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Steam in China, 10-23 April 2009

by Terry Andrews

Jalainur, Dayan, Jixi, Nanpiao, Huludao

This report is somewhat historical (dating from April!) but hopefully is of interest.
I made a quick 2 week ‘now or never’ tour based on the projected summer demise of the Jalainur pit, which I recommend to anyone who wants to see non-stop action (but be very quick!). I found a 325euro flight with Emirates from Dusseldorf to Beijing and, after a night on a quite comfy airport bench, took the 7.40 a.m. onward flight to Manzhouli.

JALAINUR      12-15/4/09

Jalainur pit is amazing, there’s some 20 steam locos constantly on the move and it’s (unofficially) possible to sit in the middle of this big pit and watch, photo or video all this action. It's like being in your own lifesize train set! The workers (who probably think we're nuts!) are friendly and no one objected when I rode the 7.40 workers train to Nanzhan and back. In not much more than one hour SYs 471, 867, 959, 1240, 1284, 1285, 1286, 1375, 1650, 1654, 1663, 1664, 1681, 1689, 1690, & 3005 passed by as they zigzagged up and down with coal or spoil. The April weather was just cold enough for some good smoke effects, though a cold north wind spoilt things a bit. I recommend taking sun cream, I got quite burnt and couldn’t find any in the shops! Some logistics: a taxi from Manzhouli airport to Jalainur is 150y ; a cheaper, if slower, way is a taxi to Manzhouli and then bus 2 (or a train) to Jalainur. I stayed at the basic but perfectly adequate centre town hotel/bathhouse for 60y a night. For a picture of it see Adrian Freeman’s Dec 2008 report. No hot water, but a bathhouse downstairs and massages etc available on the first floor. From here it’s a 10y taxi or 15 minutes quick walk (out hotel & turn right down the street with the funky (Nanpiaoesque!) lights) to the pit and the washery (Dongfanghong). The new diesels were spoiling the surface mine steam action, but there was always a loco (SY 1601 or 1448) on washery patrol and sometimes even a double headed steam departure up the steep grade away from Dongfanghong. From the in town hotel (name translated as Hong Zhou Wang by my local takeaway!) it’s possible to look out and see if there is any steam action on the southern surface mines line! There’s an internet place not far from the hotel.

DAYAN      16/4/09

From Jalainur I took an evening train to Dayan, arriving at 23.00. I was pleased to find a cheap (30y) ludian just to the left of the station and at 6.30am set off down a small lane to find the Dayan mining railway. I must have just missed the train to Sanjing, so I had 2 hours to find the perfect photo position and watch the morning traffic of people, cars and sheep. Then at 9.30 along came a new blue diesel! with the passenger train. I rode it to the end, Jipei, and, checking the depot, found out that steam passenger working had ended YESTERDAY!! (15/4/09). Indeed SY 1306 was still warm. As far as I could ascertain that is the end of steam at Dayan, which is a shame as it’s an interesting old world part of China, with horses and carts, interesting 3-wheeler taxis and old men in Mao suits. I’m still wondering if the extra day at Jalainur was worth missing Dayan for…. Here for the record are the last photos from Dayan.

A good example of how easy it is to travel in China these days was proved at Dayan station by me being able to change my night sleeper to the afternoon departure (1302) to Harbin with a (standard) loss of 20%. It meant I could enjoy the scenery, but had the downside of a 02.25 arrival at Harbin. Still, the insistent station hustlers take good care of you and after 3 hours sleep in a 30y ludian I was taken to the bus station at 6am for the first bus to Jixi, arriving around 13.00. 500 meters to the left, opposite the railway station, is the correct and comfortable Jixi Fandian (100y with free buffet breakfast and free use of the bathhouse downstairs).

JIXI      17-21/4/09

Jixi proved as good as all reports suggest. Chengzihe, 30 minutes away by bus 3, sees lots of action around the “black triangle” of Beichang, Dongchang & Nanchang. For two consecutive days I noted a gathering of locos at Dongchang around 08.00 and 17.00, many light movements around the triangle from 16.00-17.00 as locos refueled at Nanchang, an eastwards departure (cab ride!) around 1000 from Dongchang to Zhengyang and Xinghua. It’s easy to spend the whole day at Beichang washery. At Didao, operations center around the washery at Hebei. Every hour or so there were workings from Lijing (and/or a newer mine) straight through to the power station. Around 16.30 there was a long train of empties returning up the grade from the power station. Here I found a mixture of receptions from the workers ranging from demands for money to an invitation for an enormous lunch from the train crew.

Jixi was hardly overrun with rail enthusiasts – I met a grand total of two (Peter and Wilson) there and it was pleasant to share a recommended hotpot in one of the numerous restaurants after a long day out chasing trains.

NANPIAO      22/4/09

I only just escaped Jixi, leaving on a bus to Mudanjiang (2.5hrs) which powered through the ever increasing snowstorm to arrive in time to catch the train to Jinzhou (1452; dep. 15.12, arr. 06.29). As it was my last day, I speeded things up by taking a taxi to Huangjia, the main town of the Nanpiao Coal Railway. A negotiated 140y seemed a fair price for the 70 km covered. Here there is a delightful “old world” China feel, a bustling market and my breakfast café still charged 3y for a full meal! Needless to say, I need not have hurried as the 9.45 departure was worked by a decrepit looking BJ diesel, as were all passenger workings that day. I tried to track the only steamer working (SY 0366) which was not at Daguopu as I was informed, but at Zaojiatun mine. Also here was another BJ diesel and an overbridge, good for photos. SY 0366 departed to Linghe, so I chased it on the afternoon passenger and returned in its cab, experiencing a good thrash up the grade from Quipigou. At Xiamiaozi depot, SY 1299 was under steam on standby, SY 0754 was being repaired and SY 1478 was dead.

HULUDAO      22/4/09

Buses run from outside the hotel in Huangjia to both Jinzhou and Huludao. I luckily took the last (16.45) bus to Huludao and, much to the consternation of the passengers, leapt off the bus at a level crossing on the outskirts of Huludao when I saw a JS moving in the depot of Huludao-Yangjiazhangzi limestone railway. I had assumed steam here had ended with the introduction of diesels in December 2007, but this is not the case. Enquiries at the depot (despite the persistent attempts by the female crossing guard to eject me!) revealed that there are daily steam workings around Huludao but not over the famous climb to Yangjiazhangzi. At the depot I saw JS 6243 and JS 6307, both in steam and also DF 0159, but did not get to see inside the sheds to see if other locos were present, a fine treat with which to end. Then, after the obligatory 10y haircut (best ever, almost stylish!), it was a dash to the station for the last train to Beijing, another half night in the airport and the early flight back to Dusseldorf, via Dubai.


Considering the shortness of this trip, two weeks, with a total cost of 750 euros, I was very pleased with the results. SY-country reports (thanks!), internal flights ( www.ticket.9588.com) and overnight trains (www.travelchinaguide.com/china-trains) make a quick north-east steam trip very possible. The lack of steam hauled passengers was well compensated by the number of cab rides offered and the rediscovery of the Huludao JSs was a bonus. More photos can be seen on www.flickr.com/photos/terrytenzin. I’m sure there’s at least another China trip lurking! Sadly, by now (September), the fantastic sounds and sights of the big open pit at Jalainur may be history, and another chapter in the history of steam will have closed.

Terry Andrews

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© 2009 Terry Andrews