back to Hami in the afternoon. If you want a seat in a shared taxi you can get one from outside the binguan. The bus station is opposite. I missed the 1500 bus – because it departed empty, whoever heard of such a thing in China. I almost missed the next one, at 1530, on which I was the only passenger from the bus station. We toured around the blocks of flats touting for custom, eventually picking up a husband and wife with several large sack bags. One of these breaks open & things fall out. A huge argument develops between the pair and they and the sacks get off the bus as the argument hots up. We eventually leave town with two passengers and pick up a third en route from a broken down taxi. Fare 14 yuan. The road to Hami is being dual carriaged and we set off on the new carriageway which had not been officially opened. En route a JCB dumper truck passes us and hoots then three cars flash and hoot. After a few miles we realise why, the dumper truck had blocked our exit with rubble. Unable to get on to the open carriageway anywhere we head back nearly ten miles towards Sandaoling to find that by now the dumper truck has blocked the other exit with rubble. A very lively conversation develops between the bus driver and the truck driver after which the bus is forced through the rubble amidst clouds of dust and burning tyres. After passing the broken down taxi for the third time we eventually reach Hami at 1737. A board in the bus station shows departures for Sandaoling hourly from 0830 until 2030.
After a dinner of excellent kebabs in central Hami return to the station for T296 to Lanzhou. Train not full, like many nowadays on the CNR.

Monday 2 June
Lanzhou arrive 1138. Taxi down the road (at 10:00clock from the station) to the bus station for Baiyin, on the right hand side after about half a mile/one km. Wait outside for the next bus – don’t go inside and book a ticket at the booking office, they will put you on a later service. Bus leaves at 1220, arriving 1340. Goes a different route now and gets on to the expressway just before the river passing the Lanzhou Eastern Hotel then the Jincheng Hotel where a bus with an Air China logo was waiting. I assume this was an airport bus.
At Baiyin book into the Tongcheng Hotel, known by local taxi drivers as the Tongcheng Fandian. As this hotel gets older and scruffier the price drops, a single room was offered at 80 yuan (£5.40). Room quality acceptable for the price. Nice to be back in a cheaper city with a reasonably priced hotel & metered taxis offering cross town journeys for 3 yuan (20 pence).
Downstairs at the hotel is a CITS office. Here I booked a flight to Beijing for 550 yuan (£37.30).
On asking about a taxi to the airport I was quoted 260 yuan (£17.60) & after some haggling I accepted a price of 180 yuan (£12.20). They also charged me 20 yuan for the famous Gansu Provincial Travel Insurance which I declined to pay.

Off to the station at 1430. About 150 yards/metres before the station entrance, on the right, is a shop where they will give you hot water if you buy coffee from them.

SY 1047   1515 Baiyin – Shenbutong 1550
SY 1047   1705 Shenbutong – Baiyin 1740
SY 1047   1815 Baiyin – Shenbutong 1850
SY 1047   1915 Shenbutong – Baiyin 1950
Load 6. As always some very good noise on the way up into the hills. A very fine piece of railway. Note that the 1705 back does not stop at Sanyelian.
Create confusion in hotel restaurant by turning up for a meal at 2000. Things finish early here, by 2030 most food places are closing up.
Visit hotel bathhouse in basement. Use of bathhouse 25 yuan. In the massage section I am introduced to a delightful young lady who tells me that for 238 yuan I could explore the top half of her body and this would be followed by her putting something in her mouth. This struck me as the sort of thing that Mrs Blundell might not totally approve of so I declined her kind invitation and settled instead for an oil massage at 98 yuan (£6.65) from another girl. The masseuse added real style to the occasion by continually gobbing on the carpet!

Tuesday 3 June
SY 0612   0735 Baiyin – Liugongli 0755
SY 0612   0813 Liugongli – Baiyin Gongshi 0823
SY 1047   1515 Baiyin – Shenbutong 1550
SY 1047   1705 Shenbutong – Baiyin 1740
SY 1047   1815 Baiyin – Shenbutong 1850
SY 1047   1915 Shenbutong – Baiyin 1950

I decided to start the day on the 0735 to Sanyelian to value the tender first thrash by the open vestibule as far as Liugongli and change there for the 0750 for Shenbutong, as I had done last year. Good noise but nothing exceptional. Another 6 coach rake and very crowded.
Then at Liugongli it all went wrong. The 0750, instead of running into the platform road and stopping, blasted past on the through line. I was so surprised I didn’t even have my camera ready – light was perfect. I have never before heard an SY thrashed so hard, an amazing sound reverberating off the hills.
At least I wasn’t stuck for hours at Liugongli. No sooner had the sound of SY1047 faded away than SY 0612 reappeared – and stopped. Just a few passengers on this train which runs into the works complex, very slowly. Everybody walked back to the rear coach and jumped off by the entrance gates where there are two ways out, either through a door on the right, up the slope and onto the footbridge, or as I did, walk across the tracks and out through the hutongs. Despite getting lost here amongst the alleyways I got to the main road fairly soon where a number 3 bus was approaching and this took me into the centre of town.
More fun and games back at the hotel where two plain clothes police were waiting to see me. It took me half an hour to get rid of them; they had come over because of some minor discrepancy on my registration form that had arisen because of a dubious translation of a question into English. Neither of them spoke English so it took a while to get to the bottom of the problem but eventually they went away happy once I’d given them photocopies of my passport details page and my Chinese visa. For those who travel around China without a chaperone I recommend that you always have these photocopies handy for times like this and at hotels where they don’t have a copier.
The afternoon produced another good thrashworthy period of bashing; the best run was on the 1515 with deafening roars up into the mountains. When these trains were load 10 the noise must have been amazing. At Shenbutong the fireman cleans the windows of the station office with the loco hose.
Good evening meal at the restaurant of a smart hotel in the centre, between the station and the Tongcheng Fandian.

Wednesday 4 June
SY 1470 on the Sanyelian train this morning.

SY 1047   0750 Baiyin – Shenbutong 0820
SY 1047   0910 Shenbutong – Baiyin 0945
Very good flail through Liugongli then blasting up past Sanyelian without stopping as speed gradually dropped off – what a fine piece of railway.
SY 1583 in ex works condition in the loco depot.

Back to Tongcheng Hotel for taxi to airport. A small town taxi but in a much better condition than most in Baiyin. Having paid 180 yuan for the journey I was not pleased when the girl from the travel agency paid off the driver with 100 yuan, not a bad mark up. Next time I will have to have a firmer attitude with them or organise it myself.
We depart at 1044, stop for petrol, enter expressway at 1056 and arrive airport at 1208. Distance from hotel is 67 miles/108 km so it was an expensive journey.
Lanzhou airport is small quiet and peaceful, a bit different to Heathrow or Beijing.
My China Eastern flight was due away at 1410. We get to end of runway spot on time then take off aborted due to bad weather at Beijing. Eventually take off at 1520, come to a stand at the gate in Beijing terminal 2 at 1725. Taxi into Beijing, fast run along expressway, newly extended closer to the city centre, then through very slow moving traffic on the ring road to arrive Beijing station at about 1800. To new ticket office on the right hand side (west) of station. Window number 106 in the left hand section has a sign in English saying "tickets for foreign people”.
I was just too late to get a ticket on the last high speed train of the day to Jinzhounan at 1830, the booking clerk pointed to the time on the computer – 1816, & said “meio”. My next choice, a berth on 1467 (to Jagdaqi in the far north) also not possible, only hard seats available. My third choice, a berth on K95, the overnight to Fushun, was available, 133 yuan (£9) for a hard sleeper.
Western style meal at the slob Novotel down the road costing more than twice the price of my sleeper to Jinzhou then back to the station for the 2259 departure.

Thursday 5 June
Arrive 0449, one minute early, then taxi from outside the station to Xiamiaozi, departing at 0457 through a sleeping Jinzhou then along a deserted road to arrive at 0537. Agreed price of 100 yuan. Apparently if you go on the meter it’s about the same. The direct road from Jinzhou is now fully repaired and reopened, no more diversions through backyards and across riverbeds.
For those who prefer to avoid the hazards of road travel in China you can still do this journey by rail, the service has reappeared in the CNR timetable, its actually in the main line section:-
4252      0652 Jinzhou – Nanpiao 0755                  4251      0835 Nanpiao - Jinzhou 0943
4254      1509 Jinzhou – Nanpiao 1613                  4253      1653 Nanpiao - Jinzhou 1758
Note that Nanpiao CNR station is at Xiamiaozi. I assume these trains also continue to call at Huangjia.

After a short wait on Xiamiaozi platform I was very relieved to hear a chime whistle and see steam & smoke drifting along the valley as SY 0754 appeared at the head of the 0521 from Linghe.

SY 0754   0604 Xiamiaozi – Huangjia 0610
SY 0754   0615 Huangjia – Sanjiazi 0716
SY 0754   0845 Sanjiazi – Huangjia 0934
SY 0754   0939 Huangjia – Xiamiaozi 0945
SY 0754   1435 Xiamiaozi – Huangjia 1441
SY 0754   1446 Huangjia – Linghe 1530
SY 0754   1640 Linghe - Huangjia 1721
SY 0754   1726 Huangjia – Sanjiazi 1817
SY 0754   1821 Sanjiazi – Huangjia 1914
SY 0754   1919 Huangjia – Xiamiaozi 1925

The best run of the day was on the 1726 to Sanjiazi, good thrash round the hills on a beautiful evening (sun perfect for photos). The 1821 was also good, as the sun set behind the hills.
BJ diesel 3290 was on the other turn all day. Another diesel + SY 0366 & SY 1299 were working freights. The passenger trains are now load 5, there is no longer a “van” at one end. Another change is that there is now an on train policeman.
Stayed at the Xinghe Binguan up the road, a reasonably clean and smart windowless room with all facilities was 128 yuan. A bit overpriced but if you are bashing you need to stay here, it’s so convenient, you can use the room in the middle of the day, get food at eight in the evening and the front door is open at 0415.

Friday 6 June
SY 1299   0445 Xiamiaozi – Linghe 0515
SY 1299   0521 Linghe – Huangjia 0610
SY 1299   0615 Huangjia – Sanjiazi 0716
SY 1299   0845 Sanjiazi – Huangjia 0934
SY 1299   0939 Huangjia – Xiamiaozi 0945
SY 1299   1435 Xiamiaozi – Huangjia 1441
SY 1299   1446 Huangjia – Linghe 1530
SY 1299   1640 Linghe - Huangjia 1721
SY 1299   1726 Huangjia – Sanjiazi 1817
SY 1299   1821 Sanjiazi – Huangjia 1914
SY 1299   1919 Huangjia – Xiamiaozi 1925

A good dawn run on the 0445 to Linghe, in fact there was some good thrash on both lines throughout the day. Once again the other passenger turn was diesel all day, in total 3 steam and 3 diesels in use.
Trains are still busy but patronage is gradually falling away, many schoolchildren now seem to travel by road.

Saturday 7 June
SY 1299   0445 Xiamiaozi – Linghe 0515
SY 1299   0521 Linghe – Huangjia 0610
SY 1299   0615 Huangjia – Sanjiazi 0716
SY 1299   0845 Sanjiazi – Huangjia 0934
SY 1299   0939 Huangjia – Xiamiaozi 0945
SY 1299   1435 Xiamiaozi – Huangjia 1441
SY 1299   1446 Huangjia – Linghe 1530
SY 1299   1640 Linghe - Huangjia 1721
SY 1299   1726 Huangjia – Sanjiazi 1817
SY 1299   1821 Sanjiazi – Xiamiaozi 1857

Basically the same bash until the end of the day when the 1821 was terminated at Xiamiaozi and the diesel on the other diagram worked through to Huangjia.
On this day trains were quieter with no schoolchildren, perhaps because it was something of a holiday weekend. Monday 9th being a public holiday (Dragon Boat Festival) for the first time this year.
A cool thundery day and once again good thrash on the evening train to Sanjiazi. 3 steam and 3 diesels in use.

Sunday 8 June
SY 0754   0445 Xiamiaozi – Linghe 0515
SY 0754   0521 Linghe – Huangjia 0610
SY 0754   0615 Huangjia – Sanjiazi 0716
SY 0754   0845 Sanjiazi – Huangjia 0934
SY 0754   0939 Huangjia – Xiamiaozi 0945
Good run back from Linghe, thrashing up the banks.
Sanjiazi has an interesting market with several breakfast stalls about 15 minutes walk down from the station, just follow the continuation of the railway the turn left after the big warehouse on the right.
3 wheeler to Nanpiao from the hotel, 4 yuan, then bus from outside the Nanpiao Hilton to Jinzhou, depart 1104 arrive 1159.

At the bus station buses run to Shenyang every 30 minutes. Depart at 1230 arrive 1545 (60 yuan). Bus almost empty and many Jinzhou streets very quiet. Bus terminates in town bus stopping area outside Shenyangbei railway station.

At the big bus station one block away, straight ahead walking away from the north end of Shenyangbei station, there were no buses to Diaobingshan, the girl pointed outside (further away from the railway). After wandering around for about 10 minutes and questioning the locals all became clear. On the next main street, hanging from a telephone pole was a small board with Diaobingshan written on it. Beneath this a few people were hanging around and sitting on stools. An old boy was telling everyone to wait and after 10 minutes he received a phone call saying that a bus was approaching. We were marshalled at the roadside and seconds later an almost full bus pulled up and everyone was quickly pushed inside.

It’s all change on the Diaobingshan route. There are now two services operating, as well as The Big Blue Bus Company there is also The Big White Bus Company. Buses no longer run via the expressway and Tieling but use on ordinary road west of the main railway line before turning right along a new road which approaches the town round the back of the Wangqian line and arrives at the station from the opposite direction. It seems slightly quicker, my journey took 85 minutes.
At Diaobingshan the old hotel by the station would not take me in and I was told to go across the road to the new Baoping International Hotel. I was very annoyed about this; presume it was an edict from the authorities, perhaps after a bribe to some local official from the new hotel. However the 128 yuan room (£8.70) was good value, everything smart, new and working. They even do fried eggs for breakfast (included in price). A better bet than the old place where sometimes you were charged 126 yuan anyway. I wonder how long the Baoping Hotel will stay smart, I suppose by next year it will be scruffy and run down like everywhere else.

SY 1772   1832 Diaobingshan – Wangqian via Xiaonan 1933
SY 1772   1953 Wangqian - Diaobingshan 2025
A pleasant trundle on a fine summers evening. I wasn’t that keen on coming to Tiefa again but it had been some years since I’d been to Dongguantun or Daqing so I was hoping I might get steam on one or both these lines should there be a diesel failure. It has been said that all Daqing turns are steam. This is not so, the two diesel diagrams cover all trains on the Daqing and Dongguantun lines as well as the 0532 to Wangqian & the 0616 return.

On my return from Wangqian there were 3 SY at Diaobingshan and no diesel yet attached to the 2120 to Dongguantun.

Monday 9 June
Sure enough at 0219 I was woken by a chime whistle, without doubt this was an SY just uncoupled from the 0100 from Dongguantun. With hindsight I suppose I could have covered this and the 2120 from Diaobingshan but I’d been up since 0355 the previous morning and wouldn’t have fancied being dumped on Dongguantun platform from 2237 until the 0100 departure.
Anyway, up reasonably bright and early to check the morning workings in the hope there would be steam to Daqing. The 0554 from Daqing arrives with diesel which then continues at 0640 to Dongguantun.

Catch 0628 to Sanjiazi and sure enough the diesel turn on the Wangqian line is steam so I return with it to Diaobingshan. As a result of this train being steam, once again able to witness at Sanjiazi the three way meet of steam hauled passenger trains together in a station. To cap at all this involved the 3 newest conventional working steam locos in the world.
On arrival at Diaobingshan SY 1770 then runs round and forms the 0716 to Daqing. Rare track on this train but a real trundle as the loco shuffled its 6 coach rake along very quietly through the maize fields, occasionally reaching 30 mph.

At Daqing I was displeased but not at all surprised to see DF5B 0039 back down and work the 0835 to Diaobingshan. This loco and a DFH3 then remained on the diesel diagrams throughout my stay, covering all Daqing and Dongguantun trains + the 0532 to Wangqian and the 0616 return. Note that 307 to Daqing (and 310 return?) no longer run.

SY 1771   0628 Diaobingshan – Sanjiazi 0638
SY 1770   0658 Sanjiazi – Diaobingshan 0708
SY 1770   0716 Diaobingshan – Daqing 0744
SY 1770   0952 Diaobingshan – Daming 1037
SY 1770   1258 Daming - Diaobingshan 1344
SY 1772   1451 Diaobingshan – Wangqian via Xiaonan 1553
SY 1772   1644 Wangqian – Sanjiazi via Xiaonan 1736
SY 1771   1753 Sanjiazi – Diaobingshan 1803
SY 1771   1820 Diaobingshan – Daming 1906
SY 1771   1920 Daming - Diaobingshan 1956
Even though there were no school kids around the trains seemed quite busy and the running on the Daming branch was livelier than usual with trains often waiting time at stations. The 1920 from Daming was a real “going home job” for the crew, thrashing along and would have been in 8 early if not for signal checks.

Tuesday 10 June
SY 1771   0628 Diaobingshan – Wangqian via Xiaonan 0752
SY 1771   0802 Wangqian – Diaobingshan 0845
SY 1771   0952 Diaobingshan – Daming 1037
SY 1771   1258 Daming - Diaobingshan 1344
SY 1771   1439 Diaobingshan – Daming 1525
SY 1771   1700 Daming - Diaobingshan 1803
SY 1772   1832 Diaobingshan – Wangqian via Xiaonan 1933
SY 1772   1953 Wangqian - Diaobingshan 2025
The 1700 from Daming & the 1644 from Wangqian run parallel in to Sanjiazi.
The 1832 to Wangqian was very full and the travelling environment was not that pleasant with passengers playing loud music (a growing trend everywhere in China) and oaf like behaviour from some youngsters.

It crossed my mind what a good investment DF5B 0039 must have been for the railway, trundling around much of the day on half empty passenger trains which perhaps generated an average 50 yuan (£3.40) per trip in revenue, a job that could have done by one of the SYs that the railway already owns. At that rate I will take a good few years to recoup the capital cost of the loco. But I mustn’t scoff at the expense of the Coal Company top management, accountants and bankers. After all these are clever intelligent people, as we know from the current state of the worlds major economies those at the top never make wrong decisions - do they?

Overall though I enjoyed my stay trundling around the Diaobingshan area. It was all pleasant enough in an era when there is so little real steam in the world, but pretty bland and mediocre compared to Baiyin and Nanpiao.

Wednesday 11 June
I had decided not to rush up north to Dayan and Jalainuer at the end of the bash and this left me with a day spare so I thought it would be nice to end it on a high with another short visit to Nanpiao.
On the last two mornings a bus had left the station at 0620 for Shenyang so I assumed this would be a scheduled departure time. Not so, as I walked out of the hotel at 0600 a bus is just leaving and the next one goes when it is full – at 0640.
In this direction you do not directly pass Shenyangbei railway station, in fact you cannot see it. The bus stops instead outside a Carrefour supermarket and the conductress makes an announcement. Not much use this if you are a foreigner.
Driver kindly drops me off at the next roundabout, quite near Shenyangbei station, much to the annoyance of the conductress who was moaning about me. Arrival time 0805.

No problem getting ticket for the next high speed train to Jinzhounan, D10 at 0904. 69 yuan (£4.70) in second class, journey time 74 minutes booked, actual time was 78 minutes and not much dearer than the bus. Seating is 3 & 2, airline style with plenty of leg room, but seats are reversible so you always face the direction of travel. The trains are smart but a bit Pendolinoish with a fair amount of vibration. Clientele seems rather more well heeled than on many of the trains that I’ve travelled on in China over the years!

At Jinzhounan book ticket for following day on D6 to Beijing at 1513. First class (as it is called) 178 yuan/£12.10. Not much more expensive than the second class price of 149 yuan. The booking clerk will only sell you a ticket when you have got a chit with the date stamped on it from the security man at the door.
No buses ready to go for the city centre so walk outside and eventually an empty taxi appears. Driver quotes fare of 100 yuan to Nanpiao. We depart at 1057 and arrive 1159 going via rough and unmade roads around the south western outskirts of Jinzhou coming out onto the Nanpiao road by the (unused) toll booths. 3 wheeler to Xinghe Binguan, give 4 yuan as fare and honest lady driver gives me 1 yuan back – not often that happens!

Back to Xiamiaozi station at 1415 where I am very pleased indeed to see steam rising from the far end of the platform.
SY 0754   1435 Xiamiaozi – Huangjia 1441
SY 0754   1446 Huangjia – Linghe 1530
SY 0754   1640 Linghe - 1721
SY 0754   1726 Huangjia – Sanjiazi 1817
SY 0754   1821 Sanjiazi – Huangjia 1914
SY 0754   1919 Huangjia – Xiamiaozi 1925
A long wait on the 1446 at Qiupigou for SY 0366 to thrash up through the station with a coal train. Good to be late on this train actually, Linghe is a pretty awful place to be stuck for any length of time.
Yet more good thrash on the 1726 to Sanjiazi but running on the Linghe line was quieter than usual.

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

Thursday 12 June
Off early into a cold dawn to the station where again clag can be seen rising from the end of the platform.
SY 1299   0445 Xiamiaozi – Linghe 0515
SY 1299   0521 Linghe – Huangjia 0610
SY 1299   0615 Huangjia – Sanjiazi 0716
SY 1299   0845 Sanjiazi – Huangjia 0934
SY 1299   0939 Huangjia – Xiamiaozi 0945
Good up the banks on the 0521 from Linghe. The 0615 to Sanjiazi as usual was very busy with folks going off to work, mostly at the mines. A great babble of noise inside the coach with card schools on the go at almost every table. Trains into Nanpiao quieter than in previous years with fewer students.
The other passenger diagram was diesel on both days.

And so ended yet another Chinese bash. A good one but I fear it will be one of the last. How many of the systems visited this year will be 100% diesel next year?
Then to the long journey home, 3 wheeler from hotel to Nanpiao and after a 45 minute wait a bus to Jinzhou. During this period several buses left for Huludao. Bus to Jinzhou took 68 minutes with a long stop at a petrol station to fill up with some dodgy looking diesel from a can in a shed out the back. 208 bus from Jinzhou station, depart 1330 arrive Jinzhounan 1411. This was a much quicker journey than on the 209 last year; in fact no buses were to be seen on that route.
Jinzhounan station, although almost new is already very tatty, peeling paint inside and broken stonework outside. Also it was very hot without air conditioning.
D6 departed a few minutes late but arrived Beijing right time at 1805 – it needed to be, as it formed the 1830 back to Shenyangbei. First class seating roomy and comfortable.

Room without facilities at the backpacker’s hostel across from the station was 120 yuan (£8.10). A small but very clean room. Bedding in fact cleaner than in most binguans.

Friday 13 June
Airport bus at 0638 from west side of International Hotel. Although the bus starts from someone down the road west from the station it runs past the station itself without stopping. A fast journey on the newly extended expressway and then directly to terminal 3 which was reached at 0707. I doubt if the new metro (trains on test running prior to opening in July), will offer a faster journey.
BA 038 delayed because:-
1)   Flight crew arrived airport late due to road traffic delays. One might have hoped that they would have allowed for this.
2)   Air traffic delays due to congestion.
3)   Strong headwinds en route caused speed to fall to little more than 400 mph. Again one might have hoped that they would have chosen to use more fuel to minimise delays for their customers.

As on the way out the 747 was not full, sat in the same seat as on the outward journey and as on that occasion the two seats next to me were empty. Eventual arrival in London was almost an hour late.

Roger Blundell

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© 2008 Roger Blundell