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Steam in China, 1-15 March 2009

by Greg Howell


I visited Zhalainouer and Baiyin with Duncan Cotterill, Peter Breeze and Robin Gibbons on a 2 week trip. Mike Ma organised our itinerary and Duncan has reported on this initial part of my trip (1-11/3) : http://www.railography.co.uk/reports/2009/20090228-cn.htm.

Afterwards Mike arranged for me to fly up to Mudanjiang and take a taxi to Jixi, where I met up with Pete Greatorex, Dave Theobald and Gordon Rippington who had arrived in China the previous day on a trip covering Jixi, Zhalainouer and Baiyin, organised and guided by Tina from Chifeng. We spent 4 days in Jixi before I returned to the UK via Beijing, whilst the group caught the train to Zhalainouer.


The early morning Hainan Airlines flight from Beijing to Mudanjiang worryingly never appeared on the departures board at the airport. However, a Boeing 737-400 was rolled up to the Departure Gate but I noticed someone hanging out of the cockpit window talking to the ground crew. This was followed by the alarming sight of a technician walking out along the starboard wing and then affecting a repair above the engine with duct/gaffer tape. Everything was crossed as we took off and again as we landed!!

A taxi was waiting for me when we landed and, after a very quiet drive along the Expressway, I was deposited in Didao 2 hours after touch down at Mudanjiang airport.

We stayed at the Jixi Fandian, opposite the railway station, where there was theoretically a 24 hour supply of hot water. At best, the water was warm and then the boiler failed ….; alternative showering arrangements were provided in the facilities in the hotel basement. Adjacent to the hotel were shops where supplies of bread, drinks and fruit could be purchased for the next day’s activities.

Dawn was about 0545.


Allocation – SYs #0863, #1058, #1340, #1351, #1369, #1437 (– away for repair), #1544, #1545.
Locos typically assigned as follows : Beichang (3), Zhengyang (1), Xinghua (2), Qiaonan (1).

The morning shift change appeared to operate as previously reported. Information was available from the control room on the north side of the yard, up the external spiral steps.
The hoppers shuttling between Dongchang and Beichang took only 10 minutes from arrival of empties to departure with loaded hoppers! One day the loco propelled the empty hoppers to the Dongchang loader, then ran around the train and hauled the empties out to Zhengyang. Staff reported that the quality of coal was better at Dongchang than Zhengyang but, due to low production levels at Dongchang, they were being forced to collect from Zhengyang.

Self-discharging wagons were leaving to both the east & west.

Locos appeared to visit the ash disposal plant around the morning shift change (0715 – 0845) but the yard was empty at dawn.

We saw 1 banked train up from Zhengyang to Xinghua.
The round trip of the Xinghua spoil train was c.30 minutes but they stopped at 11.30 – perhaps due to lunch. On Sunday 15/3, the coal pickers descended en masse to the Xinghua spoil tip where hundreds (in groups and as individuals) sifted the waste for coal, even while the train discharged(!) above them. Cattle carts, plus the more usual three-wheelers, were on hand to take sacks of coal away.


On 12/3, the locos seen were : SYs #0590, #0950, #1205, #1446 (4/86).
0950 & 1446 separately propelled two rakes of self-discharging wagons towards the power station and then 1205 + 0590 banking hauled approx 30 coal wagons from the power station to Didao.

On 13/3, we saw SYs #0407, #0950, #1205, #1446.
There was an interval of only about 50 minutes between successive shunts up the ramp at the south end of the station.


Allocation – Xiaohenghan/LiJing : SYs #1095 and #0804; Erdoahezi : #1344 (reported by staff). 4 diesels were reported by staff.

On 13/3, both locos at Xiaohenghan/Lijing were chimney first towards Zhongxin with #1095 on spoil trains & a trip to Zhongxin, while #0804 shunted the loader. DF10D 0156 and GKD1A 0106 were seen at Zhongxin.

Staff reported that in addition to Xiaohenghan and Erdoahezi, steam works only to the CNR, plus occasionally to Erchang (but this is not the location defined on Bernd’s 2002 map, it is nearer Hengshan centre). Staff reported that the diesels work all trains to Zhangxin and to the loader wrongly called Erchang on Bernd’s map.

The staff also reported regular steam up Hengshan bank occurred at morning shift change and the station log for 13/3 showed #1095 arr 0804 at Zhongxin, dep 0904 to Erdaohezi.

When passing the CNR yard on 15/3 en route back to the airport, a diesel was seen in the yard.


En route to Mudanjiang airport, I can confirm that, where the main road crosses the Qikeng branch, rails were extant in the tarmac but otherwise had been lifted.

Return to Mudanjiang Airport

The taxi back to the airport did not use the Expressway and ended up taking 2h 45m from Chengzihe, including the driver getting lost on the outskirts of Mudanjiang and having to reverse back down a carriageway!


PEK – Terminal #2
The only internet café appears to be in a lounge on 3F – CNY50 for unlimited time and unlimited supply of tea. No access available air-side, except in Business Lounges.

Sino-Swiss hotel
Hotel shuttle bus to/from airport runs at 30 minute intervals. Pre-booking is recommended because the last Terminal #2 bus (23:15) never called at the airport when I flew in on the late flight from Mudanjiang. After phone calls, the hotel collected me 30 minutes late.
Internet access is available in the Business Centre but at the exorbitant rate of Y3/min!!


China Daily reported a Y30 billion investment in a high speed railway triangle between Shanghai, Hangzhou and Nanjing to increase capacity at peak travel seasons. 350km/h operation with Shanghai-Hangzhou ready for 2010 World Expo in Shanghai and then rest complete in 2011. Hangzhou-Nanjing travel times, currently up to 8 hours, will be reduced to 50 minutes.

Greg Howell

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© 2009 Greg Howell