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Steam in China - December 2009, January 2010

by Derek Jenkins

Jixi, Suileng, Sandaoling

Not being able to do our usual China trip in November, Adrian Bagnall and I did one which spanned the New Year. We flew, with some trepidation, with KLM but, for once, there were no problems and, in fact, we had an early arrival in Beijing and on the return were upgraded. Also on the flight were old friends Don White and Gordon Edgar who were heading for Huanan but where they were thwarted by non running caused by the deep snow and moved on to Jixi where we met them again. We had built in an extra day in Beijing to enable us to buy tickets for the second part of our journey out to Hami and with this done on 29th December we spent around 2 hours watching the comings and goings at Beijing Main Station. A surprising number of trains remain diesel hauled from here and we saw DF4s (both green and orange), 4Cs, 4Ds and DF11s on passenger duty. Carriage pilots are few and far between now as most trains are backed in and out by the train engine.
The following day we took D25 to Harbin. Formed of 2 CRH5 units shackled together we had first class tickets in the last coach of the first unit. First class was almost deserted but second class was heaving. Not much to report en route save that north of Shenyang Bei a new line (which seems unconnected to CNR - and might thus be a rapid transit) is under construction. The Hushitai Local Railway was devoid of stock of any kind at both ends and is, I guess, now closed. Arrival at Harbin was dead on time with the temperature in the train a sweltering plus 24C and outside an unwelcoming minus 24C. A friend of a friend had bought us soft sleeper tickets for K7075 to Jixi. Due to depart at 22:00 it eventually got away at 22:40 due to the late arrival of the stock - the first of a number of late trains.

Jixi, 31/12 - 3/1
Before our arrival Jixi had suffered a heavy snowfall. No snow clearing had taken place so the roads and pavements were covered with thick, lethal rutted ice which made getting about difficult. Added to this was a daytime high temperature of minus 23C and a night-time low of minus 33C. Stayed, as usual, at The National Territory Resources Mansion (mansion being a relative term) but it is very handy for the bus station just to the North of the hotel.
On 31/12 was suffering a lack of wagons from China Rail but otherwise was operating as expected. There is a regular bus which parallels the line almost from Dongchang to Zhengyang which was handy for getting out onto the Xinghua line when anything headed east. Only difficulty with this was the knee deep snow once you left the road.
In steam were SYs 1058, 1340, 1351, 1369, 1437, 1544, 1545.
Again operating as expected and generally busy.
In steam were SYs 0407, 0950, 1018 (which incidentally has a non standard chimney), 1205, 1213, 1446.

On China Rail hereabouts, the big change is the elimination of the DF4, many of which are out of use on Jixi shed. In their place has appeared the HXN5, a very American, ugly, single ended unit. The HXN5s double head with DF8s on freight but always as the train engine. We saw one with a freight on its own and other freights were DF8 singly or in pairs.

On 3/1 we took K7076 to Harbin. Even 4 days in advance there were no sleeper tickets of any kind available for this train so we had to do with a hard seat in a double deck coach. On boarding we found the train packed with students returning to college , which explained the lack of tickets.

Suileng (Suiling) Forestry Railway, 4/1
Train 4031 from Harbin with orange DF4 2131 up front through a snowy, foggy, frozen landscape to Suileng. The Forestry Railway is about 1.5 miles north of the CNR station and adjacent to and east of CNR. This forestry line is still operating. A loaded log train was in the yard and was being split up and shunted by B-B DH SN-99808. The crew of this loco invited us up for a ride into the log yards. The shed was deserted but one door was open and in that part were a railbus, B-B DH SN-99804 and C2 021. The C2 appeared in good working order. In another part of the shed was an unidentified B-B. No other train arrived or departed whilst we were present. Then it was Train 4031 back to Harbin. Suileng has a small allocation of soft seat tickets for this train.
I should add that our original target had been Xinglongzhen Forestry Railway. This too is still operational but they appeared not to be logging and only running a railcar service for local farmers.
From Harbin we took Z16 to Beijing which arrived 40 minutes late.
Then it was T69 to Hami. 5 minutes late departing and continued to lose time. By the time we reached Xi'an the following morning, we were 80 minutes down. The electric depot at Xi'an was packed with locos, noteworthy being a number of SS6s including SS6B class leader 1001. The diesel depot to the West of Xi'an had numerous DF4s and several BJs stored. Freight haulage around Xi'an was mainly SS3B doubles and SS4s. We saw only one 6K. West of Xi'an, freight was largely SS3 often double heading. Baoji shed had several DJ1 double units present.
At the new Lanzhou Steelworks (North of the line about 25Kms East of Lanzhou) the seemingly unnumbered SY is still OOU and 2 diesels (which looked like GK1 types) were present. Arrival in Lanzhou was 100 minutes down. The scrolling announcement in the train claimed this was due to "the late of the track". The only thing of note here was an HXD3 on the passenger train from Chongqing. A surprising choice as Lanzhou shed had very many passenger locos present.

SN-99808 Suileng Forestry Railway

Sandaoling, 7-10/1
Eventually arrived in Hami 80 minutes late but still in darkness. Four excellent days here. Liushuquan - Nanzhan had a single header and a banked train 7/1, 2 banked trains the following day and a single header on 10/1. The single header on 7/1 crawled up the bank with a load that must have been on the limit for a single engine. Nanzhan had an SY substituting for one of its JSs but it only did runs to the deep mines.
In the hole a new loader and conveyer are in use but the loader was only one of 3 places where coal was being loaded. There were on average 3 coal trains every 50 minutes passing Kengkongzhan. One of the sets had JS 6224 running chimney first. This loco must have had a serious prang as its wrecked tender is still in the hole and a damaged cab at the works. No spoil trains now come out via Kengkongzhan and we saw a fleet of lorries removing spoil. At one time there were 12 of the things struggling up a newly formed steep track out of the hole. Even 12 did not seem capable of hauling what one train could manage so the economics of this new arrangement look doubtful to say the least.
Dongbolizhan continues to be the servicing base for the coal train locos and for all the works trains so a pre dawn visit here was still very worthwhile. Spoil trains out via Xibolizhan were very busy with a continuous flow to and from the tips.
We paid a brief visit to the works but on a Sunday and no one with a key was around. JS 8336 was undergoing a heavy overhaul but beyond that we could ascertain nothing and saw no diesels there.

Locos in steam :- SY 1304, 1593, 1720, 1729.
JS :- 6204, 6205, 6224, 6261, 6436, 8027, 8040, 8053, 8076, 8078, 8081, 8167, 8173, 8190, 8193, 8194, 8195, 8221, 8222, 8314, 8358.

Banked train climbing from Liushuquan

Sandaoling - end of the world

Xibolizhan sunset

Back to Beijing on T70 for which Hami has an allocation of 4 soft sleeper berths. We were 5 minutes early into Xinxiang but here there was an engine change fiasco. Once our SS7E had come off the train there was no loco to replace it. Eventually an SS8 appeared and then there was a further delay with a problem attaching it to the train. Departure from here was 45 minutes late none of which was recovered on the run to Beijing. Vast track rearrangement was going on at Shijiazhuang and many houses had been demolished for the widening of the line near the station. The new line here is well under construction and will run on stilts for vast distances. Similar work is going on just west of Beijing Xi. Nothing else of note on the return journey save we saw from the train a V1003 with a torpedo wagon heading for the tips at Capital Iron and Steel.

Derek Jenkins

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2010 Derek Jenkins